MnSCU withholds proposal from students

BY JOSIE GERESZEK — gereszekjo@mnstate.edu

Despite the growing discussion surrounding MnSCU’s Charting the Future, it seems the average student is still uncertain what exactly the proposal involves. A series of meetings in the past few months have indicated that even those responsible for its continuation are as well, thanks to MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.

Wednesday saw a “gallery walk” to provide displays about the proposed education reform to students, faculty and community members. That evening, MSUM’s Student Senate hosted a town hall meeting to address a hefty number of concerns regarding CTF.

Rosenstone first introduced the initiative about two years ago in the system office. It was then put up for review by the Minnesota State University Student Association, which is funded by student fees and represents student bodies to state legislators and the system office. As the still-vague reform would impact MnSCU’s 31 institutions and approximately 430,000 students, Student Body President Cody Meyer and other MSUSA directors are working to fight CTF until they know more about it.

“This hasn’t really come to light, it wasn’t really a topic of conversation very much at the campus levels until the last few months and into late last academic year,” Meyer said.

The process began when MnSCU applied for a $200,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Soon after, its design was underhandedly tasked to McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, to help it launch the overhaul for a fee of $2 million.

MnSCU policy calls for board approval only for vendor contracts of $3 million or more. At the University of Minnesota, with almost twice the operating budget, the cutoff is $1 million.

The unapproved $2 million contract with McKinsey & Co. came as a surprise to students and faculty involved with Charting the Future.

Numerous representatives have said they are pushing for changes to increase transparency and board oversight at MnSCU, in light of a growing number of communication shortcomings stemming from the chancellor.

Reportedly, Rosenstone did not bring up the contract or $2 million deal with McKinsey when students asked about the plan’s costs or when he updated the board of trustees about the initiative.

“That seems like a detail that should have been made known to all stakeholders in this process,” MSUSA State Chair Kari Cooper said in an interview with Pioneer Press.

She said association members asked Rosenstone about expenses Charting the Future would be incurring during an April meeting.

“No mention of McKinsey was brought up when we point-blank asked,” Cooper said.

In response, Rosenstone said MnSCU did not publicize the contract because the company prefers to “work in the background.” He also said student leaders did not explicitly ask if the system had engaged an outside consultant.

“A lot of people were uncomfortable about it because the board of trustees and the students and a lot of the faculty didn’t find out about the $2 million contract from the chancellor or the system office themselves — they found out from a Pioneer Press article,” Meyer said.

Its basis is centered around some key recommendations, which include a dramatic increase in the success of all learners, a collaborative and coordinated academic planning process, certification of student competencies and capabilities, the expansion of pathways to accelerate degree completion, the foster of competency-based credit and degrees, expansion of technology use, the strengthening of classroom instruction and student services, the provision of more individualized learning and advising, the provision of comprehensive workplace solutions, and the redesign of financial and administrative models.

“On the surface they sound pretty good,” Meyer said. “These are pretty broad goals, there are things that we want to see accomplished in education.”

Implementation teams were established to address each of the following issues: student success, academic planning and collaboration, diversity, comprehensive workplace solutions, system incentives and rewards, information technology, steering committee, and competency certification and credit for prior learning.

They were tasked with confirming how to deliver on MnSCU’s mission. Issues began with a lack of student representation on the task committees. At a maximum, the implementation teams were made up of 18 members, only one of which was an MSUSA representative. This posed a problem: MSUSA  representatives didn’t like the make-up of the implementation teams. They felt their voices didn’t have as much weight as some of the other parties involved. Further, only 500 of MnSCU’s 430,000 students provided input.

“One thing about these committees is that they don’t vote,” Meyer said. “That was a problem that we had at the MSUSA level, that when you have this committee and we’re bringing input to the table, these people who are leading these committees, who are trained by McKinsey & Co., there’s no voting. So, there’s an acknowledgement that yes, we’ll take your input and we’ll talk about it, thank you for doing what you do, and then we move on with business. When you are expected to be the chief recipient of the benefits and also, mind you, the chief recipient of the bill, that’s a little bit of a problem. Your voices need to be brought to the table.”

To address the issue, MSUSA proposed two fixes, one was “More of Us, Less of You,” which would put students at 33 percent of the individuals making these decisions. This would obligate the donation of four “Additional Campus Staff” spaces to students, and would mean that each group had one-third representation.

The second, less-ideal option was “Less of You, More Equality,” which would put students at 15 percent of the decision-making groups. That would mean the removal of  “Additional Campus Staff” and limit the size of “System Office Staff” to two slots. This would leave students, presidents, and the system office each with 16 percent representation, and faculty and staff with 25 percent.

This was addressed with avoidance. Rosenstone was quoted at MnSCU’s September Board of Directors Meeting saying, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Apparently, we have not reached that bridge. The lack of representation has seemingly put students even further in the dark.

“So here in my hands, I have the McKensey document, which represents the implementation of Charting the Future,” Meyer said. “Now this is about $2 million and this is $2 million of student fees, and if you are a citizen, this is your money too.”

Meyer stood silently in front of the town hall’s audience, and began to flip through what was supposed to be the document spelling out the dramatic change to the way MnSCU institutions are run. Almost all of its 42 pages were blacked out.

“This is a problem, and this is really where part of my frustration and part of my bias is going to creep in,” Meyer said. “I’m a little bit pissed off about this.”

Even after receiving the heavily-censored document, the association continued to participate in Charting the Future. Chair Cooper attended stakeholder meetings, representatives continued attempts to give input, but it still didn’t seem their voices were being heard.

Rosenstone seemingly begs to differ.

“From the beginning, everyone has had a seat at the table,” he wrote in an email. “The process continues to be one that welcomes everyone’s best ideas. We will continue to use this effort as a roadmap to serve our students better and strengthen our colleges and universities.”

To address the indications of student input being ignored, MSUSA stakeholder groups started meeting in private. They arrived at an ultimatum: the chancellor was to show the McKinsey document in its full, unredacted entirety, or support and involvement would be pulled. The notion was presented to the chancellor.

“How can we react, how can we know if this is a positive program if we can’t see what’s going on, if our input is not being brought to the table, and if we can’t understand and see how this is being implemented?” Meyer said.

Still, it seems few involved at the campus or state levels have seen the document.

“We know the system office has seen it,” Meyer said. “None of the stakeholder groups have seen it yet. MSUSA has not seen it yet. I know it was offered to several campuses to be seen in the event that they had given an affirmative vote.”

Student Senate Internal Affairs Chair Sean Duckworth further detailed the extent of the system office’s ambiguity.

“Not even the implementation teams, the people that are supposed to be guiding the process, have seen the McKinsey document,” Duckworth said. “So the people actually on these teams who are supposed to be providing input and guiding it haven’t seen the basic plan and outline for what’s supposed to happen, from the words of implementation team leaders themselves.”

Early October, the steering committee received MSUSA’s aged ultimatum. Chair Cooper attended its meeting, which quickly turned confrontational. Chancellor Rosenstone and President Potter of St. Cloud were reported to have aggressively confronted Chair Cooper at the meeting regarding conflicts related to Charting the Future. The report was recounted by multiple stakeholder heads who agreed that the reaction was both over the top and unprofessional.

In a recent interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Cooper recalled the meeting.

“I left that meeting in tears,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t going to sit there as a student and be talked to like that from people who are supposed to be supporting me and supposed to be collaborating with me.”

In an email, Rosenstone seemingly defended his behavior.

“Change is hard and is always accompanied by high emotion and complication,” he wrote. “Without a doubt, some things could have been handled differently, and some handled better. I remain committed to doing my best to make sure all opinions are heard and all people are treated respectfully.”

The MSUSA Board of Directors has not yet come to a conclusive, unanimous decision.

“We really have one of two choices here,” Meyer said. “Do we support Charting the Future, or should we withdraw?”

Recently, two major faculty unions withdrew their support from Charting the Future at the state level. They will no longer be participating in steering group meetings or implementation.

“They want out,” Meyer said. “They don’t believe in the process, which is pretty unfortunate, and I think that says a lot about how this process is going and what’s going on.”

In the last two weeks, St. Cloud has posted an affirmative resolution to the reform, only to be retracted by St. Cloud faculty, though its student association remains on board. Winona however, has passed a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Rosenstone, though it is uncertain if they aim to formally withdraw from Charting the Future efforts. There have yet to be any decisions from Metro, Bemidji, Southwest, or Mankato. In September, Meyer posted a resolution indicating MSUM’s stance on the processes surrounding Charting the Future.

“You put me in a position when you voted for me to make decisions, and I have a problem with idleness,” Meyer said. “I don’t like to sit still, particularly when this process is not waiting. We’re almost a quarter way through implementation at this point, and the board has yet to come to a decision. But in mid to late September, I posted Moorhead’s stance. And in that stance I said no.”

The MSUSA-level resolution’s bill of particulars elaborates on Meyer’s issues with the reform due to the expenditure of $2 million which provided no insight to students, his perception of student voices having not been valued, the non-democratic process which the MnSCU system has reportedly insisted on using to complete further actions, the chancellor’s personal behavior, and multiple issues on the fronts of  transparency, accountability, and trustworthiness.

In it he states that the emphasis on aligning majors with workforce need for Minnesota business is “at face value, harmful to students.” It continues that while the goal seems admirable and realistic on the surface, it holds an implication of further cuts to liberal arts curricula.

“We, as the students of MSUM have already felt cuts in programs and there are concerns as to who will be setting the agenda,” Meyer said. “The liberal arts curriculum and a broad exposure to arts, language, culture, and other disciplines associated with the liberal arts are close to the hearts and priorities of students at MSUM and they are concerned with the possible realignment of educational outcomes and who’s directing them.”

Meyer continued that the severe lack of consultation with stakeholder groups, particularly with students, is completely unacceptable.

He added that the excessive secrecy surrounding the reform has hindered any and all ability to critique or analyze the agenda.

“The lack of transparency regarding the documents has been an issue of extreme concern from the beginning,” Meyer said. “The documents regarding the implementation, content, or anything regarding Charting the Future have not been made available for review by the stakeholders. It is a serious problem.”

The concerns were followed by an additional criticism of McKinsey & Co.’s apparent ethics and priorities.

Meyer’s call for change formally requests a stance on Charting the Future to be made public from the MSUSA board of directors and that the state chair formally request an unaltered copy of the McKinsey document to be presented for review at the next board of directors meeting.

“As director for Moorhead, I formally and officially reject Charting the Future,” the bill resolves. “I cannot and will not on good conscience accept the process and the intended output of the project. It has since its beginning been secretive, non-inclusive, and harmful to students. I formally vote no and will continue my involvement to fight for students.”

Meyer said the student association of St. Cloud may be upholding its approval as a result of administrative interference.

“Notably, recently the chancellor did call all of the university presidents asking them to ask directors to get online and have a talk with them about Charting the Future and about what’s going on,” Meyer said.

“Some of them legitimately accept Charting the Future and think it’s a good idea, some of the university presidents have had some serious backlash. We saw it with State Chair Cooper at the committee meeting with President Potter, we’ve seen it at some of the individual campus levels, where university presidents are intimidating their own senates. They’re using their influence as a weapon to bring senates on board. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth. It’s what’s happening.”

He emphasized Senate’s experience here has been nothing short of respectful.

“There’s something that needs to be understood,” Meyer said. “Anne Blackhurst works for the chancellor. We don’t. So she’s in a position where, she rocks the boat, that could damage her career, but Anne Blackhurst has never once done one of those things. In fact, she pulled me aside in one of our one-on-ones and said that she fully respects and understands our concerns and she respects our right to organize, to voice our concerns, to talk about it. She has been very good to us.”

Meyer said that’s still no reason to stop asking questions:

“First and foremost, get educated. Know what’s going on, because they’re banking on you. They expect you to not know what’s going on. In fact, they profit from it, so the less you know, the better off they are. Second of all, start talking about it. Start asking questions of the system office. Start asking questions of Moorhead. You are in a position where you paid for it. You’re in charge here. Get educated and ask questions because that’s what they fear the most. They don’t like you asking questions. They have an expectation that you’re just going to sit idly and you’re going to let the big boys take care of what needs to be taken care of.

And that’s part of the problem. That’s where these secret $2 million contracts come from. That’s where implementation teams not listening to students comes from. That’s where problems with this process have derived from. Get educated, ask questions, and keep pushing.”

October 17, the 30 presidents of all MnSCU institutions signed a letter of support stating: “We, the presidents of the MnSCU colleges and universities, are united in our enthusiasm for and pride in the work to-date on Charting the Future. The collaborative effort of the students, faculty and staff at our colleges and universities shows in the progress that’s been made and the plans moving forward. We stand ready for what’s next, with a keen eye toward student success and institutional excellence.”

Meyer said it’s difficult to approve of something few know anything about.

“We can’t critique it, we can’t analyze it. You paid for it, but you can’t see it,” Meyer said. “I’m not going to sit back idly and watch my students get patted on the head and told that someone else knows what’s best for them. I don’t believe in that, I don’t believe that’s democratic. I don’t believe that’s ethical. I don’t believe anything about it.”

In response, Meyer has created the Moorhead Resolution, a series of educational goals which will be released this week.

A new blog titled Charting Moorhead’s Future has also been created to document progress with the reform.

“Unfortunately, we have heard rumors that the heads of some of our unions have decided to walk away from the Charting the Future effort,” Rosenstone wrote in an email to students and faculty. “Despite their stance, I will continue to seek the input of all students, faculty, and staff just as I have done for the past two years that we have all been working together on Charting the Future.”

At the Senate’s latest meeting Thursday, it unanimously voted to formally oppose Charting the Future.

“I made a position on behalf of Moorhead and I am of the firm belief that as your representative official at MSUSA, as your student body president, you’ve entrusted me with a responsibility to sometimes make decisions even when I don’t have all the information,” Meyer said. “I have to go on my gut. I have to go on what I know is right, and I have to go on what I know you, as students, value. And that’s what I feel I did with my resolution, and with my continued questions, concerns, and active fight against Charting the Future. There may come a day where we get what we want, where we get the equal representation, where we get to see a product that is more reflective of what we want as students, but until that day and until we have gotten that representation and we’ve gotten that input and we’ve gotten that correction of process, I will continue to fight it tooth and nail.”

Rosenstone appears in denial of students’ retaliation.

“While the heads of the unions may have made the regrettable decision to walk away from the table, their seats will be there for them whenever they decide to return,” Rosenstone said.

But students aren’t swayed.

“On the basis of some of the behavior that’s come out of the system office, based on things that have happened at the state level with some of these implementation teams, I’m going to say that we’re assuming the worst and hoping for the best,” Meyer said.

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