Editorial: ‘Charting the Future’ needs to proceed

MnSCU’s ‘Charting the Future’ needs to proceed: Pioneer Press Editorial

Nov. 29, 2014

“Business as usual is not an option,” the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has maintained since joining the sprawling system in 2011.

Steven Rosenstone’s message has remained clear in the face of mounting pushback this fall from some faculty and students against the “Charting the Future” change initiative he is charged with leading.

Regardless of the way opposition plays out, the challenges faced by MnSCU — the fifth-largest higher-education system of its kind in the nation — must be addressed, and the need to do so is urgent.

“Some have suggested that we can stop and reboot — we can go back to where we were a year or two ago and start over,” Rosenstone told system trustees earlier this month. “I don’t think we have the luxury to put off solutions for a couple more years. The risks to our colleges and universities, to our students, faculty and staff, and to the communities and partners we serve across the state are plainly abundant, and the risks are huge — absolutely huge.”

Rosenstone earlier this month invited two faculty unions to join him in state mediation he hoped would “help us find a way to re-engage the faculty in this critical initiative. Charting the Future is simply too important to the success of our students and our state — now and in the future — to allow disagreements about process (to) stand in the way of progress.”

The initiative is described as a blueprint for system-wide change, which “is essential to our ability to serve students in a permanent environment of scarce resources, continuous change and increasing expectations,” according to the report that laid out its objectives.

From the beginning, we considered the effort a move in the right direction — toward increased collaboration among the 31 colleges and universities on 54 campuses in 47 communities.

On these pages, we look for and recognize initiatives by public bodies to work smarter as they deal with constrained resources and changing demographics. It’s work that is especially important at MnSCU, as it strives to improve access to education, increase affordability and better serve students.

The days of “more money” are gone, Rosenstone told us last year. The “Charting the Future” recommendations will help MnSCU use the resources it has in ways that are “even more powerful.”

Recommendations include sharing some services and leveraging the size of the system to negotiate with suppliers for better prices. They also include such things as making courses more easily transferable among MnSCU schools.

Concerns range from centralization and standardization to fears the process would diminish the liberal arts in favor of more focus on career preparation.

Along the way, objections have been raised about transparency in the process, including a $2 million consulting contract with New-York based McKinsey & Co.

Rosenstone readily admits that there are things he’d do differently. “I have said publicly, many times, that I could have handled some things better,” he said at the Nov. 19 meeting at which the MnSCU board and system presidents delivered a vote of confidence in both his leadership and the change effort.

The board and presidents are right when they say the work must continue.

“Gallery Walks” earlier this fall in 39 locations around the state showcased concepts developed by teams working to implement the recommendations. More than 5,000 students, faculty, staff and community members attended.

Perhaps some of the difficulties can be understood in the context of the system itself — still a relative newcomer.

The law creating MnSCU was passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1991 and went into effect in mid-1995. Clearly, the challenges of combining the huge system of four-year, two-year and technical colleges educating more than 400,000 students — still are apparent.

Watching the struggle, we’ve noted that the pull of the status quo is strong.

It takes a strong will to overcome the inertia that keeps organizations on familiar paths, along with openness to risk-taking — for the common good — from all parties.

MnSCU already has two years of hard work and resources invested in “Charting the Future.” Students — and Minnesotans — are counting on it to deliver needed change.