On Campus Blog

Faculty unions pull out of MnSCU overhaul plan

Updated: 3:20 p.m.

The two faculty unions at Minnesota's state colleges and universities say they won’t take part anymore in a proposed overhaul of the system.

Union leaders, who voted for the pullout Thursday evening, say they know the system needs major changes to run more efficiently and improve education.

But they say they haven't been given enough say in what's to be done and how.

Jim Grabowska, president of the union for university faculty, says MnSCU leaders have stated publicly that they're being inclusive – but haven't been in meetings.

"We felt that we were being used in order to be able to make that statement,” he said, “that while we were at the table, we didn't have the input, and our views were not being valued."

The overhaul, known as Charting the Future, lays out sweeping changes to how the system does business. It got the green light from trustees last year.

Among other things, it calls on campuses to stop competing so much with each other for students, reassess the academic programs they offer, and be more systematic in how they accept prior credit and handle online information.

It called for so much coordination of campuses that faculty expressed fears it would lead to too much centralization of power in the system office.

For months they have publicly demanded more of a voice in the plan, and have remained dissatisfied with Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s actions and behavior in that area.

Grabowska said Rosenstone and other top officials have shown hostility toward faculty and student proposals to include more non-administrators in decision-making. He also said faculty have become suspicious of the hiring of a consulting firm to help on the plan.

Grabowska (Courtesy of IFO)

Student leaders share many of the faculty's concerns, but to different degrees. Some students have had good experiences working in committees. Others, however, says Rosenstone appears angry and aggressive when he gets suggestions over things such as power-sharing.

Kari Cooper, president of the Minnesota State University Student Association, said Rosenstone and a campus president attacked her suggestions and questioned her leadership at a recent meeting.

"I left that meeting in tears," she said. "I wasn't going to sit there as a student and be talked to like that from people who are supposed to be supporting me and supposed to be collaborating with me."

(A MnSCU spokeswoman says she wasn't there and can't dispute Cooper's account of that meeting.)

The chancellor got into hot water earlier this year by signing a $2 million contract with McKinsey & Co. without telling faculty and students about it. Grabowska said that eroded faculty trust in the administration, and now they question whether the firm is playing an outsized role in the overhaul.

In a letter to employees and students before Thursday’s vote, Rosenstone wrote, “Change is hard, and is always accompanied by high emotion and complication. Without a doubt, some things could have been handled differently, and some handled better. I remain committed to doing my best to make sure all opinions are heard and all people are treated respectfully.”

Grabowska said faculty members still believe in the goals of the plan, and will come up with their own proposals on how to meet them.

He said campus officials tend to be open to faculty suggestions, and may likely integrate them into the official Charting the Future changes they end up carrying out.

A potential clash of proposals could be messy, but Grabowska said, “There’s nothing wrong with messy. It’s through open discussion … that the best ideas rise to the top.”

MnSCU Chief Communication Officer Kim Olson says officials have already received a lot of good suggestions for changes.

"We're confident that we'll be able to implement,” she said, “and progress will continue."

In his message to employees and students, Rosenstone called the union walkoff “regrettable,” but said, “their seats will be there for them whenever they decide to return. “

Olson forwarded an unsigned letter indicating that campus presidents were voicing support for the overhaul.

She also sent an unpublished supportive commentary by Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Renier.

“Steven Rosenstone is a strong leader taking the sometimes difficult steps needed in this challenging environment,” he wrote. “We are proud of the effort contributed by him … and the 124 leaders of the Charting the Future effort.”