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Will President Potter Be at Meet and Confer? NOT Likely!
by Silence Dogood

The Master Agreement is the contract negotiated “between the Board of Trustees, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, hereinafter called the Employer, and the Inter Faculty Organization, hereinafter called the IFO.” The Master Agreement defines the working relationship between the Employer and the IFO. In some cases, it seems like the Master Agreement takes some things to almost a level of absurdity. However, when lawyers get involved, this level of specificity in advance is generally helpful.

Article 6 of the Master Agreement states that “The Association may establish a local committee to meet and confer with the President, or when the President is not on campus, his/her designees, at least monthly for the purpose of discussing matters of mutual concern.” It is important to recognize that meet and confer is not something that is optional; the contract requires meetings, which occur at least monthly.

Article 5 of the Master Agreement gives the definitions for forty-nine different terms. One of the definitions listed is for a Presidential Designee.

“Subd. 33. Presidential Designee.
Whenever allowed by this Agreement, the use of a designee by the President shall in no way abrogate the responsibility and accountability of the President for the decisions made by the designee. Within thirty days of signing this Agreement, each President will furnish the IFO and the local Association a list of his/her appropriate designees. A President may revise his/her list of designees after the Association has been provided an opportunity to meet and confer in accordance with Article 6. In the event of a new President being appointed, he/she will submit a list of designees within thirty (30) days of assuming office. No member of the bargaining unit shall be a presidential designee.”

The current Master Agreement was signed by Governor Dayton on May 24, 2013. As of today, President Potter has not furnished the IFO and the local Association a list of his appropriate designees. Personally, I think that it is extremely unlikely that the President would appoint someone other than Provost Malhotra as his designee but this is something that is somewhat important because President Potter only infrequently attends Meet and Confer. The reason why this is important may be because any time the President is not present at Meet and Confer and no designee has been named, it might not qualify as an ‘official’ meet and confer. This might be where lawyers might need to get involved when what appears to be fairly straightforward language is not followed. Provost Malhotra has attended all of the meet and confer sessions when the President was not in attendance and it is almost certain that the President would designate the Provost as his designee if he was aware of the requirement to designate.

For the 2012/13 academic year, President Potter attended three out of eleven meet and confer meetings for an attendance rate of 27.3%.

Date Attendance
8/2/2012 President Potter did not attend
8/30/2012 President Potter attended
9/13/2012 President Potter did not attend
9/27/2012 President Potter did not attend
10/18/2012 President Potter did not attend
11/1/2012 President Potter did not attend
11/29/2012 President Potter did not attend
1/17/2013 President Potter did not attend
2/21/2013 President Potter did not attend
3/28/2013 President Potter attended
5/2/2013 President Potter attended

For the 2013/2014 academic year, President Potter attended one out of three meet and confer meetings for an attendance rate of 33.3%.

9/5/2013 President Potter attended
10/9/2013 President Potter did not attend
11/26/2013 President Potter did not attend
12/12/2013 ?

It is important to understand that the schedule for meet and confer is agreed to in April of the prior academic year and dates are selected that fit into the President’s schedule. What is reflected by the glaring absence of President Potter at Meet and Confer demonstrates a devaluing and marginalizing of the Faculty Association. Certainly, schedules change all the time and emergences do arise. However, consider the most recent Meet and Confer on November 26, 2013. President Potter did not attend and no reason was given either in advance or at Meet and Confer for his absence. It is also important to note that the date for the Meet and Confer was changed to that date because the President was going to be out of town for the originally scheduled date.

On November 27, 2013, the President sent an email to all university employees informing everyone: “For the next three days, I will be working with the Starkey Hearing Foundation in Gulin, China to fit approximately 800 hearing aids to recipients who desperately need this care.” While this may be a very worthwhile activity, it is hard to imagine that this actually constitutes university business. Thus, without any notification beforehand, the President chose to miss a meet and confer that had been rescheduled to accommodate his schedule.

Why is this important? At Minnesota State University Mankato, Meet and Confer does not occur without the President being present. The reason for this is that President Richard Davenport has a very different relationship with the faculty at MSUM. There appears to be a true sense of shared governance and mutual respect between the faculty and the administration. It is also interesting to note that Bemidji and Moorhead will not hold Meet and Confer without the President in attendance. In fact, the President announced with only one-day notice that she would not be present at Meet and Confer and the Faculty Association decided to cancel meet and confer. Southwest, Winona, and Metro will hold Meet and Confer if the President is absent but that it happens only rarely—typically less than once per semester.

So, back to the initial question. Will President Potter be at Meet and Confer on December 12th? Based on the data over the past year and a half, the answer is: not likely. And if he can’t find something that takes him off campus so he can avoid Meet and Confer, his body language will likely display his displeasure at having to meet with the leadership of the faculty association.

So much for shared governance.

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