By JOSIE GERESZEK
This week, both the faculty unions of Metropolitan State and MSUM have passed votes of no-confidence in MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone — meaning the faculty of all seven state universities have now formally questioned his leadership.
The votes come in response to the proposed “Charting the Future” education reform, a plan that Rosenstone says would expand the use of online teaching and make it easier for students to graduate more quickly, in part by awarding credit for skills they’ve already mastered. It also seeks to adapt programs to the needs of the job market.
One of the many things faculty leaders and some students fear is that the changes will lead to an overemphasis on workplace training at the expense of a broad-based liberal arts education.
“That’s a big concern to a lot of faculty,” Winona State Faculty Association President Darrell Downs said in an interview with PostBulletin.com. “We’re designed to help provide an education for students for their entire lives, not just their jobs.”
Concerns regarding the changes themselves, as well as the chancellor’s behavior have led to the votes.
Metro’s announcement said theirs was unanimous, with four abstentions.
Matt Filner, vice president of the university’s faculty association, said in the statement, “The faculty has completely lost confidence in the ability of Chancellor Rosenstone to serve the students, faculty, and staff of MnSCU. His neglect of students, lack of transparency, lack of respect for the bargaining process, and mismanagement of MnSCU is unacceptable.”
MSUM Campus Faculty Association President Ted Gracyk said Tuesday’s resolution passed by a vote of 22 to three with four members absent.
Gracyk cited Rosenstone’s “track record of unilateral decision making, duplicity and mismanagement,” as well as faculty cuts, as the association’s reasons backing the vote. Critics have generally accused Rosenstone of pushing a one-size-fits-all plan that could harm individual campuses.
MSUM faculty also believe the chancellor wasn’t transparent about his intentions.
Rosenstone’s budget included a goal of cutting millions in “administrative efficiencies,” but “I don’t think any of us understood that this meant cutting faculty,” Gracyk said.
Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Renier released a statement regarding the faculty votes.
“It continues to be disappointing that the faculty union is employing this tactic to stop the critical conversations that make up CTF and the change needed to ensure that affordable and accessible higher education remains a reality for all Minnesotans,” he wrote. “MnSCU will continue to seek broad input on the ideas produced by the faculty, staff, and students on the implementation teams and welcome the faculty back to the table any time they choose to return. Given the offer of mediation, we hope that time is soon.”
Faculties rejected the proposal of mediation the day it was proposed Nov. 6.
MnSCU’s statewide representative of four-year colleges, the Inter Faculty Organization, decided last month to stop participating in the chancellor’s overhaul of the system. It was joined by the union for faculty at two-year colleges.
The protest has been building for more than two weeks, since the unions representing nearly 9,000 faculty members announced they were withdrawing from the planning process for the reform. The union leaders say they’re not against the plan itself, but they say their concerns about how changes may affect quality of education, have been ignored.
And faculty members are not the only ones registering concerns with Rosenstone. Within the same week, the student senate at Metro passed its own unanimous vote of no-confidence in the chancellor’s leadership, questioning his performance, professionalism, and accountability.
Both Metro and Winona’s student senates, as well as the Inter Faculty Organization have issued lists of concerns they have with the chancellor.
Metro State professor Monte Bute, action coordinator for the organization, said his group sent trustees a list of complaints in June.
“The Board of Trustees brushed aside those faculty concerns and gave the chancellor a glowing job review,” he wrote. “When trustees failed to take our concerns seriously, it precipitated this series of no-confidence votes on the seven campuses.”
Metro Student Senate Public Relations Officer Amber Hamm said those votes played a role in the senate’s decision.
“The position of the faculties were factors in our decision and vote,” Hamm said. “We also discussed and weighed many other factors.”
Hamm said that following discussions with Metro students and student leaders from other MnSCU institutions, the senate was able to come to its decision.
“We do believe the faculty has considered the students in its decisions and we do not feel that they are acting solely in their own interests,” Hamm said. “We have not specifically discussed the faculty action in terms of our position, but it has been a part of our discussions in this matter.”
Both senate complaints cited, among other things, a lack of transparency that has negatively impacted morale.
Rosenstone, in his defense, has said he intentionally created an open process, with teams of faculty, students, staff, and administrators to debate and shape the new plan.
In response to the students’ decision, Rosenstone issued a statement which carried a familiar tune.
“I am deeply troubled by the latest in a coordinated series of votes of no-confidence, particularly because it comes from our students,” he said. “I have asked for the opportunity to meet in person to respond to these concerns.”
Though Hamm says the senate is willing to have a dialogue, Rosenstone has since said he is not interested in discussing Metro’s concerns.
“It’s hurtful when people say, ‘We don’t like what you’re doing,’ but it’s even more hurtful when they reach that conclusion without giving you a chance to respond,” he said. “I think the time for the invitation should have been before they took their vote.”
Thursday saw the launch of a petition on change.org, created by former Metro student body president Christopher Nguyen, to ask Governor Dayton to request the chancellor’s resignation.
The petition states that the chancellor has failed in his responsibilities and damaged public trust.
“While many would agree that the state’s higher education system could be better, it is imperative that MnSCU’s stakeholders collectively row the ship in the same direction,” the petition reads. “The effort to coordinate changes has been done unilaterally and in secrecy, with little to no flexibility for changes or participation in how our system goes from good to great.”
In a comment on the petition’s website, Winona faculty member Matthew Hyle said he is deeply concerned that the chancellor places his financial well-being above his constituents.
“He appears utterly clueless concerning the issues that directly affect MnSCU,” Hyle said.
Hamm explained that Nguyen did not consult the senate prior to its posting. She encourages those interested in the petition to read it carefully and arrive at an individual decision prior to providing a signature.
The petition was just the conclusion of a day filled with dissent for the chancellor.
Earlier, heads of the Student Alliance at Inver Hills Community College organized a demonstration outside of their university’s gallery walk to provide an alternate perspective.
Organizer Grace Scoonover said the protest was really just fulfilling the group’s purpose. She explained that the alliance is intentionally unofficial in an effort to maintain its independence. She said its ultimate goal is to promote honesty between students, faculty, and administration at their university and throughout the system.
“Our group’s main focus right now is raising awareness about CTF and how negatively it could affect us as students,” she said.
About 15 students gathered outside the event, handing out flyers and hosting interactive displays, with the hope of providing another perspective on CTF and the chancellor’s actions. Wearing satirical glasses and mustaches and t-shirts printed with redacted text, they explained to peers that Rosenstone has yet to reveal the more than 40-paged document McKinsey & Co. produced for its student-funded $2 million contract.
In addition to the issue of transparency, Matt Peitso, one of the protest’s organizers, objects to CTF’s push for more online classes. Scoonover feels similarly.
“We’ve been discouraged by the decrease of on-campus classes,” Scoonover said. “When we learned about the apparent reason behind these changes, CTF, we felt we should help other students become aware of what was happening. Most of our members participated for similar reasons.”
Scoonover said that although the group acknowledges there’s yet to be any hard evidence indicating the reform is the reason for these changes, the system’s history of behavior and the redacted McKinsey document, as well as the chancellor’s lack of transparency suggest the happenings are related.
“Many of these changes that Inver Hills and MnSCU have put into place are already negatively affecting students,” Scoonover said. “One example is making things less convenient for students by merging campuses; shared services can take options away from students. Another example is the funding cuts that have been made. The cultural center, the veteran’s center, the peer-tutoring program, and the honors program, have all either experienced or been on the verge of funding cuts.”
Peitso said he thinks the system’s attempt at saving money will come at the expense of student success, but that getting the message through to the chancellor is a lost cause.
“He hears our voices, but then he disregards them,” Peitso said.
“The chancellor has disregarded student, as well as faculty, opinions, concerns and ideas, but he continues to claim student success as his priority, saying he takes into account our voices for decision making,” Scoonover said. “Few of his actions have reflected this claim.”
Scoonover said though students were largely concerned by the group’s information, their reactions to the demonstration were generally positive and responsive.
“Many students were unaware or only vaguely aware of what CTF was,” she said. “A significant number of faculty members were supportive, encouraging, and even thankful.”
Scoonover said that although there was some negative feedback from both students and faculty, the group’s goal was to raise awareness of the situation and share their perspective as students.
“I think we definitely achieved that goal,” she said.
In contrast, leaders of the Minnesota State College Student Association, which represents students at Inver Hills and MnSCU’s other two-year colleges, are firmly on board with Rosenstone’s project. Association president Kayley Schoonmaker said she hopes that a more efficient MnSCU system will reduce student costs and that greater collaboration among colleges and universities will make it easier to transfer credits.
Rosenstone hopes more students will take Schoonmaker’s position.
The chancellor spent two hours Wednesday night at Winona State’s student senate meeting, taking questions and complaints about his leadership, especially regarding CTF.
A week earlier, the students formally complained about the secrecy surrounding the McKinsey document and its expenses, as well as the disrespect they say Rosenstone has shown students and his failure to advocate on their behalf.
Winona student body president Jessica Hepinstall said Wednesday’s meeting went well, though they’re still considering giving Rosenstone a vote of no-confidence. The decision was tabled for the senate’s next meeting Wednesday.
“I don’t think that the trust is too far gone, but I think we need to see some progress being made. It’s not broken beyond repair,” Hepinstall said.
Rosenstone said talking with the Winona State students “strengthened an understanding” of what each side wants. He said he would like to do that more often.
“Sometimes, the distance breeds lack of familiarity with each other, a lack of trust,” Rosenstone said. “Every time we get suggestions and make changes in response to the suggestions, we make progress. We listen, we try to make a path forward.”
Rosenstone emphasized he was committed to a “very open process” and urged students and others to participate in it.
“If we don’t have it right, help us get it right,” Rosenstone told the senate. “If you’ve got a better idea, put the better idea on the table. If we’re pointing in the wrong direction, point us is in the right direction.”
The chancellor also told the students that change was imperative, noting a necessary improvement in student success rates.
He reported that only 50 percent of MnSCU students get a diploma in six years.
“I think we need to do a much better job,” he said.
Rosenstone also argued for giving students credit for demonstrating prior knowledge, instead of having them take courses that may be a waste of time and money. He claimed students across the system would save $19 million a year in tuition if just 10 percent of students were to get credit for one course because they can demonstrate their skill.
Rosenstone’s unusual appearance was prompted by the senate’s invitation. The WSU group had also placed on its agenda a discussion of a potential no-confidence vote of its own, which it decided to table until its next meeting Wednesday.
Despite the recent interaction, it seems Rosenstone’s relationship with students continues to threaten the project. Although some students see CTF as having the potential to improve the state’s public higher-education system, they are generally upset with an organizational structure that largely puts administrators in charge and denies what they consider vital information.
“Our recent vote of no-confidence in Rosenstone was not because of his implementation strategy or CTF, but our issues with his professionalism and lack of ability to be inclusive with the student body,” Hamm said. “As the governing body and students ourselves, we felt this decision was in the best interest of our students. We feel, as students paying tuition and that money going toward this project, we should be more hands-on-deck in the process.
“Right now there are two students on these committees to represent all MnSCU students. Specifically for us, that is one student to represent the very unique seven state universities. We do not agree with that, nor do we agree with the transparency of this process and the McKinsey contract. If we are funding this, shouldn’t we be allowed to know what is happening? I think so.”