Charting the Future: Faculty unions reject MnSCU mediation proposal, Winona senate interacts with system representatives

By Josie Gereszek

Following votes of no-confidence in MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone from faculty union leaders at five out of the seven MnSCU institutions, a pending vote and an official vote from two MnSCU universities, and a withdrawal of both of the system’s faculty unions, the chancellor says a state agency has agreed to mediate faculty unions’ dispute with MnSCU leaders over how to carry out an overhaul of the system. MnSCU has proposed using the services of the state’s Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution to resolve the disagreements.

“We’re clearly not making the progress I’d like to see in reaching a shared understanding of how to move forward,” Rosenstone said in an interview with MPR.

He says he wants to start mediation as soon as possible, but union leaders aren’t having it.

Reportedly, when Rosenstone made the announcement, he had just rejected a faculty request to discuss their complaints with him at a union meeting scheduled for Friday.

In an interview with MPR, Inter Faculty Organization action coordinator Monte Bute called Rosenstone’s announcement a “political ploy,” and said union leaders have decided not to proceed with the mediation.

“There’s no way that we can enter into negotiations when the chancellor has acted in bad faith,” Bute said. “This is exactly the kind of behavior [that has led to] campuses voting no-confidence in the chancellor.”

The president of the union for faculty at two-year colleges, Kevin Lindstrom, said he respected the decision to reject Rosenstone’s offer, though he said his union remains in preliminary talks about state mediation.

Late Thursday evening, Inter Faculty Organization President Jim Grabowska sent out a press release also suggesting Rosenstone was engaging in political maneuvering.

“In labor relations, mediation is a mutual process to be held in confidence, never to be exploited for political gain,” he wrote. “This recent action is part of a pattern of behavior which is an important reason that the faculty unions have lost trust in his leadership.”

MnSCU spokesperson Doug Anderson said in a written reply Thursday night that announcing the proposed mediation did not violate confidentiality, as mediation had not yet begun nor been accepted.

“The faculty’s refusal to mediate is fair,” MSUSA Chair Kari Cooper said. “I believe they would have been willing to do so had MnSCU kept it private, the way a mediation is supposed to go. It wasn’t necessary to announce it to the media.”

Winona State student leaders have joined university faculty in expressing concern over Rosenstone’s leadership. Not only is the university’s student senate mulling over an official vote of no-confidence in the chancellor, but it has also formally announced a list of student complaints, some of which are similar to those that university faculty union leaders presented in June.

The main areas of concern about the chancellor aren’t new: lack of transparency, dismissiveness, and failure to effectively represent the system in his dealings with the state legislature. Its Bill of Particulars addresses the performance, professionalism, and accountability of the chancellor.

Rosenstone responded to their complaints saying, “I take very seriously the concerns raised by the Winona State University Student Senate and hope to meet in person as soon as possible to discuss them. We have reached out to the Winona student leadership.  I would welcome the opportunity to personally meet with any of our student groups to discuss any topic at any time.”

A meeting between Winona’s student senate and the chancellor to address the Bill of Particulars is scheduled for Wednesday.

Cooper said it can be difficult to make a statement like Winona’s.

“I applaud them for taking a stance,” Cooper said. “It’s not easy to stand up as a student and say ‘these actions you’ve taken are not okay with us,’ and for that I am proud of their courage. The easiest way to solve these issues is for the chancellor to take responsibility and admit that he has to change the way he does things, because as it has been made clear, his current leadership philosophies are not meshing well with his constituents.”

This is apparent in a Friday decision among student leaders at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Their senate has officially passed the first student union vote of “no confidence” in the chancellor.

Student Senate spokesperson Amber Hamm wrote in a press release that included in the vote’s publication is yet another list of concerns over Rosenstone’s performance. The list states that Rosenstone was not being transparent with financial actions as chancellor, had shown a lack of professionalism, and failed to effectively represent the interests of colleges and students.

“We hope to continue to educate our student body and bring awareness to the community in regard to Steven Rosenstone’s lack of ability to be inclusive with the student body. It is our intention to be in the best interest of our students, and based on the responses of our students, we boldly state no confidence in Steven Rosenstone.”

MSUM is also continuing its efforts to counter MnSCU’s actions related to the reform.

“Student Senate will stay involved with the Charting the Future process at the campus level,” Student Body President Cody Meyer said. “We do not support Charting the Future, and will continue to work to make changes in the process.”

But its questionable if their voices will be heard.

Students and faculty leaders alike say they haven’t been given enough say in what’s to be done and how.

In an interview with MPR, Grabowska said that despite MnSCU’s insistence in statements that they’re being inclusive, those involved beg to differ.

“We felt that we were being used in order to be able to make that statement,” he said, “while we were at the table, we didn’t have the input, and our views were not being valued.”

For months, students and faculty have publicly demanded more of a voice in the plan, and have remained dissatisfied with the chancellor’s actions and behavior in that area. Rosenstone and other top officials have reportedly even shown hostility toward faculty and student proposals to include more non-administrators in decision-making, an example being the October meeting at which Chair Cooper reported being aggressively confronted by the chancellor and St. Cloud State’s President Earl Potter.

“All of this commotion could have been avoided had the chancellor just been willing to make some changes to the Charting the Future process,” Cooper said. “If you say this is a truly collaborative effort, but then refuse to make changes when your stakeholders suggest them, that doesn’t sound like true collaboration. That sounds like, ‘just go along with it because this thing is happening regardless of your concerns.’”

Statements made at Winona’s most recent Student Senate meeting suggest the commotion won’t see an end any time soon.

The meeting, attended by Interim Vice Chancellor John O’Brien and two other MnSCU affiliates, heard what many feel are some troubling statements.

Meeting notes indicate that O’Brien claims to have “never seen a move so transparent.” O’Brien also stated that he was shocked student leaders had not wanted to see the reform’s key document (the McKinsey document) when it was offered to them.

Cooper explained:

“The chancellor offered to show me and other union leaders the McKinsey proposal unredacted, however, he said we can’t share what we read with our constituencies and the document couldn’t leave the room. So, we all decided that although that was a kind gesture, we didn’t want to be included in the secrecy. Transparency is not sharing pieces of information with an exclusive group, but sharing information with everyone involved. My decision was simple: if the rest of my students can’t see it, then I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to keep secrets from my constituents, so I said no thanks. And that shouldn’t be surprising to John O’Brien. It should make perfect sense.”

When O’Brien was asked by student representatives what MnSCU had planned should student unions walk away from the reform, the senate was met with a despairing remark:

“The future is going to happen if we chart it or not. We have to deal with these issues regardless of who is at the table.”

O’Brien continues to say that although it would be discouraging if students pulled out, the process would still continue.

Later comments indicate that MnSCU has yet to set aside specific funds to enact Charting the Future.

Though MnSCU has released statements ensuring the continuation of CTF regardless of student or faculty withdrawals, leaders like Cooper are hoping they’ll give countering voices a second thought.

“I just hope MnSCU will be willing to sit down with them and discuss the issues with the CTF process and get them back involved,” Cooper said. It’s mind boggling to me that MnSCU thinks it’s okay to move on without them. It’s not okay.”

At Winona’s meeting, O’Brien insisted that upon the Inter Faculty Organization’s official withdrawal from the reform process, changes were made to meet their concerns.

“We really did try to make concessions,” O’Brien is quoted.

Though he assured the senate that ideas regarding the reform originate in implementation teams and not the central office, question is raised as to how planning teams have dedicated to the reform when even they have yet to see its key documents.

When students raised concerns of representation regarding key players affiliated with MnSCU holding positions on more than one team, O’Brien stated that he was the only one affiliated with two planning groups. The senate’s minutes refute this.

When asked if the reform would provide any benefits to liberal arts programs, the vice chancellor responded, “We are not going to cut out liberal arts from someone’s degree path.”

His following statement established a lack of understanding as to how the reform could endanger the programs.

The senate asked their guests what the most successful part of Charting the Future has been so far. The response — how fast the gallery walks have been conducted.

MSUSA will come to a decision regarding further involvement in Charting the Future this weekend at its delegates assembly and board meeting. Cooper said she’s unsure what the association’s conclusion will be.

“Many of our campuses are conflicted with wanting to stay involved so student voices will be at the table, but some students feel that student opinions won’t really make a difference, so maybe staying involved is a waste of time,” she said. “I do know that whether or not we stay involved, change needs to happen. Students will not just keep going along with this process as is. They’ve made that clear.”

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