Earl Potter—International Globe Trotter
by Silence Dogood

Without a doubt, SCSU’s President Earl H. Potter is racking up the airline miles!

On Monday, President Potter announced to the Faculty Association President and Vice President (Roland Jarvis and Steve Hornstein, respectively) that he would be leaving on Wednesday for a three-week international junket to India, Kazakhstan and Italy. When President Potter’s travel plans were announced to the Faculty Association Executive Committee on Tuesday afternoon, the following motion was passed:

Motion: “The FA EC objects to Pres. Potter leaving campus for a 3-week trip to India, Kazakhstan, and Italy at a time of extreme financial crisis.” Passed unanimously.

Tuesday evening, FA President Jarvis informed President Potter of the EC’s motion hoping that he would reconsider his decision to be out of the country at a time when the university is dealing with a major financial crisis.

President Potter responded:

“When we met last week, we did not discuss your objections to my travel. Since the vote was unanimous, I am assuming that you both voted with the motion. I am sad that this is the way things work. I am traveling at the request of faculty who requested my support for their work after years of laying groundwork. My travel is essential to maintain the momentum of these programs. As I have noted elsewhere, we cannot cut our way out of this condition. We must continue to grow. This work is essential to support this objective.

I hear the sentiment of the EC and not only have no regrets but I am firm in my conviction that it is my duty to do this work. We have established processes and responsibilities which will work well while I am traveling and result in presentations and options to review when I return. The work has been carefully sculpted; we have a good team to do what must be done. You will also note that as I travel, I communicate around the clock with my team. The idea that we need to be in the same room to function is outdated in the extreme. No international business or university works in this way anymore. However, I suspect that this is not what the vote was about anyway.”

For those who live under a rock, St. Cloud State University is in trouble. A 21.8% decline in enrollment since FY10 and a poor decision to enter into a long-term lease with the Wedum Foundation for an off-campus apartment complex, which has lost the university a total of $7,700,000 in the first five years of operation, have left the university with a Composite Financial Index (CFI) for FY14 of 0.07. Given the projected $9,542,000 deficit for FY15 and the commitment of over $5,000,0000 from the reserves to offset the deficit, the CFI will likely go negative for FY15. All of this has led to a hastily conceived process to evaluate programs and make recommendations for cuts, which will include retrenchment of faculty. The timeline for this process could only be described as extremely short!

As a former Coast Guard Captain, President Potter knows this better than most: If a ship is sinking, a reasonable expectation might be that the captain would remain with the ship, if for no other reason than to reassure the passengers. In some countries, not only is the captain expected to remain with the ship, they are legally required to do so! However, President Potter has confidence in his team:

“The work has been carefully sculpted; we have a good team to do what must be done.”

This apparently gives him the confidence to be absent from the country at this time. He goes further to justify his absence:

“The idea that we need to be in the same room to function is outdated in the extreme. No international business or university works in this way anymore.”

Perhaps this same argument could be used to justify not going on a three-week international junket. Given the interactive video technology available, it is possible for groups from all across the globe to be ‘in the same room at the same time.’

In addition to a trip to China earlier trip in the semester, President Potter will have been out of the country for at least four of the fifteen weeks of the semester (we don’t know the President’s travel plans during the last few weeks of the semester so it could be more than four weeks). At SCSU, international travel is not limited to President Potter. In fact, international travel by administrators at SCSU is pretty commonplace. In fact, it is hard to find a Dean or Assistant who has not travelled internationally, at university expense, within the past two years. Even ‘Interim’ Deans have travelled internationally. And these trips are not limited to just Deans. For example, Chief Information Officer Henry May recently travelled to South Africa.

When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker announced earlier this spring his intent to cut $300,000,000 million from the University of Wisconsin System’s budget, Ray Cross, the President of the Wisconsin system, immediately announced that he was suspending ALL out-of-state travel. In fact, on Wednesday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel further reported:

“Ray Cross pledged Wednesday to resign as president of the University of Wisconsin System if he fails to secure a substantial reduction in proposed state budget cuts and is unable to protect tenure, shared governance and academic freedom for UW campuses.”

For many faculty at SCSU, given the current financial crisis, the idea that international travel would be suspended had a lot of merit. Even if it would not result in substantial savings, it would certainly send an important message. Unfortunately, no such luck!

For many on campus, there is an informal hunt for an administrator who has not travelled internationally on “university business.” Apparently, this is a very exclusive club. At the same time, there is also a search for administrators who have travelled the two miles to St. Cloud Technical and Community College, which is one of the larger feeder schools for SCSU, to recruit students. Surprisingly, perhaps because it does not require a passport or involve getting onto an airplane, this appears to be an even more exclusive club.

12 Responses to “Earl Potter, globe trotter”

  • Jarrett says:

    Arrogance will get you EVERYWHERE. Don’t leave home without it.

  • Mystique says:

    The taxpayers would be well served if Potter is placed on the no fly list. Wonder who else is going on this trip and if lobster and champagne will be served in first class.

  • walter hanson says:

    Gary:

    Did I miss something? How does travelling to India help the school? Is he trying to get students or new teachers? Raise money?

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  • Gary Gross says:

    Walter, You didn’t miss anything. That’s exactly the question that the SCSU faculty have been asking for more than a year.

    The flip-side of this is that SCSU once had a great relationship with local high schools community colleges in the region. That’s essentially disappeared during President Potter’s administration.

    That’s a major factor for SCSU’s enrollment decline. It isn’t the only factor but it’s a significant factor.

    Finally, I’m told that getting foreign students through these trips isn’t that profitable for universities. While President Potter gets to brag about this as an accomplishment, you won’t hear him talk about this in terms of solving the huge deficits he’s running.

    Simply put, President Potter’s plaques look nice but he’s a failure in terms of running SCSU’s finances into the ground.

  • Nick says:

    SCSU CAN CONTINUE TO DECLINE FOR ALL I CARE!!! I ain’t donating untill Potter leaves!!!

  • walter hanson says:

    Gary:

    The part that has me confused unless it Potter’s BS is that he is making this trip at the request of the faculty. In that case shouldn’t Potter at a minimum be able to explain what he is doing for the faculty. Oh I forgot with the exception of you there aren’t real reporters in the Saint Cloud area.

    Hopefully the House when Potter gets back can get him to come to the House and explain exactly what he is doing.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  • Mystique says:

    Gary brings up an interesting subject on enrollments. It is widely known that a vast majority of new students come to SCSU from Minnesota and bordering states. Trying to recruit international students if that is was Potter is doing makes as much sense as an auto dealership in St. Cloud spending most of it’s marketing budget in Florida. The fact that so many SCSU administrators have traveled out of the country is troubling when they could be traveling to Minnesota, Wisconsin high schools. Just to warm up, why don’t they travel across town to the tech college and beyond to Brainerd and Bemidji?

  • Gary Gross says:

    Walter, President Potter couldn’t survive without BS. It’s what gets him out of difficult situations. If I got a $100 for each time he BS’ed his way through difficult situations, I could retire comfortably.

  • Yeager says:

    Indeed, these stops are all at the request of faculty who have cultivated relationships with institutions – in some cases for decades.one faculty member is retiring and the university risks losing the relationship if processes aren’t in place for those connections to persist.

    The naive view here is held by the EC.

    http://www.businesscentralmagazine.com/BizCentralSite/files/38/3883e34b-927e-471c-b92a-d73d2072a05a.pdf

    That’s an article that talks about the program in Italy and the kinds of activities that are touched upon.

  • Silence Dogood says:

    SCSU has closed its programs in Denmark, Germany, France and Japan. All of these closures resulted from the programs not being financially sustainable. Currently, the program in England is on life support. It’s not naive to believe that many of these ‘trips’ will not result in self-sustaining programs.

    The Chamber of Commerce supported the Coborn’s Plaza apartments. Now, five years later after losing $7,700,000 is it naive to say that SCSU got ‘taken to the cleaners.’ Since SCSU has to remain in the Coborn’s Plaza for another five years of its lease, it will likely lose another $6,000,000.

    If the Chamber of Commerce thinks the Italy program is such a good idea, is it willing to cover the losses that may occur? When the Chamber of Commerce is willing to cover the losses in these programs, we’ll really know how much they support them and then I’ll have to admit to being naive.

  • Mystique says:

    Potter’s vindictive discrimination is beyond egregious.

    http://www.letfreedomringblog.com/?p=18281

  • Yak says:

    Ever heard of Skype? With all of the technology in the world this seem like a no brainer. I think these are all stops on someone bucket list.

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