OUR OPINION: Faculty concerns need action from MnSCU
"We can do this because we're going to do it together," the website for the Minnesota Association of State Colleges and Universities declares in its introduction to the "Charting the Future" project. That's talking the talk. But this isn't walkin...
“We can do this because we’re going to do it together,” the website for the Minnesota Association of State Colleges and Universities declares in its introduction to the “Charting the Future” project.
That’s talking the talk. But this isn’t walking the walk:
“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,” responded MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, in a statement on the decision of two systemwide faculty unions to stop participating in the process.
In other words, we’re going to do it together - but we’re also going to redefine “together.” And the new term will be a lot smaller and less meaningful than it used to be, given that it no longer includes the faculty unions, one of the more important constituencies in higher education.
Rosenstone should reconsider. In particular, he should see if there’s a way to act on rather than ignore the union’s concerns, thereby acknowledging the faculty’s value and Charting the Future’s vital need for faculty “buy-in.”
If he doesn’t, then his “Charting the Future” project could be resented or even resisted by the faculty. And when it comes to big projects in higher education, that’s a formula for failure, not success.
MnSCU is Minnesota’s system of seven state universities and 24 two-year colleges, enrolling 430,000 students. In northwestern Minnesota, it encompasses Bemidji State University and Northland Community and Technical College, but not the University of Minnesota-Crookston, which is part of the separate University of Minnesota system.
And for the MnSCU campuses, “Charting the Future” is a big deal. It’s a systemwide response to big-picture developments, such as the deep cuts in state support since 2002, the tuition hikes and rising student debt that have resulted and the demographic shifts that have pulled more people out of rural Minnesota and into metro areas.
Right now, MnSCU is poorly equipped to respond, because “we’re still working in silos,” as the system’s website states. For example, students still have trouble transferring credits between MnSCU institutions, and “campuses spend limited resources on marketing campaigns that, if we’re honest with ourselves, too often just serve to steal students from each other.”
Solutions include such things as greater collaboration, more coordinated academic planning and letting students graduate faster by giving them credit for prior learning and skills.
All of which is fine. But it’s clearly going to need faculty support if it’s going to work.
As higher-ed insiders know, there are times when presidents and administrators have to act despite faculty opposition. Closing academic departments and laying off professors come to mind.
But “Charting the Future” isn’t one of those times. Instead, this project is meant to “break down silos and work together in new ways,” as MnSCU’s website puts it. And that’s not going to happen as long as the silo marked “Faculty” remains both standing - and locked.