By Josie Gereszek
A budget threat from Gov. Mark Dayton has MnSCU faculty and administration saying they are confident they will resolve their differences.
The governor’s statement was made Tuesday, ensuring no new funding for MnSCU until faculty and administration have resolved their dispute over Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s controversial proposal, Charting the Future.
The action follows an ongoing conflict, which was highlighted in October, when both the college and university faculty unions pulled out of the initiative, calling it a blanket approach to education and citing a lack of transparency in the system. The chancellor later invited the faculty to mediation, which was rejected the day of its proposal.
The system and unions jointly released the following statement Tuesday:
“We take the governor’s decision not to recommend new funding for [MnSCU] at this time very seriously, and we appreciate the governor’s commitment to supporting MnSCU and its vital mission of ensuring access to an affordable, high-value education for all Minnesotans and meeting the workforce needs of Minnesota.
“We understand and share the governor’s concerns and are taking positive steps and having substantive dialogue to resolve our disagreements regarding Charting the Future. We are all committed to continuing our progress and are confident of a positive outcome.
“All MnSCU faculty and staff have a passionate commitment to improving the lives of our students through education and look forward to working with the governor on a budget that ultimately meets the needs of our students and the state of Minnesota.”
Student Body President Cody Meyer is supportive of Dayton’s move.
“Dayton essentially said, ‘I will turn this car around. You guys need to come to some sort of consensus here.’ It was a brilliant move on Dayton’s part, as far as really bringing the parties together, because while there’s kind of the ability to let the conflict go, when you put the power in the budget it’s different,” Meyer said. “It was definitely a good move on the governor’s part.”
November 2014 saw the launch of a petition on change.org to Governor Dayton seeking the chancellor’s resignation. Despite the conflict, Meyer says that actually happening is unlikely. Though tensions have clearly been brewing for a couple years now, Meyer said this is the first time it was relevant for Dayton to get involved.
“Now, with the budget, it’s really the first time he had the ability to step in as governor and say no, you need to fix this and you need to fix this now,” Meyer said.
Certain variables are making this mediation more likely, as long as the budget is concerned.
“It’s hard to ignore when you’ve got things like bonding and tuition freeze, because while they may lengthen out negotiations, when students are in the middle of it, saying ‘Hey, where’s our tuition freeze?’ it’s pretty hard to ignore that,” he said. “My hope is that this brings a little more weight. It’s hard to say no to the governor and it’s hard to argue against the student body.”
Still, it’s not expected that agreement will come easily.
“One of the biggest things is that there’s just not overall consensus with Charting the Future. That’s with all stakeholder groups. You have individual issues and individual questions about the future of the system, the future of this project, of the initiative moving forward,” Meyer said. “Just to come to this point alone, I think we can all come to the agreement that we’ve got some serious problems we need to address, and if we don’t address those problems in a timely manner, it’s going to affect a lot of people.”
Now, it’s a matter of hoping students will be better represented in this resolution than they have been in past Charting the Future convenings. Meyer said faculty is likely to continue their advocacy for students.
“There have been common concerns and common interests and I think really at the end of the day the needs and concerns of students affect faculty hand in hand,” Meyer said. They’ve been very receptive to our concerns, some of them even very outspoken about addressing student concerns.”
Meyer said only time will tell if progress is actually made and what those agreements might look like.
“As the future of how this goes, all eyes are on the [Inter Faculty Organization] and MnSCU. What sort of consensus, what sort of agreement can you come forward with? Does that mean that yes, we collectively agree that Charting the Future is the answer and we’ll work to move forward collectively? Does that mean we’re just going to come back to the table, but we’re not happy about it? What that end product actually looks like is up in the air right now,” Meyer said. “We don’t know, and that’s part of the concern.”