The union for state university faculty members asked trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system in November to fire Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, according to a document released to MPR News.
While MnSCU trustees rejected the plea, Rosenstone has apparently not participated in talks between trustees and faculty over the issue that prompted it — his "Charting the Future" plan for reforming the system.
"We are unable to support any system-revision process conducted by Steven Rosenstone," wrote leaders of Inter Faculty Organization union on Nov. 17. "We urge the Board of Trustees to remove him as Chancellor. ... We are eager to move forward with MnSCU, but it must be with new collaborative leadership."
The letter signals just how deep the division has gone in the dispute over Charting the Future. Relations grew so tense that Gov. Mark Dayton intervened last month to pressure the two sides to come to an agreement. Dayton said he'll withhold a budget recommendation for MnSCU until the parties resolve their differences.
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MnSCU board Chairman Tom Renier said Tuesday he'd heard the union say "many times" that it would not participate in Charting the Future as long as Rosenstone was connected to it.
"But laying it out on the [Inter Faculty Organization union] letterhead was kind of a strong move," he said.
A MnSCU spokeswoman said Rosenstone was unavailable to answer questions Tuesday. She forwarded a statement by the chancellor, who said he's "encouraged by last week's joint statement [of cooperation] with the IFO and am pleased we are moving in the right direction together."
For months, the unions have been at odds with Rosenstone over his management of the overhaul process.
The chancellor has said he wants to make a MnSCU education smoother, cheaper and more effective by having campuses coordinate academic programs and support services more.
Although faculty members say they support the principles of the overhaul, they say his plan will lead to too much centralization and a cookie-cutter approach to education.
Union leaders say Rosenstone has been secretive, and that he and top administrators have not given faculty enough say in the planning process.
In October, the unions for faculty at MnSCU's universities and two-year colleges pulled out of the overhaul planning process altogether. Faculty at all seven universities eventually passed votes of "no confidence" in the chancellor.
In early November, Rosenstone announced he was seeking state mediation with the unions, but they rejected the offer, saying it was a surprise move to get them to the table on his terms.
On Nov. 17, faculty leaders wrote trustees, asking them to dismiss Rosenstone.
"The Chancellor has been alarmingly divisive and punitive, at times resorting to personal attacks," they wrote. "This, along with his lack of transparency and dishonesty, have exhausted any possibility of restoring trust."
The letter caused a stir among the board, some trustees said. Renier said it helped prompt trustees to take a more active role in the dispute.
"It brought out the seriousness of the issue," Renier said. "We said, 'We've got to figure out a way to get talking.'"
Since December, several trustees have been meeting with faculty union leaders about once a week to discuss their concerns.
University faculty union president Jim Grabowska said the parties are working through the state Bureau of Mediation Services, but said the process is not technically mediation.
One person missing at the talks is Rosenstone.
"In order to make progress, we believe that at least initially, the conversations would be most constructive without him," Grabowska said.
The union president said faculty leaders stand by the November letter, but hasn't pressed the issue with trustees. Both he and Renier said relations have improved since the letter.
"We really respect the Board of Trustees' role in personnel issues," Grabowska said. "We've moved on."