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Chancellor suggests revision of plan to overhaul MnSCU

Alex Friedrich

Just got this memo forwarded to me: Original Document (PDF) »

You may remember that earlier this week, the union representing faculty at state universities announced its opposition to a plan to overhaul how the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system does business.

Among other things, they said, it centralizes too much power at the central office, caters too much to business needs, and focuses too much on technical education at the expense of a liberal education.

In the memo above, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone now appears to be suggesting a revision of the report — at least its wording.

The main points he appears to stress:

We’ll have no increased centralization.

I was distressed to see your recommendation about statewide planning interpreted as campuses “yielding to central planners.” I do not want to see any of what we eventually implement leading toward more centralization or more system office control. I have stressed this conviction repeatedly over the past two years, and I hope that the final draft of your report will be another powerful statement of what I consider non-negotiable: the future we chart must be a collaborative future work together in new creative partnerships, not a future that leads to more power and control in the system office.”

We’ll respect union agreements.

I urge you to clarify statements made relative to bargaining agreements. I hope you will affirm our commitment to fully honor our collective bargaining agreements and recognize that, if they need to change, we would bring such proposals to the bargaining table and would negotiate changes in good faith. Regrettably, the language in the draft report has been interpreted by some as hostile to collective bargaining and to the bargaining units themselves.

We’re committed to our outstate Minnesota campuses.

Along with not seeing the mission of rural colleges and universities strongly represented in the initial draft, some believe the language implies we should retreat from our historic commitment to access for all Minnesotans. The challenge, as I see it, is to identify the strategies for ensuring that we meet our commitment to all Minnesotans. I would urge that the final draft clarify that turning our back on some communities is not the path you are recommending.

We’re still educating the whole person.

(Rosenstone appears to be emphasizing that MnSCU students receive a well-rounded education, as opposed to a purely technical or narrowly focused one geared toward the job market.)

(Remind) readers of the commitment we have made to the kind of education envisioned in Board Policy 3.36: The academic programs of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities should prepare graduates for work, life, and citizenship. Academic programs should create graduates who are creative, innovative, and able to respond with agility to new ideas, new technologies, and new global relationships. Graduates should be able to lead their professions and adapt to the multiple careers they will have over their lifetimes. Graduates should have the ability to think independently and critically; be able to resourcefully apply knowledge to new problems; proactively expect the unexpected, embrace change and be comfortable with ambiguity; and be able to communicate and work effectively across cultural and geographic boundaries.

I’m interested to see how the final report looks.

Faculty blasts proposed ‘Soviet-style’ changes in MnSCU management

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2013 – 12:51 PM

‘Charting the Future’ plan would hurt quality, MnSCU faculty says. Administration said it would not centralize colleges and universities system

A faculty group is denouncing a proposal to reshape Minnesota’s state colleges and universities, saying it would create “a Soviet-style management structure” that does little to benefit students.

“This is going to lower the quality of their education, and not do anything significant to reduce student debt or make tuition more affordable,” said Monte Bute, a sociology professor at Metro State University.

The proposal, “Charting the Future,” which was released in June as a draft report, calls for sweeping changes at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU), which has some 430,000 students at 54 campuses.

Among other things, the plan encourages more coordination among the campuses, and suggests that some campuses and programs may be merged.

On Monday, the Inter Faculty Organization, which represents 4,000 faculty members at seven Minnesota state universities, released a scathing critique of the proposal.

“We oppose moving toward a Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decisionmaking by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom,” the faculty union said.

Administration officials dispute the criticism.

“The draft recommendations neither suggest nor should lead to more centralization or a larger system office,” said Michael Dougherty, a vice chancellor at MnSCU.

Nancy Black, the union president, said faculty members were caught off-guard when the draft report was released in June, after classes had ended. It wasn’t until last week, she said, that the union’s board was able to meet and hammer out its response.

The key criticisms: It could squeeze out “innovation” at the various colleges and universities and allow the business community to dictate academic programs, possibly at the expense of the liberal arts. “Student program choices should not be limited to the programs supported by the business community,” the group said.

The proposal has yet to be approved by the board of trustees.

Administrators say they have been seeking feedback on the draft report, and that it won’t be presented to the board until November.

Officials say the draft report was the result of months of discussions by three work groups involving 46 students, faculty members, administrators and others.

But Black, who was one of three faculty members on the work groups, said the report took her by surprise. “We had, what I would term euphemistically, lively discussions,” she said, but her group did not vote on any of the recommendations. She also said she did not see the final draft until it was made public June 19.

Black said the reaction from faculty has been fairly intense. “Let me put it this way: There were enough faculty around that were sufficiently enraged at me for being a part of it,” she said.

The faculty union also said the proposal would “have the effect of union busting,” because it suggests merging collective bargaining units.

Said Bute: “What we’re requesting is that the chancellor and the board of trustees look carefully at this, basically hit the delete button [and]  go back to the drawing board.”

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

(This essay appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on 9/20/2013)

My university is in the midst of a public meltdown. We have been hammered with six negative news stories (type in Metropolitan State University) in the Pioneer Press in seven days.

As a union leader, I feel like my life has been nothing but crisis management 24/7 for the past week. Anger and tears are barely contained; I’m running on fumes. I awake exhausted and disheartened.

Then one morning this week a student email showed up in my inbox — and that was just the smelling salts I needed. The firmament works in mysterious ways, serendipitously presenting us with critical junctures that we ignore at our own peril.

The student was seeking answers to some leading questions she had posed that would have enabled her to avoid doing a daunting three-page essay the old fashioned way: With her own intellectual firepower. I stood my ground.

“Sorry, I do not answer these types of questions. The whole point of the assignment is for you to engage in higher-order thinking. This is not a course where the teacher implicitly provides the answer, and then the student goes home and writes the paper. That is not how I teach. In this course, students struggle all week to figure out a puzzle, and then we solve it together during the next class meeting.”

That interaction (and those that will follow throughout the semester) is why, well past the age of retirement, I still get up every morning, passionately ready for work. Even in the midst of this calamity, let me not forget why I practice this calling that I so love, at a university that I so cherish.

I later headed off for breakfast with a former student of mine of whom I am very proud, and pleased that she still enjoys our improvisational conversations about authors, living and dead.

When I told her of my earlier email exchange, she laughed aloud and said that she had tried the exact same thing with me and didn’t get away with it either. She then amazed me by quoting chapter and verse of remarks I had made in her class all those years ago. Sometimes tough love does pay dividends.

Crisis be damned, first things first. As Tom Waits put it,

Got to get behind the Mule

in the morning and plow

Got to get behind the Mule

in the morning and plow.

Monte Bute teaches sociology at Metropolitan State University and is action coordinator for the Inter Faculty Organization, the union for Minnesota state universities.

I first left my hometown at 15 as a pariah, the cautionary tale of juvenile delinquency. I ended up graduating high school at the Red Wing “Boys Reformatory,” forever banished from the records of the Jackson High class of 1963.

With shame and defiance, I voluntarily emigrated from the soil of my ancestors and its offspring. I remember well fleeing in a battered, grey 1949 Plymouth. I immigrated to a foreign land—eventually becoming a citizen of a more cosmopolitan universe.

Nevertheless, my hometown remained the psychic map by which I sought to distance myself from the provincial culture and values of my youthful years of 1945 to 1960. I could never listen to the songs on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” without imagining that bend in the Des Moines River. In other words, you can take the boy out of Jackson County, but you can never take Jackson County out of the boy.

In 2010, a terminal cancer invaded both my body and my identity. Suddenly my story of dying went viral, appearing statewide in newspapers, on TV, radio, and the internet. Much to my astonishment, a number of former classmates reached out to me with compassion and affection. They had extended an invitation of reconciliation. Hesitantly, I reciprocated.

As a result, when an invitation arrived for our 50th class reunion, I decided to return for the first time as an honorary graduate. I drove southwest for 180 miles with considerable trepidation. Arriving at the last minute without benefit of a name tag with a picture, few recognized me. Of the 107 class members, 22 candles flickered for those who had passed, 53 of the remaining 85 attended—a remarkable percentage. Of the 53, 13 of us had become teachers. Perhaps there was something more than fluoride in that landmark water tower.

After an exhilarating two days, I drove for three hours home, luxuriating in my peers’ welcoming balm that heals the soul. I had not fully realized what a festering emotional wound this 50-year-long estrangement has been. It’s difficult making language express the depth of my gratitude.

It was a godsend for this prodigal son to see up close and personal how each of us have been participants in the same human comedy, sharing a plethora of trials and tribulations, triumphs and tragedies. Along this haphazard pilgrimage, all we really have is each other. To the members of the class of 1963, a heartfelt thank you for sharing the early morning and late evening of my brief, but eventful, sojourn on this earth.

Don’t be a stranger.

This an interview with public television on a series called “Honoring Choices.”

TPT interview on death and dying (33 minutes)

If it turns out that our innermost being does not dangle from the puppet strings of some hobgoblin of fate, but on the contrary that we are draped with a multitude of small haphazardly linked weights, then we ourselves can tip the scales.  Robert Musil


For most sociologists, the wisdom of Isaiah Berlin is unknown. If one knows anything about him, it is probably the title of his famous essay on Tolstoy, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The title comes from a fragment written by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus:

The fox knows many things,

But the hedgehog knows one big thing

For autobiographical reasons, one of my favorite Berlin essays is “Political Judgment.” My appreciation of Berlin came late in life, more as a confirmation of lessons learned than as new revelations. In 1967, I dropped out of the University of Minnesota and spent the next six years as itinerant movement activist. As an aspiring hedgehog, I wanted to know one big thing. The Sixties abruptly expired in 1973. I began a long, and often painful, apprenticeship as a grassroots organizer. I started to master my craft only after confronting the implications of what Max Weber called “inconvenient facts.” In spite of myself, I was becoming a fox.

“What is it to have good judgment in politics?” With that simple question, Berlin proceeds to elucidate the practices of a fox in public life. In addition, his analysis goes a long way toward explaining why the academic left is so ineffectual outside the ivory tower:

To seize a situation in this sense one needs to see, to be given a kind of direct, almost sensuous contact with the relevant data . . . Above all this is an acute sense of . . . what the result is likely to be in a concrete situation of the interplay of human beings and impersonal forces.

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It’s proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. . . . A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting fi rst things fi rst.
Wendell Berry

For those ordering and conducting investigations, it is all too easy to get caught up in the business-as-usual of policies and procedures. The self-justifying nature of bureaucracies sometimes blind us to the human dimensions of those processes. The Hunt is a cautionary tale of the unintended consequences of even the best-intentioned policies and procedures.

This weekend I saw this highly acclaimed Danish film. I  recommend The Hunt for both its artistic pleasure and moral edification. Art and literature have a marvelous capacity of penetrating our taken-for-granted realities, allowing us to experience the shock of recognition.

Here’s a new premortem: the new tumors growing in my lungs are still precancerous; the skin cancer is not life-threatening; whatever is destroying my hard palate is not malignant; the emphysema remains moderately severe; the six stents in my heart continue to prevent another heart attack; the congestive heart failure is flaring up; the chronic kidney disease remains moderate; the peripheral neuropathy is like walking on Novocaine-injected feet. Nevertheless, as Tom Waits put it, I’m still the “last leaf on the tree.”

They say I got staying power

Here on the tree

But I’ve been here since Eisenhower

And I’ve out lived even he


I’m the last leaf on the tree 

The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me

I’m the last leaf on the tree

(Tom Waits)