Thanks to Darrell Downs’ article, we finally have a platform from which we should talk about Chancellor Rosenstone’s Charting the Future initiative. I hope that the first part of this series furthers that conversation. This paragraph from Downs’ article is worthy of examination:

Students, faculty, staff and taxpayers deserve an honest and open conversation about change. This conversation could start by recognizing that even good ideas can come at an untenable price. No public funds have been appropriated for systemwide planning, so isn’t it reasonable to know what is being sacrificed by pursuing new directions? When sacrifice gets down to the campus level, it could mean fewer programs, fewer majors and minor degree options and fewer options for students; ultimately it means less freedom to serve our students.

If that first sentence is the most important consideration in implementing a major change, and it should be, then Chancellor Rosenstone failed miserably. If we agree that everyone that’s potentially affected by these changes should have meaningful input into the changes, which should be imperative, then Chancellor Rosenstone failed when he kept CtF’s blueprint a secret and when he hid McKinsey’s contract.

If CtF truly is innovative, what expertise could McKinsey bring to the equation? If CtF is groundbreaking in nature, then we’re writing chapters in a totally new book. Personally, I’m skeptical that CtF is a groundbreaking reform initiative. That’s because Chancellor Rosenstone isn’t an outside-the-box thinker. He’s worked too long in the public sector to have fresh insights into systemic problems that he’s presided over.

Further, he’s still trying to win the debate that his presidents are highly qualified. That ship sailed a year or more ago. The presidents at Moorhead and Metro were fired. The presidents at St. Cloud State and Mankato should’ve gotten fired. President Davenport should’ve gotten fired for his foolish decision to fire Coach Hoffner. President Potter should’ve gotten fired for signing a terrible lease with the J.A. Wedum Foundation that SCSU is losing an average of $1,300,000 per year on, for losing tens of millions of dollars on tuition revenues due to dramatically declining enrollments and for intimidating students.

Further, MnSCU is notorious for not seeking public input. They certainly didn’t require public input into dropping SCSU’s aviation program. That was shoved down the faculty’s and the students’ throats without meaningful public input. (Detecting a pattern here?)

Meaningful change also happens on campus. Campus faculty and staff are continually redirecting their scarce resources to meet the needs of students. Academic programs are changed and new courses are created and modified through careful and frequent deliberation. New partnerships are built with businesses, governments, and non-profits, and new directions for the universities are developed on a regular basis. Rosenstone is correct in saying that change is hard, but he is wrong to imply that it’s not already happening.

MnSCU itself is an impediment to good governance. CtF will only make matters worse. During Chancellor Rosenstone’s administration, MnSCU has fought for more centralized control of the system. The best reforms come when lots of experiments are being tried. Some inevitably fail but others succeed beautifully.

The 1990s are the perfect example of that. Half a dozen governors worked on welfare reform. The welfare reform bill that Bill Clinton signed was the byproduct of experimentation by Tommy Thompson, Bill Weld and Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.

If Rosenstone were truly wise, he’d start by listening to the faculty, students and businesses. Then he’d work with faculty and students in putting together a list of key principles that reform must accomplish. Finally, he’d bring in the best and the brightest reformers to implement the reforms.

Instead, Rosenstone put a blueprint together, then hired a consulting firm to implement his top-down plan. It isn’t surprising faculty and students aren’t buying into his initiative.

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