Is There Difference in Strategic Planning at MSU—Mankato and SCSU?
by Silence Dogood

On March 28th, the academic deans at St. Cloud State announced to their department chairs that they had until April 20th to finish a complete program review process that would be used to make budget reductions for FY’19, which begins on July 1st. Since SCSU has had declining enrollments since FY’10 and multimillion dollar deficits year after year, it is hard to understand the urgency of this process. That may sound crazy but at President Vaidya’s open forum on February 28th, he spent more time talking about SCSU’s successful athletic teams and initiatives than the budget situation. It’s hard to believe but true, as evidenced by listening to the presentation!

This past Friday, April 6th—two weeks before the department reviews were even to be completed—key academic deans met with the provost to review their own draft decisions about programs that should be “built,” “maintained,” or “phased out.” This was done without consideration to the rushed review process, which had not even been completed, which makes the program review process appear meaningless.

Having these reviews due the Friday before the last week of classes will certainly not allow for any appeal of the decisions that are made because the review by the administration will not be complete until the students and faculty have departed campus for the summer. True leaders are willing to explain and justify their decisions. Interim SCSU President Ashish Vaidya will be departing campus on June 30th to assume the presidency at Northern Kentucky. It’s hard to believe that he will ever have to explain or justify to the faculty, staff and students the decisions he has made.

Compare this with the process MSU—Mankato is using to perform the same task.

Not only did MSU—Mankato start earlier (last August, not in the last month of the semester), their process is actually open and transparent. This fact is glaringly obvious simply by looking at MSU—Mankato’s Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment website.

No similar information about the process being used for evaluation is available for SCSU. And what information that is available seems to be only available on private (closed) servers. So much for being open and transparent.

Many universities in the Minnesota State system have recently seen significant enrollment declines and concomitant declines in revenue. However, the enrollment declines at SCSU began earlier (FY’11) and have been significantly larger than any of the other Minnesota State universities. At first, the administrative response at SCSU was that we were “right sizing.” This was then followed by its due to “demographics.” Followed by “everyone is declining.” Followed by there are “not enough resources from the state.”

A historian might look back at this and simply see a series of excuses that try to say “it’s not my fault.” However, if you dig deeper, it is very clear that SCSU has been embarrassingly slow to respond to the decline and has been completely reactive rather than proactive.

It is important to recognize that neither President Potter, President Vaidya, or Provost Malhotra were willing to establish an enrollment target for the university. Thus, “right sizing” the university was just a fantasy or delusion. Secondly, they never established priorities of academic programs or student services. This has resulted in every unit merely fighting to live no matter what the cost is to neighboring programs. Without such guidance, it appears more like gladiator combat or dog fighting, with the ‘best’ gladiator (or dog) surviving to live to fight another day.

While there are certainly many issues that have led SCSU to the place it finds itself in, one of the more significant is that the senior administration at SCSU is almost entirely made up of ‘interim’ appointments. Although some of these individuals may be quality people, the pressure of being an interim, that perhaps wants to be appointed permanently, almost certainly means that significant decisions are put off for the permanent person to make.

At SCSU, the President is an interim, the Provost is an interim, two academic deans are interims, one associate dean is an interim, the Associate Provost for Research and the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies is an interim, the Dean of the University College is an interim, the Director of the Center for Excellence and Teaching and Learning is an interim, and the Associate Vice President for International Studies is an interim. Such a large number of interims at a university is a clear sign that there is something wrong. The following figure shows the organizational structure from the website for the Academic Affairs Office.

Perhaps even worse than having a large number of interims is that since June of 2012 there have been five Chief Financial Officers (Steve Ludwig, Len Sippel, Doug Vinzant, Rick Duffet, and Tammy McGee). Tammy McGee resigned in November of 2017. It may be hard to believe for an organization with an annual budget over $200,000,000 but an interim has yet to be named! Also, last spring the Chief Information Officer was ‘promoted’ (some said President Trump’s favorite phase on his reality TV show) to a position in the Minnesota State central office. Since that time, Information Technology Services, which has a staff of forty-six, does not have an interim CIO although it appears that the Deputy Chief Information Officer is carrying out those duties.

It’s hard to believe that whatever results come out of the current program analysis that they are going to solve the enrollment decline and resulting budget issues any time soon. So, expect the enrollment decline to continue at SCSU and retrenchment and closings of programs to follow. There are simply too many balls up in the air and the crash is inevitable.

One Response to “Strategic Planning at MSU, Mankato and SCSU”

  • Crimson Trace says:

    When it comes to Minnesota higher education issues at Minnesota State, Silence Dogood is absolutely top shelf! Silence skillfully lays out the data and makes well thought out arguments followed by reasonable conclusions. There are no emotional arguments here. After reading this post, it is abundantly clear that Mankato’s administrative team is miles ahead of SCSU. No wonder Mankato has become the new flagship university in the Minnesota State system. It is great to see Silence back in the saddle again.

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