Archive: Oct 2014

MnSCU chancellor under fire from faculty

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2014 – 8:10 PM

Faculty leaders at the college system’s 3 largest 4-year schools have voted “no confidence.”


Faculty leaders at the three largest four-year schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have voted “no confidence” in the system’s chancellor, spurred by what they say is a lack of transparency and poor oversight of the 31-school system.

The faculty association at Minnesota State University, Mankato was the most recent to jump on board, with a unanimous vote of no confidence against Chancellor Steven Rosenstone on Thursday. Similar votes took place in recent weeks at Winona State and St. Cloud State universities. The three schools represent more than half of MnSCU’s students and faculty.

“The Faculty Association hopes that its action will encourage the MnSCU Board of Trustees to take a greater role in oversight … and redirect the Chancellor to more open and participatory leadership,” an MSU Mankato faculty association statement said Friday.

Faculty leaders have expressed particular concern over Rosenstone’s handling of Charting the Future, a long-term plan to reform the MnSCU system. Two faculty unions pulled out of the planning process last week, citing transparency concerns.

MSU Mankato Faculty Association President Mary Visser said faculty agree with the plan’s tenets — things such as increasing affordability and access for students. What they don’t agree with, she said, is how the planning process is unfolding.

“They listen to us because they have to, and then they do whatever it is they want,” she said. “And it’s not always, in our minds, in the best interest of the students, of our institution, of MnSCU as a whole.”

The faculty association statement called Rosenstone’s management decisions “secretive, non-inclusionary and damaging,” pointing out specific examples such as money spent on an outside contractor for Charting the Future.

“He spent $2 million on consultants while the state campuses were suffering crippling budget shortfalls and struggling with declining enrollment,” the faculty statement said.

Rosenstone declined to comment Friday. MnSCU issued a statement Thursday pointing to strong attendance at recent Charting the Future feedback sessions, called “Gallery Walks.”

“The initial success of the Gallery Walks is in contrast to recent university faculty votes of ‘no confidence,’ ” the statement said.

Larger concerns

Though Charting the Future is a big concern, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Faculty say they’ve struggled with Rosenstone’s leadership since he started in the fall of 2011.

“These concerns have been building, and they’ve existed for quite a while,” said Inter Faculty Organization President Jim Grabowska.

Shortly after Rosenstone’s arrival, he froze money that faculty use for professional development, such as attending conferences.

“That was something that didn’t have to happen. It’s not something that normally happened,” Visser said. “Right off the bat, it was like, ‘OK, what’s going on here? Is this person going to be in support of the faculty, or what?’ ”

In late spring, faculty members put together a “Bill of Particulars” listing issues ranging from a lack of opportunity for input on major decisions to how Rosenstone represents MnSCU at the state Legislature.

Still, faculty say, they haven’t gotten much response from the chancellor beyond official statements.

“What we really need is some serious conversation,” Grabowska said.


October 24, 2014
Tensions Between Faculty Members and Consultants Come to a Head in Minn.
By Peter Schmidt
In the latest of several recent rebellions by faculty members around the nation against consultant-guided college-reorganization efforts, the two unions representing faculty members in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have disavowed further involvement in an academic reorganization under way there.
Citing suspicions of administrative secrecy aroused by the system’s initially undisclosed hiring of McKinsey & Company, a prominent consulting firm, the leadership of the two unions voted unanimously on Thursday to tell the system’s chancellor, Steven J. Rosenstone, that the unions would no longer participate in the planning of Charting the Future, a systemwide reorganization effort.
A letter that the two unions’ presidents subsequently sent to Chancellor Rosenstone emphasizes that they have no objection to the proposed changes in the system, which were brought forth as part of an effort to improve access, affordability, and educational quality. Instead, the letter says, the unions continue to have “concerns about trust and transparency in the process” of planning the reorganization that, they have concluded, will not be resolved through their continued participation by holding two of up to 18 seats on each campus’s reorganization-planning teams.
“We are, therefore, declining to participate further in the Charting the Future process,” says the letter from Jim Grabowska, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents faculty members at four-year universities, and Kevin Lindstrom, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty, which represents faculty members at two-year institutions.
The Minnesota flap is hardly the first in which the use of consultants by higher-education leaders has drawn faculty suspicions. McKinsey’s involvement attracted suspicions in an academic-reorganization effort at Columbia University two years ago, as reported in Capital, an online publication about New York politics.
Faculty members at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Texas at Austin complained about a lack of information in pushing back against an administrative-reorganization effort being guided by Accenture. Other consultants, such as Deloitte and Academic Strategy Partners, have similarly been criticized for their work at other colleges.
Transparency Concerns
In an email sent to the Minnesota system’s students, faculty, and staff on Thursday in response to rumors of the pending union vote, Mr. Rosenstone acknowledged that “some things could have been handled differently and some handled better” in the planning process. But he denied assertions that anyone had been denied adequate representation in the planning process, and said the process must continue, given its expected benefits.
“While the heads of the unions may have made the regrettable decision to walk away from the table, their seats will be there for them whenever they decide to return,” Mr. Rosenstone’s email said.
Although the union presidents’ letter to Mr. Rosenstone broadly protests their perception that they had not had enough voice in the planning process, much of it focuses on concerns stemming from the revelation last July that the system had given McKinsey at $2-million contract to help plan the effort. Later it was learned that McKinsey had been involved in the planning, on an unpaid basis, from its beginnings two years ago.
When union officials sought a copy of the contract given to McKinsey, the system provided them with a version that was heavily redacted at McKinsey’s request, saying the system needed to respect the firm’s desire to protect trade secrets. The system subsequently offered to let university officials see the full contract in private, on the condition it not be relayed elsewhere, but they refused to view it under such a restriction.
A McKinsey spokesman on Friday declined to comment, saying the firm had a longstanding policy of not commenting on its work with clients.
“McKinsey made the decision of what to redact, but then we had to support that,” Kim Olson, the system’s chief marketing and communications officer, said on Thursday. “They redacted their own trade secrets, and we did not fight that.”
In explaining the firm’s involvement in the effort, she said, “We have never done anything like this before, so we asked McKinsey for advice.” The firm’s recommendations, she said, did not deal with the substantive ideas to emerge from the planning process but with the structure of the process itself.
Outsiders’ Perspective
Jordan E. Kurland, associate general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, said his organization often heard from faculty members about outside consulting firms as threats to the shared governance of their institutions. The firms get accused of being “outside influences interfering, allegedly, with decisions by people involved with the institution,” and the backlash against their involvement is especially intense if administrators present decisions based on consultants’ advice as faits accomplis.
Among recent developments, as reported by the Associated Press, employees of the University of Northern Iowa have expressed frustration over their inability to obtain information from Deloitte Consulting about its proposals for an administrative reorganization of that state’s public universities. And the AAUP is investigating whether Felician College, a Roman Catholic institution in New Jersey, violated the rights of faculty members laid off this year at the advice of Academic Strategy Partners.
Steven C. Ward, a professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University and the author of Neoliberalism and the Global Restructuring of Knowledge and Education, argued on Friday that faculty members’ suspicions of private consulting firms’ involvement in college affairs are “very founded.”
Such firms “are brought in as leverage,” he said. “They give this appearance of objective outside advice to various boards, and those boards can use that advice to leverage the sort of change they are trying to accomplish.”
Generally, Mr. Ward said, such firms give advice based on their experience advising the management of businesses, with their emphasis on efficiency, productivity, and other concerns related to increasing profits. Often, he said, the outcome is big cuts in spending on personnel or programs that “are destroying what public universities should be about.”
“It is generic managerial advice applied to public institutions,” Mr. Ward said, “and you can make the case that public institutions should not be run that way.”
But Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, argued on Friday that Minnesota’s state-colleges system, which belongs to his organization, should be applauded for turning to a national firm for advice on navigating the profoundly changing higher-education landscape. He said the $2-million that the system had paid to McKinsey almost certainly will amount to a small fraction of the system’s long-term spending on reorganization, and is likely to bring “a positive return on investment” if it helps the system chart the right course.