What a Senate higher-ed pol said about the MnSCU end to bonuses

Recently, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system trustees voted to eliminate performance-based pay -- which some call "bonuses" -- for the chancellor, vice chancellors and campus presidents.

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone had apparently testified before the House higher-education committee earlier this session that MnSCU was going to do that, and both the House and Senate had already put in language effectively prohibiting such pay.

I caught up with a few House and Senate higher-ed lawmakers for their reaction to the MnSCU decision.

Here's one in the Senate -- ranking minority member Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).

I asked Miller what he thought of MnSCU's decision. He said he hadn't heard of it yet, and needed more details before making a full comment. When I gave him the basics, he called it a "positive move."  He said administrative salaries and bonuses have been a "big concern" at the legislature and with his constituents.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.

But MnSCU officials have repeatedly stressed that the bonuses are performance-based -- executives don't receive them until they hit particular goals -- and Miller said he's supportive of performance-based pay in principle.

He told me:

"I don't want to get into the business of micromanaging MnSCU and the University of Minnesota. I don't think that's our role as legislators. ... But I've heard from several constituents who have concerns with the amount of the salaries that administrators -- and in some cases, professors -- are getting. And then when you add in bonuses on top of that, then there are even more concerns."

He didn't clearly reconcile his support for performance pay with his support of MnSCU's move. (That's something I need to pin him down on.)

He did say:

"We just need to make sure it's in line with comparable institutions throughout the country. We see it in the private sector, and I don't have an issue with it in the public sector, as long as it's in line with comparable institutions."

Miller pointed to the Senate omnibus bill language that calls for a comparison of administrative costs among MnSCU, the University of Minnesota and other comparable university systems in the U.S. He said he he had further questions about the payments, and hoped to get data to answer them:

"If they truly are performance-based bonuses ... are any of (the executives) not getting the bonus? Or are all of them getting the bonus?"

I think he meant that he wanted to see whether the goals were a cakewalk or truly challenging. He said lawmakers should see the performance goals so they could judge for themselves.

(I'd have to double-check, but I think that information is considered a confidential part of an employee's record.)

I'll have more in further posts.