Editorial: Faults aside, don’t scuttle MnSCU’s visioning process

ECM Editorial Board: Faults aside, don’t scuttle MnSCU’s visioning process

Dec. 4, 2014

ECM Editorial Board editorial – Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has initiated an important planning and visioning process that will benefit Minnesota post-secondary students for many generations. If you have a son or daughter who may attend a state college, this planning process is very important to you. If you are a Minnesota business and rely on trained, well educated employees for success, this planning process is important. If you are a citizen/taxpayer committed to an excellent Minnesota, this planning process is important.

“Charting the Future,” developed by the MnSCU Board of Trustees and Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, addresses key issues for the future of our state colleges and outlines a process for engagement of students, staff and administrators.

The engagement process has come under serious challenge from faculty members and some student groups. They have voiced a vote of “no confidence” in the chancellor. Lack of openness on two issues: the chancellor’s contract and a consulting contract with McKinsey & Company associated with the development of the process, both of which seem to have been approved with inadequate public view, are included in the complaints.

Openness in government, including post-secondary public schools, is an essential right of the public and these two incidents need to be addressed by the board of trustees, assuring the public that this will not be the way they intend to operate in the future.

A third grievance voiced by the faculty gets closer to the “change issue.” There is a belief that the weight of participation is leveraged toward administration and trustees at the expense of faculty. The structure and the names of the participants as well as the issues to be addressed by several of these groups can be found on the MnSCU web page (http://bit.ly/1vHeFkk.) There may be issues of proportionate representation on different teams. However, our understanding is that these are “deliberative” groups, not voting groups.

Ultimately, the only group vote that will count will come from the MnSCU Board of Trustees and possibly the Legislature, either in an overall action or through individual pieces of legislation.

If there is a need to adjust the process it should address a fairness of listening and an assurance that the board of trustees can hear and does listen to all MnSCU constituents.

That listening will not necessarily constitute agreement but the ultimate actions of the trustees should be accompanied by a reflection of the opinions heard and the rationale for the action taken in light of those opinions. In this regard we have a suggestion as well.

We aren’t aware of a meaningful listening post for the parents of future MnSCU students. They and their sons and daughters will attend MnSCU schools under the effects of “Charting the Future.” The process could use a communications loop into the parents and families in our K-12 schools.

There may be a key issue at the base of the staff vote of “no confidence” that goes beyond participation and openness. Change elements focused on efficiency, quality of service, duplication of course and program offerings, empowerment of technology, affordability of tuition and future employment. All have an impact on the faculty but don’t necessarily improve their job security. Dismissing faculty concerns out of hand is neither productive nor wise; however, faculty reaction in part may reflect institutional pushback to the needed change. Trying to achieve meaningful change and maintaining the status quo isn’t going to work.

In the long run “Charting the Future” must be a continuous, ongoing process of renewal, not just an event. The programs and initiatives must be under constant review in the face of a quickly changing technological and economic world. The difficulties of this inaugural effort have to be resolved in support of a system with long term value.

Even now MnSCU has to address a huge diversity of learners and learning. It isn’t four years of college for everyone, or academic education for everyone, or professional education for everyone; there are many paths through the learning door. Not all learning must be directly job related and futurists have been telling us for years that the required job skills will change many times in a lifetime, and some learning must include general knowledge and self-renewal that empowers us to change and grow as that growth is needed.

“Charting the Future” asks that these issues and several others be addressed. The current spate of communications difficulties threaten the success of MnSCU’s efforts and those difficulties need to be addressed. The goals of “Charting the Future” are too important to be sacrificed to process and implementation problems.

This is am opinion from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board.