A Great Place to Work?
More Lipstick on a Pig with Apologies to Pigs

by Silence Dogood

At Meet and Confer on October 9, 2013, Holly Schoenherr, Director of Human Resources at St. Cloud State University, announced that the university had signed a $50,000 contract with the Great Place to Work Institute to ‘help’ SCSU improve trust and morale among its employees. Three issues arise immediately. First the contract was signed without consultation with the Faculty Association. Second, MnSCU requires a request for proposals (RFP) for contracts over $50,000. Lastly, Minnesota Statutes require several procedural steps before being signed. Apparently, Holly did not know about that requirement for an RFP because almost immediately she tried to cover her misstep by then saying “the contract is a little under $50,000.” It is also likely that she did not follow Minnesota Statues BEFORE signing the contract. It’s too bad that the administration regularly displays such a lack of trust and respect for the Faculty at SCSU that they won’t include the faculty BEFORE decisions are made. And too bad Human Resources didn’t follow:
MnSCU Board Procedure 5.14.2 Consultant, Professional or Technical Services
Part 6. Consultant, Professional, or Technical Services Contract Definition. A consultant, professional or technical contract means any agreement entered into for consultant, professional, or technical services usually on a short-term basis for a finite period of time and for a specific purpose(s).
Subpart C. A two week public notice of Request for Proposals (RFP) shall be given for contracts over $50,000 in an official newspaper. The official newspaper may be the State Register. In addition to the public notice, requests for proposals may be solicited by directly notifying prospective bidders not less than seven (7) days before the final date of submitting bids.

I guess it should be easy for the administration to document where the RFP was published before the contract was awarded. However, if it is true that the contract was “a little under $50,000” ($49,999 comes to mind), the administration might still be able to slide by on the letter of Board Procedure 5.14.2 on a technicality but still clearly violating the spirit. However, it is hard to believe that Human Resources actually was aware, let alone followed Minnesota Statute 16C.08.
Subd. 2.Duties of contracting agency.
(a) Before an agency may seek approval of a professional or technical services contract valued in excess of $5,000, it must provide the following:
(1) a description of how the proposed contract or amendment is necessary and reasonable to advance the statutory mission of the agency;
(2) a description of the agency’s plan to notify firms or individuals who may be available to perform the services called for in the solicitation;
(3) a description of the performance measures or other tools, including accessibility measures if applicable, that will be used to monitor and evaluate contract performance; and
(4) an explanation detailing, if applicable, why this procurement is being pursued unilaterally by the agency and not as an enterprise procurement.
(b) In addition to paragraph (a), the agency must certify that:
(1) no current state employee is able and available to perform the services called for by the contract;
(2) the normal competitive bidding mechanisms will not provide for adequate performance of the services;
(3) reasonable efforts will be made to publicize the availability of the contract to the public;
(4) the agency will develop and implement a written plan providing for the assignment of specific agency personnel to manage the contract, including a monitoring and liaison function, the periodic review of interim reports or other indications of past performance, and the ultimate utilization of the final product of the services;

It would certainly be instructive to find out all of the university’s responses for fulfilling all of the requirements of 16C.08. More likely, no one in the administration ever thought that any of this was necessary. Clearly, the university has hired a large number of consultants over the past few years so this kind of thing should be routine and it should be easy to forward copies of these documents for this and prior contracts.

OK, so SCSU is likely to have failed to follow both Minnesota Statute and MnSCU Board Policies, would performing a climate survey at SCSU be a good thing? Most of the campus community would probably agree it’s a good idea. However, not being asked before the decision to conduct such a survey was made and being informed only after the fact is hardly a way to build trust.

From the Great Place to Work (GPtW) Institute website you can find out about the company the university has hired to perform the survey.

We partner with large and small organizations in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Our clients employ diverse workforces that are both non-unionized and unionized, professional and entry-level, with permanent and temporary staff. These organizations have both single and multiple locations, and operate in just one country or across borders. We’ve worked with organizations in all major industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, consumer product goods, professional services, technology, food service, hospitality, as well as the government, education and non-profit sectors.

So if the GPtW website is to be believed, it looks like they have extensive experience with a lot of different types of organizations. The GPtW website displays a number of the logos of the companies which with they have worked.

As you read further, the material on the GPtW website is almost exclusively directed at the corporate world. The information says that they work in the “education and non-profit” sectors but does not list a single university as a client.

Reviewing the questions that are asked in a GPtW survey, almost all seem directly related to the corporate sector—the word student does not appear in any of their questions! A sample of the questions in the GPtW materials are listed:

Leadership encourages me to participate in company activities.
Management’s actions are consistent with our company’s values
We have enough staff to provide high-quality customer service.
We provide a safe environment for our patients.

The faculty at SCSU are certainly not sure where the idea to perform the survey was germinated. However, most likely President Potter was sitting in first class next to an executive from the Great Place to Work Institute on a plane to China, Turkey, Malaysa, South Africa, Chile, or England where he was entranced by the salesman’s pitch and decided to drop 50K of the university’s money. Since the university can’t print money, anything spent on one thing can’t be spent on another. In other words, the $50,000 the university is spending on the GPtW contract might have been used to hire an Office Administrative Assistant for one of the departments on campus that does not have one, or to hire thirteen adjuncts, or a fixed-term faculty member to teach needed course offerings.

In light of declining enrollments, and declining budget revenue, it might have been wise to consult with the faculty BEFORE committing SCSU to an expenditure that did not have to be made. Who knows, those whining complaining faculty might have come up with something more useful and ultimately less expensive. Since true consultation on this matter did not occur, the opportunity for some collaborative governance was missed and an opportunity to engender trust between management and labor has been lost. And that’s a shame because easy opportunities such as this don’t come along too often.

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3 Responses to “A Great Place to Work?”

  • Patrick says:

    [cue Gomer Pyle voice: “surprise, surprise”] SCSU Administration not following MNSCU policy and procedures. now where have we seen that before – oh yes when President Potter made the decision to close the highly successful, nationally accredited Aviation program.

  • A great place to spend money would be more appropriate. The new SCSU 45 million dollar empty science building (most expensive building ever built on a MnSCU campus) recently covered by Channel 5 really takes the cake.

  • Gary Gross says:

    How did KSTP scoop the St. Cloud Times on ISELF? Hint: They had help from a real reporter. The Times didn’t.

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