Straighten up, MnSCU board
We continue to support Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s work on changes to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. But strange and perhaps irresponsible behavior by the MnSCU Board of Trustees gives ammunition to those who don’t and raises valid concerns among those who do.
The trustees have come in for deserved criticism around the circumstances involved in awarding a new contract to Rosenstone.
They all should ensure that the fallout — and a lingering labor dispute with a faculty union — don’t undermine a needed drive for system-wide change.
Details of the chancellor’s new three-year contract made headlines this week — eight months after it was agreed to.
The contract came to light only after its release by a faculty member. The system on Monday disclosed details of the agreement in a news release issued in response to media requests.
The contract hadn’t gone before the full board for approval — a step MnSCU said was not necessary because trustees had delegated the task to Chair Clarence Hightower. Some trustees did not learn of the deal until Sunday, the Pioneer Press reported.
As for the criticism: “This is not right,” Sen. Terri Bonoff, a Minnetonka Democrat and chair of the Senate higher education committee, said in a report by Mila Koumpilova of the Pioneer Press. “I believe a contract of this size and magnitude should have the full blessing of the board and public disclosure.”
Koumpilova also quoted a blunt assessment from Bonoff’s House counterpart, Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr., a Winona Democrat: “As far as passing the smell test for openness in government, this stinks.”
Yes, it does.
The lawmakers reportedly want their committees to review handling of the contract during the next legislative session.
The disclosure raises questions about lack of public scrutiny, operations of the trustees and how much latitude they provide their chair. Hightower is among six trustees reaching the end of their terms. MnSCU on Wednesday announced the election of Tom Renier, president of the Duluth-based Northland Foundation, as board chair, and former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher as its vice chair. Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to name new trustees in coming weeks. His choices deserve attention.
And they should prepare to pay attention. If a matter as important as the chancellor’s contract escapes scrutiny, what else don’t we know that we should about this sprawling bureaucracy? MnSCU, with 31 colleges and universities on 54 campuses in 47 communities across the state, serves more than 400,000 students.
Word of Rosenstone’s new contract arrived as the board was preparing for its annual review of the chancellor’s performance and dealing with faculty union negotiations. The Inter Faculty Organization, which represents educators at the seven state universities, has been negotiating with MnSCU for more than a year and is critical of Rosenstone. Wednesday, the system announced it had reached agreements with two other faculty unions.
Meanwhile, Rosenstone and the trustees seek to advance a “Charting the Future” plan to overhaul MnSCU. The initiative strives to prepare the system — one of the nation’s largest — to serve students in a permanent environment of scarcer resources, continuous change and increasing expectations.
According to the statement from MnSCU, the new contract with Rosenstone increases the chancellor’s base salary by 1.8 percent to $387,250. While it eliminates $50,000 in performance pay, the contract increases various allowances — for housing and transportation, for example — by $43,160 per year. State lawmakers last year directed MnSCU to do away with administrator bonuses.
The statement also notes some conditions: Rosenstone will resign from a tenured faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota, from which he has been on an unpaid leave. It also removed a guaranteed two-year appointment as a distinguished senior fellow for academic affairs after his term as chancellor.
At MnSCU, which educates 60 percent of Minnesota’s undergraduates, the difficult conversation about needed changes and how to implement them is of critical importance.
The hard work of system change should proceed without distractions from the chancellor’s office or from MnSCU’s trustees.