MnSCU board makes 'risky choice' with new chancellor

Steven Rosenstone
Steven Rosenstone, right, talks with a member of the board of trustees of MnSCU after a public job interview on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. Rosenstone is vice president of cultural and scholarly affairs at the University of Minnesota and was chosen Wednesday as MnSCU's next chancellor.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have voted to hire a new chancellor they hope will bring innovations to the 32-school system.

The board of trustees Wednesday chose Steven Rosenstone over another candidate with more experience running college and university systems.

Some board members say that's a risk they're willing to take.

Board members chose Rosenstone, who's a vice president at the University of Minnesota, primarily because they said he had a vision for the MnSCU system.

During two days of public interviews, Rosenstone told trustees he sees a transformation ahead for MnSCU's universities, and community and technical colleges.

During a news conference after the board's vote, Rosenstone continued that call for change.

"The education in this system will be the best education in the state," he said. "We will measure that by looking at the outcomes of those learning experiences. We will measure it by looking at what employers are telling us about the students that they're hiring from our institutions. This will be the destination for education in the state of Minnesota."

"If the state of Minnesota thinks it's going to have a vital future ... by undoing the remarkable systems of education that have been created in this state, I think they're mistaken."

Rosenstone was hired over William Sederburg, who is the commissioner of higher education in Utah. Sederburg has more experience running colleges and university systems, but trustees decided what the system needs now is what some characterize as a risk taker -- a person with passion.

The board approved Rosenstone on a 14-1 vote. Only trustee Phil Krinkie voted for Sederburg instead.

Board member James Van Houten voted for Rosenstone, even though he called Rosenstone a "very risky" choice, saying the other candidate was more qualified.

After the meeting, Van Houten said Rosenstone will be a good leader, but one that needs to learn the ropes of running a college system.

"My concern is if there's a big learning curve to get ready to carry out whatever those visions would be, they're not going to be implemented very quickly," said Van Houten. "I think the board just has to be aware that we need a different style with this particular choice."

Karen Foreman is an administrative assistant at Minnesota State University at Mankato and a leader in the union that represents MnSCU clerical workers.

Foreman says Rosenstone is an exciting choice, but understands he'll need time to ramp up as chancellor.

"I think we're OK with it," she said. "Anytime you take a risk and go forward you're going to make mistakes. It depends upon the depth of those mistakes that happen as he goes forward."

Rosenstone's promise to transform MnSCU intrigues Travis Johnson, the president of the Minnesota State College Student Association.

"It's important to see someone who can really look long term on any kind of project or any kind of position, especially in the higher ed world," said Johnson. "To have someone with vision like that is going to be helpful for our students, as we're talking about that transformation that needs to happen in the higher ed world."

Rosenstone may be thinking about a new vision for MnSCU, but the first thing he'll need to deal with is the prospect of cuts in funding as state lawmakers deal with a budget deficit of $6.2 billion.

He won't lobby at the Capitol on behalf of MnSCU this session; that's up to current chancellor James McCormick. But Rosenstone cautions lawmakers about cutting too deeply into the state's higher education budget.

"If the state of Minnesota thinks it's going to have a vital future, an educated workforce, a workforce prepared for the global economy, by undoing the remarkable systems of education that have been created in this state, I think they're mistaken," he said.

Rosenstone will take office this summer, after current chancellor James McCormick retires at the end of July.

The MnSCU board and Rosenstone still need to negotiate contract terms, including salary. McCormick's base salary this year is $360,000.

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