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Towards the end of Dick Andzenge’s monthly column, Professor Andzenge wrote “My granddaughter is a college-bound senior in one of the area high schools. Since last year, she has received weekly solicitations in the form of email, fliers and postcards from universities and colleges from several universities in Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, other universities in Minnesota, and New York. Some offer her special status consideration and include routine updates of events at the university. I asked her if she and her friends have received such solicitations from St. Cloud State University. She said she has not received anything and does not know of her classmates who did.”

Earlier in Andzenge’s column, he wrote “Regional comprehensive universities, such as St. Cloud State, have the clear purpose of serving university-bound high school graduates from the region in which they are located. High school students enrolling at the university do not commit to staying at the university. In fact, many of them do not. They do not pay regular tuition and therefore cannot be the solution. The expectation of transferred students from two-year colleges is also not a solution.”

This is appalling. St. Cloud State is in the midst of an eight year enrollment decline but they can’t be bothered to send a simple email to prospective college-bound high school seniors pitching their campus as a place to get an education? Why wouldn’t the University have someone tasked with talking with every high school junior or senior within a 75-mile radius of the University? Especially for a university in St. Cloud State’s predicament, isn’t this a display of utter incompetence? If it isn’t, why isn’t it?

There’s no question that President Potter’s death stunned the campus community. Still, shouldn’t the community ask what was being done in the most important functions of the University? It’s fair to say that the primary function of a university is to provide a great learning experience. What grade has the University earned in this respect? One of the worst-kept secrets in town is that some types of businesses won’t even interview a recent SCSU graduate. This isn’t true of all of the University programs. Still, it happens often enough to warrant concern.

Another important responsibility of universities is to make sound financial decisions. On this front, there’s more than sufficient evidence to conclude that SCSU has failed this responsibility. The highest-profile example of financial incompetence is the University’s lease with the Wedum Foundation. That lease has cost SCSU approximately $10,000,000 since it opened. That’s just the checks that the University sent to the Foundation. That isn’t counting the lost dorm revenue.

Another financial boondoggle was paying the City of St. Cloud $240,000 per year for 3 police officers who didn’t police the campus. The original contract was for 3 years. The sad news is that that contract was extended. It’s incomprehensible that a university that’s experiencing enrollment declines and that’s sending $1,000,000 checks each year to a foundation for rooms not getting rented would then spend $250,000 a year for something that the city is responsible for. I wouldn’t agree to that policing arrangement if the University was flush with money, much less when it’s running multi-million dollar annual deficits.

That’s before the one-time expense of rebranding. SCSU spent almost $450,000 on that project. (I still get a kick out of the fact that EMG opaquely said that LFR was responsible for the University’s negative image.) Five years later, it’s apparent that the reason why the University has a negative image is because it isn’t being run properly from a financial standpoint.

That’s before the $50,000 Great Place to Work Institute boondoggle.

As of this morning, the University is paying a professor not to teach. Instead, he’s being paid to do union work and be a political activist in the community. That’s been going on at least 3 years at $70,000/yr.

As for the community and the politicians, they’ve been invisible for the most part. Zach Dorholt was the vice-chair of the House Higher Ed Committee. He did nothing. This year’s DFL candidate, Dan Wolgamott, has talked a big game about “bringing people together.” Thus far, he hasn’t said anything about the crisis. As a real estate agent, he’s seen the drain of wealth from St. Cloud. Why hasn’t he done anything to turn SCSU around?

For that matter, why hasn’t the business community stepped forward and insisted that the University become relevant again? It isn’t like their workforce needs are being met. It isn’t like businesses are racing to buy land to build ‘value-added’ companies. When was the last time that St. Cloud built a new factory?

I’ve said this before but I’ll repeat it here. SCSU needs a turnaround artist with leadership skills. They haven’t had that in years. That shortcoming needs to stop ASAP.

It’s safe to say that, from a statistical standpoint, St. Cloud State has been in decline since the 2010 academic year. At the end of AY2010 FYE enrollment was 15,096. Without a change of direction, it won’t take more than 3 additional years before FYE enrollment will dip below 10,000. Community leaders and politicians that aren’t working to fix this crisis are part of the problem.

While they’re part of the problem, they aren’t the heart of the problem. They’re merely enablers. The decision-makers are the heart of the problem. What’s required is leadership and commitment to a rebuilding plan. The past 2 administrations, including the soon-to-be former administration, have managed St. Cloud State’s decline. Too much time was spent on rebranding. Not enough time was spent rebuilding. The University needs a culture change. This post is about identifying the leader that will bring about that change and his plan.

The leader’s name is John Palmer and this is part of his plan:

Place the top priority on teaching by having all Minnesota State Administrators and Minnesota State University Administrative & Academic Support Faculty teach at least one three credit class during the academic year, thus reducing the use of overload assignments and adjunct faculty. Minimize the use of reassignment for IFO Faculty to reflect teaching as the top priority of the University. Use the salary and fringe benefit savings from the two previous actions to close the gap between revenue and expense.

Closing the gap between revenue and expense is an important action but more import to the reversal of declining enrollment is the visible and promoted top priority effort on teaching and course availability. Actions will speak louder than words but it will be important to let prospective students know that SCSU has changed course and that teaching and learning is the University’s highest priority.

Use the occasion of the 150th anniversary of SCSU’s founding as the launch of the next decade of service and grow for the Normal School (emphasis on teaching) that grew up to be a University. Show the Red and Black at every High School and Community College within a 90 mile radius of St. Cloud by having the President and Provost visit each school and college twice a year. These visits will include interaction with students, teachers, staff and administrators. The visits will be in addition to regular recruiting activities of the office of Admissions staff.

Reduce international travel by faculty, staff and administrators. Reduce in and out of state travel by faculty, staff and administrators, too. Substitute electronic communication and smaller delegations for international travel. This should be done consistent with the priority given to teaching. This is another example where actions will speak louder than words.

Finally and most importantly, the new president deserves the opportunity to put their team in place. They shouldn’t have to worry about a collection of people who may not have primary allegiance to the University. To operationalize the creation of a team of leaders with primary allegiance to the future of the University, each at will employee will tender their resignation effective the day the new president begins employment thus allowing the new president the opportunity to pick their team.

This is what leadership looks like. Dr. Palmer isn’t interested in managing St. Cloud State’s financial and educational decline. Instead, he’s interested in rebuilding the University he invested 39 years of his life to.

In the past, administrations spent too much money on rebranding the University. That’s just putting lipstick on the same ugly pig. Rebuilding the University is required so students and parents know that St. Cloud State places a higher priority on teaching and educating than it puts on diversity.

It isn’t that diversity is a bad thing. It’s that touting the University’s diversity while enrollment declines is a bad thing.

The search committee can shut down. That’s partially because it isn’t likely that they’ll find anyone qualified that’s interested in this job. Dr. Palmer isn’t just qualified. He’s interested, too.

It’s time to turn this ship around.

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Now that St. Cloud State’s interim president has announced that he’s accepted the job as president of Northern Kentucky University, it’s time to get serious in finding a highly qualified presidential candidate from the local ranks.

In this post, I wrote St. Cloud State needs “a president that will instantly connect with area principals. What’s needed, too, is someone who will sell the University’s programs. It’s imperative to immediately create a positive buzz about the University. … What’s needed is someone who’s already familiar with SCSU and someone who’s a no-nonsense person.”

I stand by that statement. In fact, I’d add to that statement. There are undoubtedly people on campus who would love that job. It’s my opinion that few of these potential candidates are qualified to turn St. Cloud State around. Ultimately, that’s the biggest requirement. It isn’t a character trait, per se, but it’s essential.

Campus activists like Tracey Ore, Mark Jaede and Steve Hornstein need not apply. They’ve spent too much time sucking up to the administration in exchange for cushy jobs. Further, I’d bet the proverbial ranch that none of them have a plan that would turn the University around. (That alone disqualifies them.) I’d consider each of these people a ‘social justice hire’ in that they’re so ultra-liberal that pushing that agenda would likely be their primary mission. We don’t need to pay activists $300,000+ a year to ignore the campus while being full-time political activists. (Yes, I’m questioning their commitment to turning the University around.)

What’s needed is a president with leadership skills and a commitment to rebuilding, not rebranding, St. Cloud State. St. Cloud State spent $430,000+ on rebranding in 2012-13. St. Cloud was told that everything was fine, that the University was just “right-sizing.” It’s 5 years later and the enrollment decline is still happening. (Are we still right-sizing the University?)

To be fair, it isn’t all the University’s fault. Part of the problem is that Minnesota has been experiencing a net outmigration of people of all age groups for the past 15+ years. According to the Minnesota Demographer’s Office, “While 21,000 young adults move to Minnesota each year to attend college or graduate school, even greater numbers of students (29,000) leave the state each year. In fact, two-thirds of Minnesota’s total annual domestic net loss is due to Minnesota students leaving for higher education, and far fewer return in the post-college years. Thus, retaining more of our college-bound young adults at in-state institutions may be a key strategy to long-term population retention and labor force development.”

In other words, what’s needed is an economic plan that incentivizes young people to stay, graduate from college, then start and build businesses. Minnesota’s economic blueprint isn’t doing that. If that doesn’t change, Minnesota’s universities will be facing a competitive deficit. There’s no other way to say this. Minnesota’s economic policies affect whether young people leave the state or whether they stay. For the past 20 years, DFL politicians didn’t listen while young people and people from all age groups left.

If a young person’s goal is to be an entrepreneur, why would that person pick a state with high taxes and unreasonable regulations? While some will criticize me for making that political statement, I don’t care because those things are intertwined.

Finally, I wrote this post to highlight the state of disarray St. Cloud State is in:

This afternoon, a loyal reader of LFR sent me a forwarded email from Ashish Vaidya, soon to be the former interim president at St. Cloud State. According to the forwarded email, “In early October, I informed campus that Tammy McGee, Vice President for Finance and Administration, was resigning from her position at St. Cloud State University at the end of the academic year. Vice President McGee recently informed me that other professional opportunities will require an earlier departure. I have accepted her resignation effective Jan. 5, 2018. This week, she will finalize various projects to support the transition and beginning Nov. 17, she will be on vacation until her resignation date. Effective today, the division of Finance and Administration will report directly to the Office of the President to make sure the university maintains consistent leadership as we continue our efforts to enhance our financial stability. The search for a permanent replacement will begin shortly and Vice President Wanda Overland will serve as chair. AGB Search, the same firm conducting the national search for the next president, will conduct the search. I will update the campus community on the search process as more details are available.”

The interim president is leaving. The interim provost is sitting in limbo. The CFO left unexpectedly. The CIO left, too. Now the interim chancellor (who used to be the interim president at Metropolitan State University) wants to conduct a nationwide search for a wet-behind-the-ears candidate that will be unprepared for the daunting job of rebuilding St. Cloud State. What could possibly go wrong?

Seriously, St. Cloud State needs someone who a) has already proven their loyalty to the University, b) has unquestioned leadership skills and c)has a plan to rebuild the University. That’s why campus activists needn’t apply for this job.

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According to this article, Sen. Dan Schoen and Rep. Tony Cornish will resign soon, with Sen. Schoen resigning Wednesday and Rep. Cornish leaving ” on or before Dec. 1.”

According to the article “House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin say they asked Cornish to resign.” It then added a statement, saying “We asked Representative Tony Cornish to offer his resignation from the Minnesota House of Representatives. Over the last week, it has become increasingly clear his resignation is the most appropriate course of action for him, his constituents, and our institution. As House leaders, we will continue to take concrete steps to combat misconduct at the legislature and ensure a safe and respectful work environment for legislators, staff, lobbyists, and the public.”

Cornish released his own statement, saying “As a proud former peace officer and longtime champion for public safety, I am forced to face the reality that I have made some at the Capitol feel uncomfortable, and disrespected. To those individuals and specifically the unnamed lobbyist , I sincerely apologize for my unwelcome behavior. “I would also like to apologize to God, my family, my constituents, and friends for the mistakes I have made. After having conferred with family members, friends and advisors, it is with deep regret tonight that I am announcing my intention to resign from the Minnesota House of Representatives. I do so after reaching an agreement in principle with the unnamed lobbyist that has been mentioned. The agreement is basically that I offer the enclosed apology, and resign from my office, on or before December, 1st 2017 and that we both provide each other with a mutual release of any claims against each other now and in the future.”

Last week, I reported that Ashish Vaidya, St. Cloud State’s interim president, had accepted the president’s position at Northern Kentucky University. At the time, I wrote that “First, it’s impossible for me to believe that this was a difficult decision. The University’s CFO is leaving. Programs are being reduced in size. Enrollment is down. Further, the deficits keep ‘arriving’ annually. Additionally, President Vaidya hasn’t been at the University very long. What part of that sounds like a dream job scenario?”

Today, I got word that SCSU’s CFO, who already was leaving at the end of the fiscal year, has accelerated that decision. This afternoon, a loyal reader of LFR sent me a forwarded email from Ashish K. Vaidya, soon to be the former interim president at St. Cloud State. According to the forwarded email, “In early October, I informed campus that Tammy McGee, Vice President for Finance and Administration, was resigning from her position at St. Cloud State University at the end of the academic year. Vice President McGee recently informed me that other professional opportunities will require an earlier departure. I have accepted her resignation effective Jan. 5, 2018. This week, she will finalize various projects to support the transition and beginning Nov. 17, she will be on vacation until her resignation date. Effective today, the division of Finance and Administration will report directly to the Office of the President to make sure the university maintains consistent leadership as we continue our efforts to enhance our financial stability. The search for a permanent replacement will begin shortly and Vice President Wanda Overland will serve as chair. AGB Search, the same firm conducting the national search for the next president, will conduct the search. I will update the campus community on the search process as more details are available.”

Let’s be blunt. The chances of someone of stature applying for the St. Cloud State president’s position aren’t great. Pretending to conduct a routine nationwide search is foolish. This isn’t a routine situation. The next CFO will get hit with an impossible situation. The next president will face annual multi-million dollar deficits and declining enrollment. The odds of attracting someone experienced to either position are slim.

What I find appalling is President Vaidya saying that “the division of Finance and Administration will report directly to the Office of the President to make sure the university maintains consistent leadership as we continue our efforts to enhance our financial stability.” What financial stability? Seriously? What leadership should St. Cloud State expect from the president who’s got 1 foot out the door and the other on a banana peel? I understand why President Vaidya wants to project positivity but who’s he kidding?

It’s understatement to say that St. Cloud State can’t survive long with this much instability. What’s needed is a local search, not a nationwide search. The person needs to a) have a plan and b) know the terrain both from a management standpoint and from a community relations standpoint. Finally, the person needs to be a leader. We haven’t had a leader at St. Cloud State in years.

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Forgive me for being cynical at this point but I’m not optimistic that the MnSCU nationwide search committee will hire the right person for the job. I won’t be surprised if the next president of St. Cloud State is a social justice hire. I can picture MnSCU hiring a minority female with little or no executive experience, much less executive success.

What’s required is a no-frills leader with a comprehensive plan to rebuild, not rebrand, St. Cloud State. The biggest change St. Cloud State has made in the last decade is that they’ve tried changing the University’s identity. It wasn’t that long ago that St. Cloud State was known as having great programs like accounting, aviation, criminal justice and education. These days, those programs aren’t featured. In the case of aviation, it was sneered at, then eliminated.

That was stupid on multiple levels. First, the program was growing at the time it was cancelled. Next, those students were taking lots of science classes, which increased the health of the science department. Third, the cost of the department to the University was minimal. Programs that are growing, healthy and inexpensive should be programs that should be prioritized, not eliminated. This was a case of campus politics defeated common sense. As taxpayers, we have the right to demand intelligent use of our taxes. We have the right to demand that campus politics be kept to a minimum, too.

By re-establishing St. Cloud State as a serious academic institution, the University gives students a reason for attending St. Cloud State. You give parents a reason for sending their kids to St. Cloud State. In a recent St. Cloud Times spin piece on enrollment, they talked about how enrollment had declined again but the ‘silver lining’ was that diversity was better. What student or parent thinks of diversity as a major selling point to a university? Seriously, any administrator that’s using that as a talking point should be fired ASAP.

Another thing that must change at St. Cloud State is that the new administration must require professors to actually teach classes. A new president likely won’t notice that Mark Jaede is essentially paid to be a union representative and political activist. That dead weight must end immediately.

The next president must also be at a stage in their career where they can do what’s best for the University without worrying about the impact their decisions will have on their career.

In summarization, St. Cloud State’s next president must have a plan to immediately turn the University around. That president must have the leadership skills to execute their plan, too. The next president can’t hesitate in refocusing the University’s resources on what’s most important. To modify a phrase used by the Clinton team in 1992, ‘it’s the academics, stupid.’ Finally, it’s about creating a university that’s pumping out tons of well-educated graduates that fit right into a vibrant economy.

If the next president of St. Cloud State doesn’t have those traits, then the University has short-changed itself.

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