The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 4, 2013

Union off base on MnSCU plan

Why it matters: Turf battles and fiery rhetoric won't help faculty union adapt to inevitable change at MnSCU.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The recent response by MnSCU faculty union leaders to the plan for charting the future of the MnSCU system strikes us as unduly political, laced with turf battle undertones and not terribly becoming of people who represent critical thinking and analysis.

We’re sure there are members of the faculty union who could offer up more pointed and intellectual criticism of the plan, and we hope they weigh in with responses as the plan is presented to the MnSCU Board in November.

The Inter Faculty Organization told the Star Tribune it opposed the plan it described as a “Soviet-style management structure with centrally controlled decision making by bureaucrats who are far removed from the classroom.”

It’s hard to fathom how one could come up with even a lose interpretation of that assessment in reading the draft report.

The MnSCU report working group included 46 representatives of stakeholders from MnSCU’s robust constituencies, including the faculty union, but it’s clear the plan is shaking up a system that is bloated, inefficient and has been unable to adapt quickly to changing times and limited resources.

We can see why the draft report rattles those who rely on MnSCU for their livelihood, but it is no less relevant for that reason. MnSCU with its 54 campuses and 430,000 students was once considered economic development for small towns in outstate Minnesota. Its 2,800 programs were sometimes duplicated for geographical access and convenience. Unfortunately, it cannot and should not serve that purpose in the future.

It must be streamlined to not only reduce duplication and excessive capital costs, but be more nimble and adaptive to the employment marketplace.

That means programs at every MnSCU institution, including Minnesota State in Mankato and South Central College, must be examined for relevancy, efficiency and quality. The charting the future plan calls for reducing duplication of programs, merging programs to campuses or other locations where expertise is highest and collaborating with outside institutions, private and public.

The draft report correctly states: “Our educational delivery model is costly and does not respond quickly to population changes, resulting in a mismatch between our capacity and demand for higher education.”

It points to startling demographics that suggest a problem, though one outstate Minnesotans interested in protecting their own MnSCU turf will not find comforting.

The Twin Cities will offer some 192,000 jobs in the next 10 years, but MnSCU student headcounts in the Twin Cities are only about 12,000. In outstate Minnesota, job growth and replacement will be around 154,000 in the next 10 years compared to university student headcount in outstate of about 72,000.

The report points out that the majority of jobs will be created in the Twin Cities, while the majority of the MnSCU capacity is in outstate.

The draft report also makes more sea-change suggestions that will be threatening to union and political constituencies, but are nonetheless based on stark realities and market needs.

To wit: “In the years ahead, our colleges and universities will need to seek opportunities for new institutional arrangements through additional mergers, regionalized colleges/universities, co-location or other joint administrative and educational arrangements. They will need to consider the replacement of some full-service campuses with a suite of flexible delivery options.”

The union also says the changes would not be good for students and that it focuses too much on job-training programs that would crowd out resources to academic programs.

It’s a criticism that has been around for decades, but one that is falling out of relevancy every year. MnSCU students and their parents are right to have a reasonable assumption that getting a degree from MnSCU should help graduates get jobs and establish careers.

The MnSCU Charting the Future draft report offers a serious analysis of needed changes that may be hard-medicine to take for political constituencies but also will be good for students, the business community and taxpayers.