What MnSCU chancellor candidate Steven Rosenstone had to say


It’s tough to wrap up a morning’s set of job interviews into a nice, neat summary.

I thought I could convey more by giving you the most interesting nuggets I heard this morning from the candidates’ chats with MnSCU trustees.

So here some bits from the first candidate for MnSCU chancellor, Steven Rosenstone, vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs at the University of Minnesota.

My quotations are not verbatim.

Rosenstone on low-performing students:

I don’t think creativity and innovation are only available or of capacity of “A” students. (It has been said): “‘A’ students become academics. ‘C’ students become billion dollar donors.” … It’s our responsibility to help them to be innovative and creative. … We lose as a state if leave people behind. We need the intellectual capital, and we need them to generate tax revenue. And it’s an ethical responsibility.

On remediation and unprepared students:

We can’t point the finger at the K-12 and say, ‘Do a better job. This magic line between 12th and 13th grade has got to get a lot fuzzier — and it has. We need to free up more resources to help students who need it. And technology helps.

On three important areas to work on:

1)      Education itself. We need students who can lead every sector of Minnesota’s economy. We need them to be creative and innovative.

2)      A long-term financial model. We need a model that recognizes our situation and looks for new revenue, cutting of cost structures, ways to deliver cost-effective education, and which understands best business practices.

3)     Collaboration. Centralization is one of our greatest strengths. But as you know, centralization can be costly. But the opposite of decentralization is not centralization. It’s collaboration and cooperation. And that includes other institutions, including the U of M. This administration has just begun to scratch the surface.

On support he’d need from trustees:

Once we go forward, I need my butt covered to get the job done. And there will be some tough stuff coming. If I’m going to do what needs to be done, there are going to be some people who are dissatisfied. There are going to be some hard choices. But I don’t think I’m coming in with my own private list. I don’t know what has to be done, because I haven’t been here long enough.

On the need to stay in touch with campus life as chancellor:

It would be the first time since age 17 that I haven’t been on a college campus. I’d worry about becoming out of touch. That would be horrific.

On a time he failed:

It wasn’t a time where my instinct was wrong, but where I didn’t know all the steps about communication and understanding why people will be unhappy.

In one case, there was a decision to close a program where I had been in communication with leadership of that program, because of its financial standing and where it fit in the college mission. We sent benchmarks, and in two years we closed it, because it hadn’t met those benchmarks. It was like a lightning bolt. Leadership had not communicated with the rest about just how serious the situation was. I won’t make that mistake again.

On a time he succeeded:

I’ve led a vision of transformation of a college (as dean of the U’s College of Liberal Arts) in my first 11 years. When I arrived at the U of M, it had lost a fifth of its faculty due to (layoffs). Graduation rates were horrendous, the spirit was very low, selectivity of admissions was not very high, there was not a sense of identity in the college. There was no attention to students or best practices. It’s not that way 11 years later. We’re competing with some of the best colleges and universities in the country for the first time. Students are recording great experiences. We turned it.

On for-profit colleges:

There are some aspects that they do very well. But we need to (offer education) that is better and at a lower price than what the for-profits offer. The state can’t let for-profits have that role.

On fund-raising — a weak point in the MnSCU system:

We need to reduce the cost of fund-raising – but that doesn’t the system should take over college foundations. Raising money is hard. Without relationships, a commitment of time and some inspiring ideas, you don’t raise serious money. I’d have to commit that time, and we need staff support. We need to be ruthless in our calculation of the return on investment in the choices we make. It’s clearly on my radar. But it’s not a magic wand. It’s not going to happen in the first six months. And it’s not gonna make up for the loss of state support. We’ll want to leverage state support. … And as the state gets out of the business, it will only make it harder to engage people on our behalf.

On tuition (something I’m trying to reconcile):

The best scholarship you can offer students is a low tuition. … (Later) … More and more of our revenue will depend on the money our students bring to classroom. We can’t sustain big tuition increases and (fulfill) our responsibility for access.

On his leadership style:

I believe in firm leadership. But I’m not a command-and-control guy. A command-and-control chancellor would be disastrous. MnSCU’s key element is decentralization. It allows for a huge variety in colleges and responsiveness, hand-tailoring of relationships with business, and faster reaction to market forces. The last thing you want is for a chancellor to come and take control.

It’s like that quote: “If central planning had been successful, Silicon Valley would be located a lot closer to Moscow than to San Francisco.”

On a potentially collaborative/competitive relationship with the U of M:

That’s a system I have experience in. I work for the people of Minnesota, and (incoming U president) Eric Kaler works for state of Minnesota. … (University of Minnesota President) Robert Bruininks told me this could be a tremendous opportunity for us to work together. And I told Kaler that no matter how this turns out, I want to be a collaborator with you. I think the people of Minnesota are counting on that (collaborative) conversation.

On sustaining innovation

You must give people a sense of stake (in the process) to make changes sustainable.