The question isn’t whether MnSCU’s Central Office should be reined in. The question isn’t even whether consulting contracts should be disclosed within a month. The question isn’t whether the Board of Trustees should be a better watchdog of the taxpayers’ money. The question is whether MnSCU’s Central Office serves a necessary function. The question is whether MnSCU should be totally overhauled.

A proposal by state Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, would require MnSCU leaders to disclose the contracts they’ve signed with outside consultants. Within 30 days of signing a contract, MnSCU would have to post on its website the identity of the consultant, terms of the contract, and the nature of advice or analysis. The governing board of trustees would also discuss the contract at its next public meeting.

Here’s the text of Rep. Lien’s legislation:

(a) The board shall have the authority needed to operate and govern the state colleges and universities unless otherwise directed or prohibited by law. The board is responsible for its operations and necessary decisions unless these are specifically delegated by law to a state department or agency.

(b) To the extent that the board retains a professional consultant to provide advice or to analyze matters related to system operations or governance, the following information must be publicly disclosed:

(1) the identity of the consultant;
(2) the terms and conditions of any contract or agreement with the consultant; and
(3) the nature of any advice or analysis the consultant provides to the board.

The disclosure must occur at an official meeting of the board, or no later than 30 days after a contract or agreement with the consultant is entered, whichever is earlier. This paragraph applies regardless of whether the board provides payment for the consultant’s services.

That’s a nice first step but it’s just a first step. The MnSCU Trustees should put in place a policy that requires a) the Trustees to determine whether someone already employed within MnSCU can do the job, b) a bidding process for the contract if it’s determined that MnSCU isn’t capable of fulfilling the requirements for the specified project in-house and c) the signed contract to be posted the day it’s signed.

That’s the only way to prevent another McKinsey contract from getting signed. It’s the only way that taxpayers can be certain that consultants like McKinsey can’t hide in the shadows. Further, it isn’t enough to review things after the fact. That’s playing catch-up. Putting in place procedures that prevent the spending of $2,000,000 unnecessarily is distinctly better than criticizing someone for spending $2,000,000 after the check is cashed.

This proposal is worth considering:

Miller acknowledged that MnSCU leaders could write a report supporting heavy centralization, but said, “We’ll see what the report says, and if we need to change [the reporting requirement], we can consider doing so.” He also would also give campuses more of a say in the selection of their presidents. His proposal would establish a local advisory committee that includes faculty, students and alumni.

After MnSCU central authorities recruited candidates and drafted an initial list of presidential prospects, the campus committee would meet to narrow the field. It would submit a list of finalists from which system leaders could then choose a president. The committee could forward its own nominees as well, Miller said.

I’d modify that to include a publicly-elected board that conducts oversight on leadership decisions. Right now, the presidential search committees don’t look beyond their cronies. They don’t seriously consider people who aren’t part of their clique. The chancellor search committee operates the same way. That’s how we got stuck with Rosenstone instead of William Sederburg. Check out the side-by-side comparison of Dr. Rosenstone vs. Dr. Sederburg in this post for proof.

This is just the first part of this series. Check back later today for another post on MnSCU reform.

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