Faculty, leaders end feud over MnSCU reform plan

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2015 – 4:43 PM

After a five-month standoff, faculty and administrators have agreed to settle their differences over a controversial plan called Charting the Future to reform Minnesota’s 31 state colleges and universities.

The two sides announced Tuesday that they “have agreed to move forward cooperatively and collaboratively” in a way that appears to give a bigger role to faculty and students on the planning teams.

Since October, two faculty unions have been in open revolt against Chancellor Steven Rosenstone over his handling of Charting the Future, a fledgling master plan that is supposed to modernize and streamline operations at the sprawling system with 410,000 students on 54 campuses.

Faculty critics had accused Rosenstone of ignoring their concerns that sweeping changes might harm the quality of education. Within a matter of weeks, the faculty groups at all seven Minnesota state universities passed no-confidence votes against the chancellor.

The feud had threatened to cost the system tens of millions in potential state funding, which it has been seeking to extend a tuition freeze. In January, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would not recommend any extra funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) until the two sides made peace.

Last week, Dayton signaled that the dispute was nearing an end, and that he would restore some MnSCU funding in his upcoming budget.

In Tuesday’s announcement, MnSCU officials, trustees and faculty unions agreed to include “increased input” from faculty, staff and students in the planning process. The agreement also appears to shift some of the control away from central headquarters to the campuses, noting that Charting the Future “will become a campus-based regional process.”

Monte Bute, a union activist and sociology professor at Metro State University, described the agreement as a victory for the unions. “This is what we fought for for 17 months,” he said. “It literally is taking Charting the Future out from under Rosenstone and out of the central office.”

But Kim Olson, a spokeswoman for MnSCU, said it’s a merely a way to get more input from the campuses. “Although we’ve had that in the past, I think you’ll get even more,” she said. “We’re just all really pleased that we’re going to be working together and moving ahead.”

Resistance from the start

Rosenstone had launched the Charting the Future project in 2012, saying that MnSCU had to change with the times to better serve students and help them graduate with less debt.

But the plan has run into resistance from the start. A first draft, in 2013, was blasted by the Inter Faculty Organization — which represents the state universities’ instructors — as a blueprint for “Soviet-style” central control of the campuses.

Last October, both of MnSCU’s faculty unions announced that their members would no longer participate in Charting the Future because they had lost trust in Rosenstone.

The dispute was fueled, in part, by the discovery that Rosenstone’s administration had quietly paid a private consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., $2 million to help jump-start Charting the Future. Faculty leaders complained that McKinsey was promoting a corporate mentality that would threaten the quality of education and cut programs and staff.

Rosenstone has said that McKinsey is no longer involved, and that he is seeking recommendations from a wide range of faculty, staff and students.

Some of the proposals floated so far would allow students to get credit for prior knowledge and experience, and to transfer among campuses more easily. Rosenstone has said that some programs or campuses could be consolidated, but that no decisions have been made.

I am way, way past my expiration date. That news has not always been meet with well wishes. I received this malicious and hateful letter last spring:

“Dear Monte . . .

I will be blunt and get right to the point. I have heard from several members of the Metro State community that there is a widespread belief that you have faked your illness for these many years. When I was told this by one person she said you had done it for all of the awards and recognition that you got because people thought you were going to die soon. When I asked another person about it, they said that everyone at Metro knew your illness was a lie for a long time. . . .

I am very sorry to tell you of such a thing, and to have to be anonymous about it. I hope you will understand that there are sometimes important reasons for this. And even though I know this news may hurt deeply, I felt you had a right to know about this.


A Friend”

After five years, I too sometimes forget that I was once near death. Yesterday I re-read a newspaper column that I had written about my illness in 2010. Here is a excerpt:

“Autumn and the Dying of the Light”

“T.S. Eliot thought that April was the cruelest month. I disagree. For me, spring is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. I would argue that autumn is the most cold-hearted time of year.

Last fall I was afflicted with a mysterious neuropathy that baffled my neurologist. A couple of months later I had hip replacement surgery and a fortuitous x-ray revealed tumors on my lungs. They diagnosed me with stage 3 granular pulmonary lymphoma, a cancer so rare that there are only 500 to 600 cases in the medical literature. It turns out that neuropathy is a symptom of the disease. Who knew?

The prognosis is poor. The median survival from diagnosis is 14 months. More than [90] percent of patients die within five years. I completed chemotherapy in July and the cancer was in remission. However, within a month troubling symptoms appeared. I was increasingly short of breath, gasping after 15-20 paces.  Pulmonary embolisms formed. Most days I took two naps. I had no energy; the smallest tasks were beyond me. Walking became a precarious adventure.

Heart function is one potential victim of chemotherapy. Mine has declined to 20-30 percent. The neuropathy has also worsened. My legs are numb from the knees down and I have minimal feeling in my feet. The outlook is grim. For me, autumn is akin to what Dylan Thomas called ‘the dying of the light’.

. . . The cancer is back. It has re-appeared in my lungs and spread to my liver. I feel no urge to ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ Nevertheless, I am not yet ready for a calm acceptance of the coming darkness. I will rejuvenate soon, in spirit if not body. I look forward to opening my cabin in the spring and watching the Yellow River flow, where one day my ashes will be scattered.”

Here is something I wrote for Minnesota Public Radio in 2011, and it’s still true today:

“I have been in remission for 10 months. While I appreciate this hiatus, I am also somewhat ambivalent. Remission from terminal cancer is, by definition, a temporary reprieve. I had made my peace with death, when suddenly I was expelled from the land of the dying. It is not easy to return to the land of the living and, once again, play an active role in the human comedy . . . But perhaps that is the point: None of us have anything more than a temporary reprieve from our terminal condition.”

Carpe diem . . . 


While I had only fleeting encounters with him, David Carr’s death hit me particularly hard. Perhaps it was due to the eerie similarities of our life trajectories: Early success pissed away because of personal demons; episodes as violent thugs; alcohol and drug additions; long struggles for redemption; ravaged by cancer; and most of all, pursuing truth regardless of consequences.

A bouquet for David Carr . .

Tom Waits on Writing

The story and the letter.



Nicole Helget

INTERVIEWER Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them? FAULKNER Read it four times.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Charting the Future

For going on 8 years, I taught as an adjunct at South Central College (SCC) in North Mankato. While I was aware of and agreed with the national outrage on the use (and misuse) of adjuncts in higher education, I was somewhat immune from it, too, as I was treated very well at SCC. I had the luxury of being supported by an administration that appreciated my commitment to learning and supported me in my classroom endeavors. I was welcomed and encouraged to participate in discussions and committees on everything from college readiness to the creation of the Secular Student Alliance. Even though I sometimes wasn’t sure when/where my classes would run up until the day before they began (normal college chaos, I think), I was confident that they would, and they did. For years, I taught a full-time course load at a school that understood its community and its student population and endeavored to put in place the best people to help those students and its community. I felt secure, and I was able to pass along the investment I felt to the disciplines, the students, SCC, and the community.

I did not question whether or not my hours in the classroom or online with my students mattered. I knew they did from the quality of my students’ works and my interactions with them. I honestly believed that the last, best equalizer we had in this country was education, and I approached my job with that sincerity and severity. I meant to help people, many of whom came from extremely challenging backgrounds, develop a lifelong desire to learn and improve their lives. And, I felt that my colleagues and the administration meant to do the same.

On a swift wind, things began to change. A new administration came in and number of concerning moves were made with seemingly little real research or thought or care.

History is one of my amateur hobbies. So, even as the gales swept through the halls and classrooms and offices, I accepted that sometimes drastic measures are needed to repair real problems, institutionalized sexism or racism, for instance. I also understood that sometimes even the most well-meaning people can become part of a system that forwards these embedded blights on society. I sincerely sat back, thought, and asked myself if that’s what had happened at SCC. At the time, I thought I’d ride these changes out with my head down and wait and see if the changes, while painful in the present, were going to create a better future. I taught, I thought, and I read, and I researched.

The answer was no.

These measures have nothing to do with lifting up our disadvantaged students. Instead, they reek of mismanagement, ignorance, and frankly, corruption.

I’ve seen good teachers and good programs eliminated with the most contradictory language and nonsensical reasoning. I watched beloved classes, which were consistently full, get eliminated (then reintroduced after student protests but at the cost of a good administrator being scapegoated and then terminated). The new administration refused to support, neither financially nor personally, SCC’s annual global conference, which, this year, was a celebration and appreciation of the Hmong population. This administration seems to have a very narrow definition of what cultural diversity is and demonstrates very little curiosity about the varied backgrounds of our particular student body. A student senate member was told to remember his place and not rise above it by the new president. Many, many colleagues were told to basically sit down and be quiet or risk being labeled a racist. I’ve seen a concerted effort to divide and conquer faculty members. I’ve witnessed the sterilization of the union. I’ve seen and heard intellectual fraud and financial mismanagement.

For too long, I sat on it.

The end of last semester, I quit. I now write from the perspective of a former employee, an alumnus of MnSCU, an advocate of MnSCU students, a friend to many MnSCU teachers, and a mother to a future MnSCU student. Frankly, aside from a lot of backlash and potential problems with future employment, there’s nothing in the following rant that really serves me financially or career-wise.

I must be serious.

This new administration has instituted a full frontal assault on the arts and intellectual curiosity. The implementation of “Charting the Future,” which has begun at SCC, abolishes the right of every Minnesotan, including rural Minnesotans, to enjoy a full education, including trade and liberal arts courses. SCC seems the beginning of the plan, but the strategy will spread to the rest of the MnSCU campuses with direction from Chancellor Rosenstone, prodded by special interest groups. In fact, it’s likely that the strategy has begun in Rochester and Worthington already. Our state college system will be turned into job training centers that benefit no one except the already wealthy and powerful.

First, a defense of the liberal arts, which have been identified as a “problem” by the forces behind “Charting the Future.”

Access to and choice of art and history and photography and race relations and geography and creative writing and psychology and history and philosophy and speech classes don’t distract students from carpentry and mechatronics and agriculture and nursing classes or, for crying out loud, graduation or future, gainful employment. Rather, the liberal arts enhance those classes and vice versa.

Filling the community with workers who also entertain thinking, reading, understanding, musicianship, artistry, creating, inventing, and criticizing is a positive undertaking. Not only that, but our students want courses that develop these attributes. Of course they require good employment, but they also aspire to enjoy their lives and think deeply and be constructive assets to their families and communities. The students desire a complete experience.

Our goal in higher education, even in community college education, is not simply to produce workers for the present demands of fickle CEOs of billion-dollar industries, as this administration intends to do with the “Charting the Future” initiative. Rather, the goal of higher education is to develop citizens who can work, yes, but also adapt to changing stimuli, to be skilled and interested in many areas so that WHEN the economic needs change, those individuals can move and bring their knowledge and craftsmanship to other careers. Higher education isn’t about landing an entry-level job only. It’s about a lifetime of inquisitiveness, empathy, healthy living, healthy relationships, and productive citizenry. The liberal arts foment those goals.

“Charting the Future” intends to disable these classes and the programs.

Despite the claim that the original tenents of the “Charting the Future” initiative were not influenced by the Itasca Group or McKinsey and Company (as though the exact same ideas and language spontaneously erupted at the very same time, like the pyramids of Egypt and Mesomerica!), this is obviously a misremembering of events. If you really want to raise the hair on the back of your neck, read one of the documents that sheds light on the ideas that shaped “Charting the Future,” the McKinsey and Company report, “Game Changers: Five Opportunities for US Growth and Renewal” to the National Governor’s Association in which they identify five areas of opportunity, the first being fracking and the fifth being higher education and in which they discuss all the political maneuverings they’ll have to put in place to develop these areas for optimal financial gain. McKinsey has been delivering variations of this plan throughout the country since at least 2011.

In the meanwhile, they, Chancellor Rosenstone and crew, have to convince us that nothing in higher education is currently working because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. Therefore, “bold” change is needed, implemented by “strong” leaders because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. They have to convince us that our graduates aren’t skilled enough for the present needs of industry because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them.

Really? Everywhere I turn I see a glut of highly intelligent, highly skilled individuals.

Perhaps these CEOs, McKinsey’s very narrow sample group, need to keep better company.

Perhaps if the CEOs raised their wages, the resumes from qualified individuals would crash their computers and crush their desks.

Or, perhaps the CEOs hope to flood the state with even more workers, all skilled in the exact same way so that corporations can keep wages suppressed and thwart any attempt at new inventions, new ideas, new small businesses, new competition.

Who, exactly, was McKinsey’s sample group? Who, exactly, did they interview? Since when is a question such as “Are you concerned about the skills of potential employees” considered real research? Since when do you change an entire education system based on the close-ended responses of a self-interested sampling group? We don’t even allow composition students to get away with that kind of shoddy research. Administration can package this crap up in tidy powerpoints and binders, get some suit who appropriates our own language to deliver it, but those gilded trappings don’t make the research credible.

With some real research, McKinsey might have noted that a major component of “Charting the Future,” giving students credit for skills they already possess, is already in place. Every semester, many of us at SCC assess the incoming skills of students and sometimes forward a deserving student onto the next level. Heck, MSU was doing this back in the early 2000s, when I was a six-months-pregnant undergrad passing out of physical education by taking a swimming test.

That said, I must add that even when a student comes to a higher-level course with mastery skills, good instructors (of which MnSCU is fortunate to be drowning in) adapt the curriculum to further challenge the student. The syllabus should never be a “one-size-fits-all” stone tablet. We do and should always adapt curriculum to the knowledge, the needs, and the learning styles of our students. For high-functioning students, more to investigate exists and can be discovered with guidance from a teacher who invests in him or her. These kinds of adaptations can’t take place in the system proposed by “Charting the Future” where uniformity and cold objectivity is the way.

In another flawed bit of logic, this administration and “Charting the Future,” again guided by the findings of McKinsey, place the blame for dragging degree-completions and too-high drop-out rates on the curriculum, on the classroom methods, on teachers, and on schools’ selfish noncooperation and competition for students.

I don’t think so.

With some real research, perhaps McKinsey might have learned that present financial suction is at the heart of our students’ college fatigue. Nothing would do more to improve the learning and skill-development and degree-completion of the present college population than food-secure and housing-secure lives and an immediate raise in wages, which would buy the students time to concentrate on developing their minds and their abilities rather than splitting their days between long-houred, low-paying jobs, school, and family.

Although no one needed to spend two million dollars for them to do it, Chancellor Rosenstone, with McKinsey’s enlightenment, did stumble upon a real problem in higher education: student loan debt. But, they misidentified the solution. Racing students through standardized tests delivered electronically is not a solution. Interestingly, that strategy will only boost the profits of corporations who create standardized tests, corporations like, say, McKinsey. Student loan debt is a cultural problem. Student loan debt is a symptom of our collective messed-up priorities. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided to cut subsidies in the form of grants, students have had to take on larger loan burdens. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided that we don’t want to provide universal health care for all of our citizens, colleges have passed the rising costs of health care for their employees onto their students in the form of rising tuition. We need to reconsider what we care about in this country. Do we want our tax dollars to continue to be poured into defense and write-offs for special interest groups? That’s a decision we have to make with the ballot.

Another thought on completion rates: I wonder what would happen if students were encouraged to pursue scholarship that interested them. Hm. Here’s, admittedly, a heart-tugging scenario for you: let’s say it’s 3 am, and your child erupts in red pox and seeps from every orifice. You rush him to the emergency room, of course. Who would you rather have help him? The nurse who chose nursing and skated through with a B- average because that’s where the jobs were even though what he really wanted to study was the migratory routes of orcas? Or the nurse who chose nursing because she loved the health sciences and loved helping people and earned top notch scores in every preparatory course?

I wonder if McKinsey accounted for the fact that “employees” actually have desires and preferences, minds and hopes of their own.

OK, for a minute, let’s just humor this administration and McKinsey and their brainchild “Charting the Future.” Let’s say their research is solid (*choking cough*). Fine. But, since when do we implement drastic changes based on the requests of corporations without requiring some reciprocation from these corporations, one that translates into REAL benefits for our students, one like “we promise to provide paid internships” or “we promise to pay entry-level employees x% above minimum wage,” for instance?

In the past, McKinsey’s brand of leadership and research has contributed to insider trading prosecution (Pavlo “Former McKinsey and Co. Boss, Rajat Gupta, Guilty of Insider Trading”), the Enron fiasco (Chu “McKinsey: How Does It Always Get Away With It”) and the AOL-Time Warner merger (Sternbergh “Book Review: The Firm by Duff McDonald”). The American talltale of epic failings is charged with guiding a “bold” plan for education reform to correct “failing” schools? At the very least, this is ironic, right? I’m sure there are some success stories, too, guided by McKinsey. But, as Sternbergh, in his Bloomberg Businessweek book review of McDonald’s expose on McKinsey and Company writes, “For every positive McKinsey achievement—its consultants urged the newly elected President Eisenhower to create the position of White House chief of staff—there are at least as many failures.”

The point is, McKinsey routinely suggests risky gambles with other people’s money. Are we going to turn higher education into a casino with taxpayer dollars and student loans?

I could go on. I haven’t even broached the link between McKinsey and Company and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But, you can google that frightening relationship at your leisure.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that McKinsey was chosen precisely for their nefarious strategies and connections. Perhaps someone or something else is behind this swift and opaque change? Because of the density of the implementation, it’s difficult to go down that road without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. However, I only have to look at our neighboring state to the east to get a shiver.

In its defense of “Charting the Future,” administration claims to have consulted students and faculty about its tenents.

None of my colleagues was consulted before the implementation began. In fact, they’ve been told to sit down and shut up time after time. Which they’ve mostly done because they fear for their jobs and their ability to continue their good work in their classrooms.

No one in my classes was consulted either.

If they had been, administration might have learned that many of my Somali students come from agrarian backgrounds. Might they not have had something to say about their skills for potential employers, perhaps to one of Minnesota’s hugest corporations mentioned in the McKinsey and “Charting the Future” reports, Cargill? About how to grow crops in very, very challenging conditions, for instance?

Might not have my many, many children of Latin American immigrants known a little bit about food production, too, as their parents are the backbone of this country’s agricultural and food production labor force, as they come from the people who domesticated our most profitable, subsidized, and ubiquitous commodity, corn? Might they might not have known something about how to adapt when political freewheeling and corporate gluttony annihilate your livelihood in the blink of an eye causing a mass economic catastrophe and a subsequent exodus from your country?

Perhaps my droves of low-income students feeding families on the barest of necessities could have provided some insight into the ingredients they need and want to put on their dinner tables. Might not have Dr. Parker and Chancellor Rosenstone and McKinsey and Company and any of the businesses consulted benefited from talking to these students?

Any idiot should understand that not only are these students the next economy’s employees, but they are also its consumers.

Ask them what they want the world to look like. Don’t tell them what you require from them to keep your coffers full. Your presumptions stink of pretention and entitlement and classism and elitism.

Teaching is not only about preparing students for job skills and throwing money into the economy. Oftentimes, the classroom is about providing a safe place for conflicted or wounded people to begin reflecting and healing for the benefit of families and communities.

Bear with me. Here’s a long story, but it does have a point:

This past semester, full of interesting events, culminates in this: two Somali students both wrote their final persuasive argument papers on female circumcision. One was a young woman of 18 who experienced the procedure at seven. She was very skeptical of me in the semester’s beginning. Gradually, though, I earned her trust. Finally, toward the end of the semester, my students had to choose a persuasive argument topic. She couldn’t decide, so I sat with her after class one night and probed her about her interests outside of school. And, then, she looked at me and said, I think I’d like to write about circumcision.

The other paper came from an elder Somali gentleman who confided that he was interested in broaching this topic but that it was taboo for him to do so and that he was embarrassed. This was his second, different class with me. And, because I had developed a good rapport with him over a couple of years, I challenged, and I pushed him to write the paper. I told him that it was his responsibility to make bold proposals when he sees wrong in the world. I told him he was in a position of power within his community. He did.

Because of my own liberal arts education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, which included courses in Postcolonial African literature, women’s studies, and Geography, I knew how to help these students. Also, in my time at SCC, I had developed a strong relationship with one of my colleagues and officemates, an adjunct like me, who had spent years working with Sudanese and Somali immigrants. Through her, I gleaned a wealth of information about the challenges these populations face in Mankato.

As a student, I took many practical pedagogy and curriculum instruction courses at MSU, which were intended to help me get a job, but it was my liberal arts courses, those frivolous flights of fancy according to McKinsey and “Charting the Future,” and my work-place relationship that prepared me for helping these particular students.

I hear stories like this one from my colleagues all the time, ones that prove to me over and over again that schools and teachers have to understand the needs of their particular communities, their particular students, which will be eliminated with the implementation of “Charting the Future.” What works in Worthington, where my teacher friends might have to develop specialized knowledge on the unique challenges of student athletes, does not necessarily work in North Mankato.

Tell me the kinds of strategies employers have in place to deal with the many, many trials this generation of the poor, of the PTSD-laden, and of demoralized immigrants possess. Corporations don’t even want to train their own employees anymore. They want schools to do it. They want students to take out student loans to get job training. That is not in the best economic interest of students. That is not a cost-saving measure for students. That is a cost-saving measure for companies. Remember when employees used to get paid for job training on the job? Are we just going to shuffle these students through school without real, compassionate teaching and feed them to business lords who care nothing for them?

I do not want to do that. I did not become an educator to do that.

Schools are for communities. Schools are not for corporations.

Something has gone bad.

“Charting the Future” isn’t really about students and higher learning. It is not about what’s best for Minnesota. What this administration and its CEO advisory committee have implemented is a system that is perfectly poised to get as many people as possible into students loans, privatize education as much as possible, suppress organized labor, further corporate agendas, dumb down citizens, develop curriculum with industry-supporting propaganda, move students away from areas of potential environmental exploitation, get their hands on and extract the life out of our two most valuable resources in Minnesota: our young people and our environment.


Nicole Helget


Chu, Ben. “McKinsey: How Does It Always Get Away With It?” The Independent, 7

Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

Lund, Susan, James Manyika, Scott Nyquiat, Lenny Mendonca and Sreenivas

Ramaswamy. “Game Changers: Five Opportunities for US Growth and Renewal.” N.p.: McKinsey Global Institute, July 2013. Pdf.

Pavlo, Walter.  “Former McKinsey and Co. Boss, Rajat Gupta, Guilty of Insider

Trading” Forbes, 15 June 2012. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

Sternbergh, Adam. “Book Review: The Firm by Duff McDonald.”

BloombergBusinessWeek, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 22. Dec. 2014.

On Campus

MPR News Intelligence on higher education


MnSCU overhaul falters

Alex Friedrich 

The signs were long in coming.

After Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system Chancellor Steven Rosenstone unveiled a proposal in 2013 to revamp how the system would do business – a plan called Charting the Future – faculty representatives were uneasy.

They said the proposed reforms smelled of Soviet centralization and feared the plan would put too much power into the hands of the central office.

In June of this year, the statewide faculty union issued a list of complaints against Rosenstone, who they said had driven faculty morale to a new low through mismanagement and a show of disrespect toward professors.

We’re not on board. Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

In October, faculty began to bolt. Winona State University started a wave that led faculty at all seven state universities to hold votes of “no confidence” in Rosenstone’s leadership.

The system’s two statewide unions pulled out of the planning process. They said they didn’t have enough say in decision-making, and feared the plan would lead to “the McDonaldization of higher education.”

They expressed distrust in Rosenstone, citing revelations that the chancellor had quietly signed a contract extension the previous fall – a move that was never formally disclosed to the board – and had signed a $2 million contract with an overhaul consultant under the radar of faculty and students as well.

They rejected Rosenstone’s public offer of state mediation in November, saying it was a surprise announcment – and a political strong-arm tactic to get them to the table on his terms.

Rosenstone has said the reform process will continue. The unions still aren’t in mediation with him, but university faculty union President Jim Grabowska said faculty representatives have been in informal talks with several trustees about their concerns.



Readers Write (Dec. 15) 


Involve all parties, and the work will progress

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenstone and the MnSCU board of trustees seem to believe that they have a monopoly on the idea of “change.” MnSCU overlooks that 8,000 faculty members are perpetually making changes on their campuses to ensure that Minnesota students receive an excellent, accessible and affordable higher education.

No one is out to destroy MnSCU or its strategic plan, Charting the Future. However, the plan’s top-down and centralized approach to change allows little autonomy for the diversity of local campuses and communities. What critics are demanding is that the plan’s implementation process becomes less administrator-centric and more inclusive of those who are on the front lines of teaching and learning.

The chancellor cannot implement anything without significant buy-in from students, faculty and staff. As witnessed for two months, many of those constituents are not buying what he is selling.

Perhaps it is time for MnSCU to rethink its position. Its leaders should not read resistance to the current autocratic process as indiscriminate resistance to all change.

A potential compromise has been on the table for nine months. A coalition of MnSCU unions and the four-year student association resubmitted that more equitable process again in August. The chancellor has refused to share power with students and faculty.

Trustees, the ball is in your court.

Monte Bute, Woodbury

The writer is a professor at Metropolitan State University.

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”  ― Albert Camus

 “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”  ― Albert Camus

 “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”  ― Albert Camus

“…the habit of despair is worse than despair itself.”  ― Albert Camus

“I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning. But I know that something in it has a meaning and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on having one”  ― Albert Camus

“Find meaning. Distinguish melancholy from sadness. Go out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a romantic walk in the park, spring at its most spectacular moment, flowers and smells and outstanding poetical imagery smoothly transferring you into another world. It doesn’t have to be a walk during which you’ll have multiple life epiphanies and discover meanings no other brain ever managed to encounter. Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but ‘steal’ some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus,




October 24, 2014

Tensions Between Faculty Members and Consultants Come to a Head in Minnesota

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.


Too few academics read widely outside their discipline. In truth, they often read little outside their specialty. Sociologists are no exception. Ironically, it is the human condition, in its most expansive understanding, that grounds our work as sociologists. This list of novels, essays, plays, and poems are some of the works that have provided meaning for my intellectual journey. I promise that they are works of substance, and that they will challenge you as they have challenged me. This list, and others like it, make us more fully human, humanistic sociologists, so to speak. The list is not static; what I list today has changed since yesterday and, hopefully, it will be transformed by tomorrow. That should be the story of the life your own mind.

The Castle, Kafka

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

The Plague, Camus

Rules for Radicals, Alinsky

Inferno, Dante

A Pen Warmed up in Hell, Twain

Fierce Attachments, Gornick

Invisible Man, Ellison

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Wolfe

The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories, Tolstoy (Pervear & Voloshonsky translation)

Baudelaire: Poems, Baudelaire

Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu

Selection from the Essays, Montaigne

The White Album, Didion

Three Plays, Wilson

From Dictatorship to Democracy, Sharp

Moby Dick, Melville

The Communist Manifesto, Marx

The Hamlet, Faulkner

Tell Me a Riddle, Olsen

Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare

The Wisdom Books [of the Bible], Alter

Escape From Freedom, Fromm

All the King’s Men, Warren

Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, Bly

On Liberty, Mill

Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut

Learning to Drive, Pollitt

Three Plays, Wilder

The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, Burtt

Plath: Poems, Plath

A Gathering of Old Men, Gaines

Angels in America, Kushner

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell

Ecce Homo, Nietzsche

Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas, Thompson

Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner

Hughes: Poems, Hughes

Three Plays, Chekhov

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers

Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez

The Long Haul, Horton

The Vintage Sacks. Sacks

Blood Meridan, McCarthy

Faust Part I, Goethe

Notes of a Native Son, Son Baldwin

My Antonia, Cather

The Heart of William James, Richardson

John Berryman Selected Poems, Berryman

Selected Stories of Anton Checkhov, Pervear & Voloshonsky translation

Waiting for Godot, Beckett

Open Letters, Havel

Rimbaud: Poems, Rimbaud

Borderlands, Anzaldua

The Courage to Teach, Palmer

Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut

Macbeth, Shakespeare

The Search for Meaning, Frankl

Six American Poets, Conarroe

Collected Works, O’Connor

Under the Glacier, Laxness

Howl, Ginsberg

Arthur Miller: Collected Plays 1944-1961, Kushner

The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck

Darkwater, Du Bois

Montaigne’s Essays

Black Feminist Thought, Hill Collins

Facing Unpleasant Facts, Orwell

Philip Larkin Poems, Amis

The Road, McCarthy

Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Jesus, Jaspers

Crises of the Republic, Arendt

In Dubious Battle, Steinbeck

The Coast of Utopia, Stoppard

Frost: PoemsHollander

Drawing the Line Once Again, Goodman

Plainsong, Haruf

The Rebel, Camus

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, Niebuhr