Background and schedule for MnSCU chancellor interviews

MPR / Tim Post

Big decision to make

By the end of next week, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system's board of trustees is expected to hire a new chancellor. Trustees are expected to name the candidates Monday, and public interviews will take place that week. Here's MPR's Tim Post report. Details of the interview process follow: It won't be an easy position to step into. The 32-campus system has seen huge enrollment increases in recent years, declining funding from the state, and some of the highest tuition levels in the country. Scott Thiss, the chair of the MnSCU board of trustees is a sailing man, so a nautical analogy comes easily as he describes the search for a new leader.

"We need someone who going to help us navigate the strong headwinds and crosscurrents that are facing higher education in general and in Minnesota specifically."

Those headwinds and crosscurrents are being whipped up by budget pressures. MnSCU receives about the same in state funding as the University of Minnesota. Last year that was around $600 million. And while the U of M has 70,000 students statewide, MnSCU has more than 200,000. MnSCU has watched its state support dwindle in recent years, even as its enrollment has skyrocketed. Further cuts are expected this legislative session as lawmakers struggle with a state budget deficit of more than $6 billion. That's the biggest challenge facing the next MnSCU leader, according to Roger Moe. The former senate majority leader led the effort to create MnSCU in the 1990's. It streamlined Minnesota's state-run universities, community- and technical colleges into one system. Moe says the new MnSCU leader will need a wide array of skills.

"The new chancellor has to bring political skills, administrative skills, and obviously a knowledge of higher education and the emerging trends in that area. Plus probably be a magician besides."

Magic could be required to keep MnSCU's tuition rates under control. They're already some of the highest in the nation. System officials admit students and their parents have reached a breaking point, and there's little room to raise tuition further. Justin Klander, the executive director of the Minnesota State College Student Association, says the cost of tuition is foremost on students' minds. Klander says the next leader of MnSCU needs to find ways to save money through efficiencies, and not rely on tuition to raise revenue.

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"We need to figure out a way how we can be smarter about that. There's a lot of different conversations going on about how we deliver online education. Also how we structure our programs, trying to reduce duplication of services."

MnSCU campuses across the state are already working on some of those budget cutting measures. In recent months several schools have proposed program eliminations, faculty layoffs and cuts to sports teams to balance their budgets. Current MnSCU leader James McCormick took over as chancellor a decade ago, about five years after the system was created. Karen Foreman, an administrator at Minnesota State University-Mankato, says colleges were holding tightly to their individual identities in those early days, and McCormick helped bring them all together. Foreman, who's also the policy director for the union that represents about 4,000 MnSCU workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), says the next chancellor has more work to do to make the system cohesive.

"We want someone who understands how technical colleges, two-year colleges and universities all contribute to the incredible diversity, vitality, and economic development of the state."

Foreman says there are several qualified leaders within MnSCU who could step into the leadership role, but thinks someone from outside the system could bring in a fresh perspective. Monte Bute, a professor of sociology at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, says wherever the new MnSCU chancellor comes from, he or she needs to be a strong advocate for the system in tough budget times.

"We cannot tolerate hiring a go-along-to-get-along bureaucrat. We need somebody that has got some firepower, that has a vision, who is coming in to shake up the status quo."

The next MnSCU chancellor will take office at the end of July. That's just a month after the new president of the University of Minnesota, Eric Kaler, takes office. Tentative schedule for next week's selection of the MnSCU chancellor:

9 a.m., Mon., Jan. 31

Board of Trustees meets to select finalists for the chancellor position. Immediately after the meeting, the names of the finalists will be announced in a news release. This meeting will be audio streamed via

8 a.m., Tues., Feb. 1

Finalists meet with small groups of trustees and other system leaders. These meetings are public, but they will be taking place simultaneously for the finalists. There will be no audio streaming of these meetings.

9:15 a.m., Wed., Feb. 2

Finalists are interviewed individually by the full Board of Trustees. This meeting will be audio streamed via

1:15 p.m., Wed., Feb. 2

Board of Trustees meets to deliberate and select a new chancellor. This meeting will be audio streamed via

Meetings will be in the MnSCu headquarters at Wells Fargo Place, 30 7th St. E., Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101-7804