Faculty, leaders end feud over MnSCU reform plan

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, March 4, 2015

By Maura Lerner

Minneapolis Star Tribune

After a five-month standoff, faculty and administrators have agreed to settle their differences over a controversial plan called Charting the Future to reform Minnesota’s 31 state colleges and universities, which includes Riverland Community College.

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The two sides announced Tuesday that they “have agreed to move forward cooperatively and collaboratively” in a way that appears to give a bigger role to faculty and students on the planning teams.

Since October, two faculty unions have been in open revolt against Chancellor Steven Rosenstone over his handling of Charting the Future, a fledgling master plan that is supposed to modernize and streamline operations at the sprawling system with 410,000 students on 54 campuses.

Faculty critics had accused Rosenstone of ignoring their concerns that sweeping changes might harm the quality of education. Within a matter of weeks, the faculty groups at all seven Minnesota state universities passed no-confidence votes against the chancellor.

The feud had threatened to cost the system tens of millions in potential state funding, which it has been seeking to extend a tuition freeze. In January, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would not recommend any extra funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) until the two sides made peace.

Last week, Dayton signaled that the dispute was nearing an end, and that he would restore some MnSCU funding in his upcoming budget.

In Tuesday’s announcement, MnSCU officials, trustees and faculty unions agreed to include “increased input” from faculty, staff and students in the planning process. The agreement also appears to shift some of the control away from central headquarters to the campuses, noting that Charting the Future “will become a campus-based regional process.”

Monte Bute, a union activist and sociology professor at Metro State University, described the agreement as a victory for the unions. “This is what we fought for for 17 months,” he said. “It literally is taking Charting the Future out from under Rosenstone and out of the central office.”

But Kim Olson, a spokeswoman for MnSCU, said it’s a merely a way to get more input from the campuses. “Although we’ve had that in the past, I think you’ll get even more,” she said. “We’re just all really pleased that we’re going to be working together and moving ahead.”

Resistance from the start

Rosenstone had launched the Charting the Future project in 2012, saying that MnSCU had to change with the times to better serve students and help them graduate with less debt.

But the plan has run into resistance from the start. A first draft, in 2013, was blasted by the Inter Faculty Organization — which represents the state universities’ instructors — as a blueprint for “Soviet-style” central control of the campuses.

Last October, both of MnSCU’s faculty unions announced that their members would no longer participate in Charting the Future because they had lost trust in Rosenstone.

The dispute was fueled, in part, by the discovery that Rosenstone’s administration had quietly paid a private consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., $2 million to help jump-start Charting the Future. Faculty leaders complained that McKinsey was promoting a corporate mentality that would threaten the quality of education and cut programs and staff.

Rosenstone has said that McKinsey is no longer involved, and that he is seeking recommendations from a wide range of faculty, staff and students.

Some of the proposals floated so far would allow students to get credit for prior knowledge and experience, and to transfer among campuses more easily. Rosenstone has said that some programs or campuses could be consolidated, but that no decisions have been made.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC