by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Steven Rosenstone dismisses the idea his administration has a Kremlin mentality.
“It’s silly,” the Minnesota State Colleges and University chancellor said of a faculty union last summer describing draft recommendations to increase access, affordability and transferability as a move toward “Soviet-style management.”
“It’s preposterous to imagine I would support it or that it would work,” Rosenstone said of pulling the strings on 31 MnSCU institutions from St. Paul.
The MnSCU Board of Trustees in November approved “Charting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota,” a strategic plan whose draft drew fire, but the final version accolades, from the trustees.
It calls for increasing the affordability, transferability and access to MnSCU programs and services; the innovative use of technology; the designing of financial and administrative models to reward collaboration and drive efficiencies; and other goals.
Although its words have cooled, the Inter Faculty Organization, which made the “Soviet-style” comment, still expresses unease.
In a Dec. 11 letter to Rosenstone, IFO President Nancy Black requested the chancellor back off a draft implementation plan, expected in January, and instead convene a constituency council to implement the goals.
Such a council is “crucial” to a system as diverse as MnSCU, Black said.
The IFO, which represents 4,000 faculty at seven Minnesota state universities, supports the core commitments in Charting the Future. But the union has expressed concern over exactly what words, such as “collaboration,” mean.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking in early December, said he believes Rosenstone is on the right track.
“I think what he’s doing to get MnSCU brought into the modern era, to focus on the jobs of the future, the kind training needed to be successful at the jobs, is just outstanding,” Dayton said.
Rosenstone, speaking Dec. 12, said the ideas he plans to present to the board of trustees in January will reflect the ideas of the people who helped craft Charting the Future.
While withholding judgment on the constituency council idea, Rosenstone stressed speed of action.
“At the end of the day, we have to get started. Somebody has to lead this,” he said.
Not all lawmakers are sitting on the edge of their seats. House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Gene Pelowski Jr., DFL-Winona, a sharp critic of MnSCU, views the Charting the Future initiative as needless.
“You’re looking at what I call ‘ed-u-speak,’” Pelowski, an educator by profession, said of the document.
“I think ed-u-speak is to disguise whatever you’re thinking and whatever it is that you want to do,” he said.
Lawmakers and Dayton have already charted the future with an infusion of $250 million into higher education and a two-year tuition freeze for MnSCU and University of Minnesota students, Pelowski said.
He criticized Charting the Future for lacking focus on central issues — reducing student debt and keeping tuition costs down — while ignoring budgetary implications, among other problems.
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Pelowski said of the strategic plan. “I’ve got things to worry about that are real.”
Rosenstone briskly defends the initiative. Over the next several years, Minnesotans will see MnSCU colleges and universities grow stronger by collaborating more closely, with students moving across the system with greater ease, Rosenstone explained. Affordability is a central theme, he said.
The chancellor believes he has good support in the Legislature. Moreover, he has reached out to the unions, MnSCU presidents and students.
“And I’m not backing off,” Rosenstone said.
The January meeting of the Board of Trustees is scheduled for Jan. 22.
Speaking on other issues, Rosenstone said MnSCU enrollment is down about 2 percent; the decrease is reflected across higher education nationally.
In part, he ascribed this to an improving economy.
“When the economy goes south, people go to school,” he said. “When the economy improves, they’ve completed their degrees, they go back to work.”
Additionally, the state has reached the “top of the curve” on number of Minnesotans graduating from high school, he said. Enrollment is down, but still higher than in recent years.
“We’re still about 12 points higher than where we were prior to the Great Recession,” Rosenstone said.
Tim Budig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.