Openness and Transparency at Potter’s SCSU?
by Silence Dogood

If you have ever listened to SCSU’s President Potter during convocation, you’d think that faculty and staff were invaluable assets for the University. For the faculty and staff sitting in Ritchie Auditorium, it’s almost a ‘feel-good’ moment.

In playing poker in order to be successful, one of the most important things is to be able to read your opponents ‘tells’ to know whether or not they are bluffing or actually holding the cards. The same is true at a University. It is important for faculty to be able to know when they are being treated as professionals, ignored, patronized or just plain being lied to. President Potter’s ‘tell’ is whenever he says that he is being “open and transparent” because the faculty have come to recognize that as soon as he says that his administration is “open and transparent” you’re in for a load of bunk.

Where this is most evident is when you hear talk about “shared governance.” Shared governance is where the Faculty Association and the administration are partners in university governance. Clearly, the administration and the Faculty Association each have specific roles to play but the idea is that there is a mutual respect of each other and the role each plays. Shared governance is not something that is optional, it is required by the MnSCU/IFO Master Agreement and state law [Minnesota Statues Chapter 179A Public Employee Labor Relations Act (PELRA)]. However, the administration has demonstrated repeatedly that it in no way is interested in working with the Faculty Association and in fact has repeatedly failed to fulfill its obligation of full sharing of information and requesting input that is necessary for shared governance.

Numerous examples could be given but it would make this more like a doctoral dissertation than an informative news report. As a result, I will give only four specific examples.

1. Police Officers. The university entered into a three-year agreement with the city of St. Cloud to add three additional police officers to patrol the South Side of St. Cloud where a large number of university students live. The cost of this additional police protection, which is provided by the university, is $20,000 per month, amounting to $240,000 per year. Over the length of the contract, the total cost will be $720,000. President Potter said at Meet and Confer on September 5th, 2013 that this was fully discussed with the St. Cloud City Council. A recent article in the St. Cloud Times states: “The agreement between the city and the university was years in the making.” Since there are transcripts of city council meetings, it should be easy to show when it was discussed and the exact level of the discussion. One of the members of the city council, who also happens to be a faculty member at SCSU, has stated that there was no detailed discussion of additional police officers at the council level until AFTER the contract was signed in early July. The council member replied that “It was like show and tell” for the council members and the public when Mayor Kleis and President Potter made a joint statement 35 minutes into the July 29th, 2013 council meeting. Personally, I really don’t care what did or did not happen at the St. Cloud city council but it may point to a lack of truthfulness on the part of President Potter.

What concerns the faculty is that there was no discussion of President Potter’s interest in securing additional police officers for the South Side either at Budget Advisory Committee meetings or at Meet and Confer prior to the contract being signed. Again, this is easy to verify because of the very detailed minutes from Meet and Confer and somewhat less detailed minutes from the Budget Advisory Committee. President Potter signed the contract on July 1st, 2013 so this is something that should be fresh in everyone’s mind.

My mother once told me that most of the time when things are done in secret, they are done because you are ashamed of them. If President Potter thought that paying to provide additional police officers to patrol the South Side was such a good idea, he should have been eager to come to the Faculty Association for its support rather than the faculty finding out about the police contract by reading it in the St. Cloud Times after the fact. In fact, if he had shared his idea with the Faculty Association he may have found an ally and many of the concerns could have been resolved and the contract might have been better than one that was provided (it is also useful to note that a copy of the contract was provided by a member of the city council not the SCSU administration).

2. Coborn’s Plaza Apartments. Last November, the administration finally admitted how much money Coborn’s Plaza was losing when it listed $2,250,000 to cover losses for the first two years of operation. This past spring, the administration admitted at a Budget Advisory Committee meeting that even if every room was occupied, the university would still lose $100,000 to $150,000 per year. However, it is a fantasy to think that Coborn’s plaza will ever fill all its rooms because the rates are much higher than comparable accommodations nearby. Last year 317 of 456 rooms were full and the estimate for this fall was an occupancy rate of 324 out of 456 rooms. Consequently, Coborn’s Plaza will easily lose another $1,200,000 this year.

Again, the lack of consultation with the Faculty Association is easy to demonstrate because the minutes of Meet and Confer show that no discussion of Coborn’s Plaza took place PRIOR to signing the contract with the Wedum Foundation. In most businesses, if you make a decision and it costs the company $2,250,000 dollars with the prospect of continuing to lose millions of dollars a year, you’re likely to be looking for another job!

3. Filling of Administrative Positions. People come and go at a university. Sometimes it’s the idea of the individual to seek greener pastures and sometimes the individual is shown the door. Last March, Dr. David DeGroote, Dean of the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) was removed from his responsibilities with construction and oversight of the $45,000,000 ISELF (Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility) and his position as Dean effective May 31, 2013. Most of the faculty in COSE are not complaining about the decision to remove the Dean. However, in the same announcement that Dean DeGroote was being told to leave his position, Dr. Dan Gregory was appointed as Interim Dean of COSE effective June 1, 2013. There was no consultation with the Faculty Association. Additionally, Dr. Patricia Hughs was appointed as Interim Associate Provost for Research and Dean for Graduate Studies to fill the position Dr. Gregory left to become Interim Dean of COSE. Again, this was done without any consultation with the Faculty Association.

Without any announcement or discussion, Associate Provost for Faculty Relations John Palmer has been moved out of his office and his position and his duties have apparently been ‘distributed’ to others in the administration. From the Academic Affairs website, we see that Dr. Phil Godding title has changed to incorporate some of what Dr. John Palmer once did. We are only left to speculate on the rest because the Faculty Association has not been consulted in this reorganization of Academic Affairs. Similarly, Dr. David DeGroote has been apparently been appointed (after a six month sabbatical) to serve as a Special Assistant to the Provost (job descriptions are necessary for people to continue to be paid). Again, all of this has occurred without any consultation with the Faculty Association.

The Director of the Center for International Studies, Dr. Ann Radwan has been removed from her position and Margaret Vos was brought out of retirement to take over as Associate Vice President of International Affairs. I’m not sure if the omission of “Interim” from the title was accidental or not. But, once again, this was announced without any consultation with the Faculty Association.

The recently appointed Chief Financial Officer Doug Vinzant left SCSU this spring for a similar position in Mississippi (to be nearer to his family). His reasons for leaving are quite understandable and he was completely up front about it with SCSU. However, his replacement Rick Duffett was appointed as Interim Vice President for Financial Management and Budget without any consultation with the Faculty Association. So, in the past twelve months, SCSU has had four CFOs. Clearly, this is not a recipe for success.

It is important to understand that all of this is no way calling into question the qualifications of the individuals who have been appointed to fill these positions and interims, it is simply a condemnation of the process by which they were appointed. If there had been an ‘open’ process, these same individuals may have been selected.

In less than six months, six administrators have been removed from their positions and have been replaced without any consultation with the Faculty Association, which demonstrates a total lack of respect for the faculty on the part of the administration.

4. Sharing of Data. In April 2012, so this goes back a ways but it is a marvelous example, the administration was asked at Meet and Confer if the Faculty Association was every going to get information about the enrollment for Spring Semester. Mind you, we were in the 13th week of a 15-week semester and the administration had not thought to provide data about university enrollment. Two days later we got the following:

Clearly, the information presented in the table fulfilled the request by the Faculty Association for the Spring Semester enrollment. However, as presented the information was totally useless. One of the faculty members familiar with enrollment reports generated the following report.

The information in this report is significantly more useful than what had been presented by the administration. Having to ask for the information and then getting what amounted to useless data clearly demonstrates that the administration is not really interested in sharing information with the faculty or is incompetent (or both).

Shared governance and communication is not just a good idea, it’s based on the MnSCU/IFO Master Agreement and in state law. However, when conversation doesn’t occur and information is not shared, it is hard for the administration to gain the support of the faculty and staff. Eventually, dictatorial decisions only turn faculty support away and eliminate the esprit de corps that is foundational for strong organizations. If continued, these actions eventually start to destroy the institution from the inside.

If the goal of President Potter is to run the university like a ship in the Coast Guard (President Potter was a former Coast Guard Officer), he has succeeded. Dissent is not tolerated. Hard questions are not asked and when someone disagrees with something the President has decided, his minions jump into hyperdrive spin mode and attack the individual, change the subject, and complain about all the ‘attacks’ on the President by the ‘whiny’ faculty.

So, if you don’t make waves (notice the nautical analogy), and don’t mind that you don’t get useful data, and don’t mind being ignored as to providing input BEFORE decisions are made, St. Cloud State is a wonderful place to be a faculty member especially at Convocation on the first day of Fall semester when you find out how invaluable you are. Too bad, they’re just hollow words with little substance to back them up.

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3 Responses to “Openness and Transparency at St. Cloud State”

  • Patrick says:

    Don’t forget that the Aviation Department was “reorganized” out of existence (closed) using a similar “open and transparent” process. Very few were consulted as required by MNSCU Procedure 3.36.1 Subpart B. The affected faculty, staff and students weren’t even given the courtesy of a meeting with the Dean, Provost and/or President until AFTER the decision was made. According to my research the Aviation department had the best chance to recover financially over the other departments that were being considered in COSE.

  • A former SCSU administrator verbally admitted that aviation was targeted before reorganization even started. How’s that for transparency?

  • QBJ says:

    Dr. Ann Radwan supervised MSUAASF employees, not IFO faculty, and CIS issues were discussed a great length at MSUAASF Meet and Confer many times before this welcome action took place. Just because it was not discussed at IFO M&C does not mean that it was not thoughtfully considered. There are other groups of concern and action at SCSU besides IFO.

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