I tracked down the incoming chairs of the House and Senate committees on higher education — Republicans Bud Nornes and Michelle Fischbach — and got a few comments about what they see ahead in the coming year.
The only really interesting comment was Nornes’ criticism of the recent bonuses that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system gave to its top officials much to the outrage of unions and some workers:
This has created a real negative within (the system). It hasn’t helped morale. At a time when others have to tighten their belts, the same should apply to (top administrators.) We should have the feeling that we’re all in this together.
In response to MnSCU statements that those administrators are being rewarded for meeting goals and doing a good job, Nornes said, in effect:
We expect them to do a good job. We shouldn’t have to give them bonuses to do a good job.
Of course, the MnSCU and its institutions are the ones that determine bonuses — not the legislature — but Nornes implied the legislature could lean on the HQ:
We can’t say no (and stop the bonuses), but we can make it clear where we stand. … It’s time they rethink it. (After all) there will be a new chancellor.
Neither education committee has been named yet — Fischbach said that should happen in the next two weeks or so — and neither chair seemed to have any concrete agenda yet, as it was too soon after their committee assignments. Fischbach is new to the higher ed committee scene and is getting up to speed, but this isn’t the first higher-ed committee Nornes has been on.
(Fischbach has St. Cloud State, St. Cloud Technical Community College, St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in her district, and Nornes has Minnesota State Community and Technical College – Fergus Falls in his. Fischbach also has two children attending St. Cloud State.)
Neither would say much of anything about budget reductions until the budget forecast arrives next month or how likely it is that legislators will reach Republican gubernatorial contender Tom Emmer’s target of $300+ million in cuts. Nor did they have any particular issues they thought University of Minnesota presidential finalist Eric Kaler should address.
They didn’t see any sort of consolidation of MnSCU campuses on the horizon, though Nornes said having campuses specialize in particular fields to reduce overlap is something to continue pursuing.
Nornes, however, didn’t seem to warm to the idea of having one president govern multiple campuses, as is done in some parts of MnSCU. He said such an arrangement “hasn’t been exactly successful.”
His campus shares a president, Ann Valentine, with other Minnesota State Community and Technical College campuses in Detroit Lakes, Moorhead and Wadena.
Norne’s Fergus Falls campus is undergoing “an identity crisis” of sorts because of that one-leader-with-several-campuses approach.
The idea is OK, but we have run into the situation where if you’re running all these campuses, they all have to be equal. It’s like having four kids and not treating them equally — it doesn’t work. You don’t want one campus to be jealous of another.