MSUSA delegates meet, Bemidji passes vote of no-confidence in Rosenstone

By Josie Gereszek

Bemidji State University student leaders have joined the ranks of MnSCU faculty and student unions taking a stand against the actions of MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone. It passed a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in Rosenstone Wednesday, the same day that Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Renier renewed a call for mediation between Rosenstone, faculty unions, and students in their dispute over his plan to overhaul the system at the Board of Trustees’ regular monthly meeting.

“I am going to work with all concerned parties to facilitate collaborative problem-solving to improve the Charting the Future process,” he said.

Renier did not say whether faculty had already been notified of his request.

The call comes after both faculty unions rejected Rosenstone’s offer of state mediation earlier this month, saying he’d not given them enough time to discuss his offer before announcing it publicly.

The unions, as well as some student leaders, say Rosenstone has not given them enough of a say in the overhaul, and that system leaders have ignored their suggestions.

The plan was crafted with the help of a $2 million consulting contract with New York-based McKinsey & Co. that was approved in secret, without the knowledge of student and faculty leaders. Released copies of the 42-page document the company produced are largely redacted. The document is a key reason the faculty from all seven MnSCU universities have passed “no confidence” votes on Rosenstone and have pulled out of the Charting the Future deliberations.

Bemidji State senate co-president Megan Vilmain said students too, were concerned about what they called Rosenstone’s lack of transparency and professionalism, citing reports of him being rude and aggressive toward students, and a “misappropriation of funds,” for the McKinsey contract.

Student leaders representing the system’s two-year colleges, however, have sided with Rosenstone, saying the project holds a lot of promise despite Rosenstone’s missteps.

“I have said publicly, many times that I could have handled some things better,” Rosenstone said at Wednesday’s meeting. “With hindsight, there are certainly things I would have done differently, but this process has produced two years of excellent work — work by students, faculty and staff — working together. At every step, students, faculty, staff and our campuses have been doing the charting. Everyone has had a seat at the table.”

But Vilmain begs to differ.

“There has been such a lack of transparency throughout the entirety of this whole process,” Vilmain said. “It’s hard to say we’ve had a seat at the table when we feel this way.”

“It’s hard” not to take such criticism personally, Rosenstone said. “It’s been hard for my family.”

Faculty union leaders declined to comment on Renier’s statement or whether they would enter mediation.

Bemidji’s vote is the second publicized no-confidence vote by MnSCU university students. Metropolitan State University students passed such a vote earlier this month, and others have presented lists of concerns.

“The Bill of Particulars echoes many of the same sentiments of those passed by other student associations as well as faculty senates,” Bemidji’s statement reads. “These concerns include lack of transparency, misappropriation of MnSCU funds, lack of professionalism, and inadequate representation of MnSCU in the state legislature. These are very serious concerns, and the members of the BSUSA Student Senate hope that there will be movement toward resolution soon.”

The statement emphasizes the importance of student voice and expresses the senate’s desire for continued participation in the Charting the Future implementation.

“Given the testimony of multiple student leaders at yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, we are surprised by this vote.” said MnSCU spokesperson Doug Anderson.

At the board’s Wednesday meeting, Renier told a packed boardroom that trustees still support Rosenstone and his overhaul plan.

The meeting also saw the presidents of MnSCU’s 31 institutions endorse Rosenstone and his controversial project.

“We believe our work must continue because in our quest for continued excellent service to our students, there are difficult questions of sustainability facing our institutions,” Bemidji State University’s Richard Hanson and Century College’s Ron Anderson said on behalf of the presidents. “Together we must imagine a strong and productive future. In creating a responsive and articulate pathway to the future, we will meet our obligations to our students and to the people of Minnesota.”

The meeting did see progress on numerous proposed changes to board policies which would require board approval for all external contracts of more than $1 million, as well as future chancellor contracts by the full Board of Trustees, and a fully-funded tuition freeze for state college and university students for 2016 – 2017.

The meeting also addressed reports from MSUSA State Chair Kari Cooper and MSUSA board members Mariah Haffield and Lindsey Gunnerson, regarding happenings at the MSUSA Delegates Assembly last weekend in St. Paul.

The Delegates Assembly passed several motions that will go to the MSUSA Board of Directors about 2015 State Legislative Agenda positions and about a MnSCU acknowledgement of Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day.

Students from St. Cloud State invited Rosenstone to attend the meeting to discuss his Charting the Future initiative and answer student questions.

The assembly also saw conduct allegations made against numerous MSUSA members, which caused St. Cloud and MSU Mankato delegates to motion a withdrawal from MSUSA, which did not pass. Upon the motion’s failure, those delegates left the assembly, and the meeting was adjourned. Due to the conduct complaints, the board motioned to adjourn without taking action on any of its business pending results of investigation into the allegations, upon which, the board will meet to determine how to move forward.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cooper assured the trustees that the matter was being investigated internally and she hoped to see the situation resolved as soon as possible.

Haffield and Gunnerson held testimony sharing their concerns regarding the formulation of a secret Facebook group by students affiliated with MSUSA, including some MSUSA leadership. They explained their delegations only chose to withdraw from the assembly when their efforts at removing the members of the group from the conference were unsuccessful. Haffield and Gunnerson indicated that despite their delegations’ attempt at withdrawing from MSUSA, they did not desire to leave the organization or change the statutes behind its existence. Instead, they hoped to bring this issue to the trustees’ attention in order to “emphasize the severity of the charges raised and to strengthen the integrity of the association and its leadership.”

Despite the relatively dramatic assembly weekend, MSUSA Executive Director Elsbeth Howe is staying positive on the organization’s blog.

“While this [assembly] presented significant and serious challenges to MSUSA and student advocacy,” she said, “it is my firm belief that together we will weather this storm and emerge more strong and united than before.”

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