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Faculty feud with MnSCU chancellor heats up

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s state university faculty union sent a harsh critique of Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s performance to the MnSCU governing board as it gears up to evaluate him.

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The union and Rosenstone have had a tense relationship. Since last fall, they have clashed over a new strategic planning process for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. And they have been caught in contract negotiations for more than a year.

In a memorandum Friday to the MnSCU’s Board of Trustees, the union voiced a litany of concerns, arguing the system administration is not attuned to faculty and student input.

“I have been hearing from faculty increasingly for the past year,” said Nancy Black, the outgoing president of the union, the Inter Faculty Organization. “One of their disenchantments is that it doesn’t appear students are better off now than they were three years ago.”

MnSCU board chairman Clarence Hightower said in a statement that trustees “unanimously and without reservation” support Rosenstone, whose three-year contract expires in July.

Rosenstone has had a more amicable relationship with other employee groups and organizations representing students. Those groups voiced measured support for the chancellor’s Charting the Future initiative, which calls for more coordination among the system’s campuses, wider use of education technology and other changes.

Faculty has voiced concerns that the initiative will lead to a more centralized system that undervalues the liberal arts. Rosenstone has argued the effort is about collaboration and innovation on a rapidly changing higher education scene.

This spring, the two sides enlisted a state mediator to help resolve differences.

“We are the only part of the system that has vigorously dissented with (Rosenstone), and he doesn’t tolerate dissent,” Black said.

Citing the mediator’s request that the two sides not discuss the closed-door talks publicly, Black declined to discuss the union’s efforts.

Hightower said the board is “enthusiastic” about the direction in which Rosenstone had led the system.

“He is a visionary leader who cares passionately for our students and works tirelessly on their behalf,” he said.

Trustees will begin their annual evaluation of Rosenstone this month.

List of concerns

In its memo to the board, the union criticized Rosenstone for what it deemed an “uninspiring” budget pitch to the Legislature and spending cuts on two MnSCU campuses.

It argued the system’s legislative proposal was informed by the wishes of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce rather than by student needs. The union previously has questioned Rosenstone’s belief that campuses need to be more responsive to the workforce needs of Minnesota employers to stay relevant.

The union faulted the system’s office with the handling of two recent high-profile cases:

  • Payroll problems at Metropolitan State University.
  • The firing and rehiring of a Minnesota State Mankato football coach who was accused and then cleared of child pornography.

The memo also charges that the chancellor ignored faculty input into his budget proposal and did not sufficiently involve faculty in work on Charting the Future.

Newly formed 18-member implementation teams for the plan feature one university faculty each, Black said.

Black said faculty morale at state universities was at an all-time low, and members on several campuses discussed no-confidence votes on the chancellor this spring.

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