MnSCU boss says revamp plan will be team effort

Published 9:41 am Thursday, January 23, 2014

By Mila Koumpilova

Pioneer Press

The leader of Minnesota’s public higher education system is pledging that students, faculty and other campus players will drive a sweeping transformation.

Email newsletter signup

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, or MnSCU — which includes Riverland Community College — approved the outlines of a plan to boost innovation and coordination among its 31 institutions late last year. Since then, student and faculty groups have called on Chancellor Steven Rosenstone to ensure each campus has a major say in the plan called “Charting the Future.”

Some voiced concern the process might become too “chancellor- centric.”

On Wednesday, Rosenstone told his board of trustees he would task eight teams and a steering committee of faculty, students, staff and system leaders with laying out the next steps. The plan calls for incentives to campuses that play well together, joint purchasing and academic planning, and other changes.

“The biggest challenge when we have nine different groups weaving a new fabric for the system is weaving those nine pieces together,” Trustee Cheryl Dickson cautioned.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, the Minnesota House’s higher education chair, and a staffer for Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, Pelowski’s Senate counterpart, attended the meeting.

MnSCU serves more than 400,000 students, including almost 60 percent of the state’s undergraduates.

Students, faculty and staff contributed to the six broad recommendations that make up “Charting the Future.” Those include expanding the system’s online offerings and giving students more opportunities to earn credit for hands-on experience. But the part of the plan that inspired the most discussion had to do with syncing offerings on various campuses and fostering cooperation.

At the Wednesday trustee meeting, Rosenstone said the campuses, rather than the St. Paul-based system’s office, will remain at the helm of the process. Students, faculty and campus staff will make up three-fourths of teams that will tackle specific recommendations.

The campuses will also produce two-thirds of a steering committee to coordinate the teams’ work and ensure they create “a beautiful fabric rather than cacophony of colors,” the chancellor said. He vowed not to micromanage the teams.

“The people doing the work have to be the ones at the table,” Rosenstone said.

He expects fleshing out and implementing the plan could play out over two to three years. He also said MnSCU has been courting a national foundation to help with financial support and access to “the best minds in the country.” He expects to make an announcement in coming weeks.

Students and faculty had encouraged the chancellor to keep the process collaborative. The Minnesota State University Student Association had called for a broad-based implementation committee. The Inter Faculty Organization, which represents more than 3,500 university professors, urged Rosenstone to let campus stakeholders craft the implementation plan he presented Wednesday.

“Our faculty are concerned that implementation from the top down may jeopardize and devalue the strengths of our state universities,” union President Nancy Black wrote Rosenstone.

After the meeting, Pelowski said he is eager to see more details on the plan. He said MnSCU leaders had not approached him to discuss the changes, and he attended the trustees meeting to learn more. He called for more coordination with state leaders and others, pointing to a two-year tuition freeze and other steps legislators took last spring.

“In 2013, we charted the future of higher education in Minnesota,” he said. “Is MnSCU charting the same future we are charting?”

Distributed by MCT Information Services