The top seven MN higher education stories of 2014

Center of a lot of news Courtesy of UMN

This year didn’t spare any sector of Minnesota higher education from headlines.

Campuses in the public, for-profit and nonprofit sectors struggled with crime, labor dissatisfaction, legal troubles or complaints over race relations.

Here’s a chronological look at how that all played out in seven of the most notable Minnesota higher education stories from this year:

1.) U of M battles crime

After a rash of high-profile robberies on and around the University of Minnesota campus in Fall 2013, university students called for university leaders to crack down on crime.

Throughout 2014, the campus community saw a range of safety-education and security measures, such as an increase in police staffing, improved lighting on campus, and a restriction in the number of hours many campus buildings were open to the public.

Let’s talk campus climate. Alex Friedrich / MPR News

The heightened security didn’t please everybody. Some African-American students and faculty voiced suspicion that they were being racially profiled.

Those concerned with campus safety also braced for the summer debut of the Green Line — which opened three stations on the Minneapolis campus in June – and the fall arrival of Vikings Sunday football games at TCF Stadium.

Some in the community feared the line would make it easier for criminals to access campus, and thought Vikings fans might be a bit too rowdy on Sundays.

But campus police Chief Greg Hestness says he’s seen no significant problems.

This month the U reported that robberies this fall – 13, including two on campus — were just half what they were last year. They were also lower than the five-year fall average of 17.

Despite the return to a calmer campus, Vice President Pam Wheelock cautioned,  “We have no crystal ball. So we’re going to just keep our level of effort and awareness up and hope that that doesn’t repeat itself.”

2.) Unionization votes come to campus

A national push for the unionization of adjunct professors hit three private Minnesota colleges this year — but succeeded on only one.

Tried to organize Alex Friedrich / MPR News

Hamline University faculty voted overwhelmingly in June to bring in Service Employees International Union, citing concerns they had over pay, benefits and working conditions. But their Macalester counterparts had canceled their spring vote earlier that year, and in July the adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas voted down unionization there by a vote of 136 to 84.

The union’s efforts spread in the fall to all faculty at the University of Minnesota, which saw the appearance of a website called University of Minnesota Academics United. That effort is still underway.

3.) Globe University sees state, federal trouble

Two years after MPR News looked at the marketing and recruiting tactics employed by Globe University / Minnesota School of Business, state Attorney General Lori Swanson sued the school in July, saying it misled students about their job prospects after graduation.

That suit, a Globe spokeswoman later said, prompted the U.S. Department of Defense’s tuition-assistance program to put the two schools on probation this year. That meant the schools could not receive tuition benefits for new students on active duty, in the Reserves or National Guard.

The spokeswoman has rejected the claims in the suit, and said the department’s decision was “unnecessary.”

The state suit is set to go to trial Nov. 30 of next year.

4.) Mankato coach firing, investigation criticized

What happened? Jackson Forderer / For MPR News

In April, an arbitrator ruled that Minnesota State University – Mankato should reinstate football coach Todd Hoffner, whom it fired in 2013.

Hoffner had faced two child pornography charges in 2012 over videos he’d recorded of his naked, dancing children. A judge ruled they were an innocent family recordings, and dismissed the charges.

The university later dismissed him anyway for unspecified reasons, and the arbitrator said it had no grounds to do so.

In October, state Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles issued a report that didn’t take sides on Hoffner’s dismissal, but said the state should rethink how it undertakes personnel investigations.

He wrote that an MSU-Mankato investigator held interviews in which the witnesses were not under oath and were not recorded. He also said the investigator destroyed the notes of her interviews after submitting her report to the university – all practices Nobles found “troubling.”

5.) U of M sees reviews of drug trials

How has the U treated its subjects? Alex Friedrich / MPR News

The suicide of University of Minnesota drug-trial patient Dan Markingson a decade ago has sparked concerns by many scholars that he was exploited by university researchers running the study.

After repeated calls from university critics — including former Gov. Arne Carlson — the U in June announced in June it had hired an outside body to review its clinical research practices.

It wasn’t the review of the Markingson case that many faculty had called for. U of M bioethicists Leigh Turner and Carl Elliott, as well as other scholars, raised concerns over whether the review would be thorough and unbiased.

Later that month, the state legislative auditor said he would investigate the U’s handling of the past 10 years of drug-trial patients – including the Markingson case. It was a development Turner called “very encouraging.”

6.) Community voices outrage over “Redskins”

Amid a national campaign to persuade the owner of the Washington Redskins to change the team’s name, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler came out against its use, calling the name “offensive.”

Kaler said he would work with the Vikings to prevent its use in publicity materials for the Nov. 2 game against the Vikings in TCF Bank Stadium on campus – but warned that the U did not have authority over the NFL team.

Keep it out of the stadium. Judy Griesedieck / MPR News

Some American Indian advocates said that wasn’t true, and claimed the U wasn’t using all its legal muscle to block the name. They said the team name violated university policy on offensive speech. And they cited passages in the Vikings stadium lease contract they said gave the U the power to bar the Vikings from the stadium or take the team to court to collect damages.

The university’s lead attorney argued the passage on language was meant to restrict advertising and sponsorships – not team names or logos.

The university held a series of events in October to highlight the effect of stereotypes in American Indian mascots and logos. And several thousand protesters demonstrated in front of the stadium before the game on Nov. 2.

Despite Kaler’s stated efforts, the Vikings put no restrictions on the use of Washington’s name — which U of M Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert called “unacceptable.”

7.) MnSCU overhaul falters

The signs were long in coming.

After Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system Chancellor Steven Rosenstone unveiled a proposal in 2013 to revamp how the system would do business – a plan called Charting the Future – faculty representatives were uneasy.

They said the proposed reforms smelled of Soviet centralization and feared the plan would put too much power into the hands of the central office.

In June of this year, the statewide faculty union issued a list of complaints against Rosenstone, who they said had driven faculty morale to a new low through mismanagement and a show of disrespect toward professors.

We’re not on board. Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

In October, faculty began to bolt. Winona State University started a wave that led faculty at all seven state universities to hold votes of “no confidence” in Rosenstone’s leadership.

The system’s two statewide unions pulled out of the planning process. They said they didn’t have enough say in decision-making, and feared the plan would lead to “the McDonaldization of higher education.”

They expressed distrust in Rosenstone, citing revelations that the chancellor had quietly signed a contract extension the previous fall – a move that was never formally disclosed to the board – and had signed a $2 million contract with an overhaul consultant under the radar of faculty and students as well.

They rejected Rosenstone’s public offer of state mediation in November, saying it was a surprise announcment – and a political strong-arm tactic to get them to the table on his terms.

Rosenstone has said the reform process will continue. The unions still aren’t in mediation with him, but university faculty union President Jim Grabowska said faculty representatives have been in informal talks with several trustees about their concerns.