MN State University faculty: MnSCU plan grabs too much central control

In June, I reported on a MnSCU plan — called Charting the Future — that would revamp how the state’s colleges and universities do business.

The idea was to come up with statewide plans in areas such as academics, e-learning, training and facilities. It could lead to campus mergers, the elimination of some programs and relocation of others to where MnSCU thought it needed them most.

At the time, Winona State University President Scott Olson, who helped lead the project, called the potential changes “disruptive” to the system.

Looks like it has proven that already.

The Inter Faculty Organization today has come out against the plan, saying it smacks of overcentralization.

(Sound familiar? I recently reposted a commentary on that very subject by Winona State University professor Darrell Downs. He was one of the officials who explained the announcement to today.)

You can read their full stance above. But I spoke with several IFO officials this morning, and my boiled-down interpretation of their position is essentially this:

The plan would put too much power into the hands of MnSCU’s central office. That alone would create more bureaucracy and raise costs, yet the plan also fails to address college affordability. It puts far too high an emphasis on technical education, and would inject an amount of academic uniformity that would stifle innovation — ultimately leading to a lowest-common-denominator level of educational quality. The plan caters too much to the interest of business, and has failed to show enough consideration toward members of the communities in which MnSCU has campuses.

Michael Dougherty, vice chancellor for advancement at MnSCU, emailed me this response:

“The draft recommendations neither suggest nor should lead to more centralization or a larger system office. The solutions to the challenges facing higher education will not be solved by centralization, but rather by collaboration and coordination that takes advantage of the individual characteristics and strengths of each of our colleges and universities.  This will position our campuses to better serve Minnesota students, communities and businesses by fostering efficiency, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

He said that since the June unveiling of the draft, the workgroups behind the report “have been seeking feedback and suggestions from constituent  groups across the state. These outreach efforts will continue through mid-October.  The suggestions and input will be used by the strategic workgroups as they revise the draft recommendations and prepare their  final report.”

He said the final recommendations will go to Chancellor Rosenstone and the trustees prior to the November board meeting.

  • BLindberg

    With some clarification, I would suggest that the IFO positions are not that far off from the intentions of Chancellor Rosenstone, which need to be framed from a body of work over the past two years and not solely on a preliminary set of ideas put forth by Charting the Future work groups for the purpose of generating discussion.

    Let’s take IFO point number four as an example. I believe there is wide agreement among senior leaders, administrators and faculty that higher education should be “driven by the demands of students and families.” But what are they demanding?

    According to the 2012 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 88 percent of 192,000 freshman surveyed said the ability to attain a good job was a very important reason for going to college, and 75 percent said the ability to earn more money was a very important reason. Both proportions are the highest ever recorded in the annual study that dates back to the 1970s, when many faculty began their careers and the motivations for pursuing a degree were quite different. But as one of our Minnesota folk heroes once chanted: “the times they are a- changin.”

    Enhanced economic security is by no means the only reason young people and their families choose to invest their time and money in higher education, as the study notes; “…a majority of students still said they went to college to get an education and gain an appreciation of ideas. It’s just that now, more of them put an even greater value on job-related reasons.”

    So as in many “either-or” debates, the correct answer is both. If public higher education hopes to serve the interests of their students and regain the level of public support needed to fulfill that mission (and pay faculty salaries), we must provide both an intellectually and socially engaging environment AND the competencies now required by a globalized, highly competitive and technologically sophisticated economy.

    I work with many faculty members who understand that the reality of today’s radically changed economy and public policy environment does not allow the vast majority of employers to spend large sums of money to “train” entry-level employees. Rather, they hold the reasonable expectation that they have already paid for a “work ready” level of competency through corporate and payroll taxes. In many cases, employers also commit additional funding through contributions, grants, paid internships and many forms of in-kind support.

    It’s well past time to recognize that employers are rightful partners in public higher education, and that we in public higher education are partners in helping our private organizations remain viable in a global economy that demands the best talent we can develop. Anything less is a downward spiral in overall prosperity.