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Darrell Downs, MnSCU & real change

I hope I get to meet Dr. Darrell Downs someday, hopefully soon. Dr. Downs’ op-ed is the most thoughtful, yet provocative, op-eds I’ve ever read. Having written more than a few LTEs and op-eds myself, I know what goes into writing something of this length and quality.

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Downs for his avoidance of using euphemisms and sugarcoating. It was refreshing to read Dr. Downs say “Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) or ‘Minnesota State,’ as it has recently renamed itself, is in need of real change. It does not need re-branding gimmicks, new statewide strategic planning, or re-alignments that ignore campus input. As Minnesota State’s June report on financial sustainability said, ‘Houston: the system has a problem’ – I would agree except I would clarify that the system ‘is’ the problem. It’s time to face the reality that the broad authority granted to it by the legislature in 1991 has left the Minnesota State trustees with little formal allegiance and no accountability to the campuses they were appointed to govern.”

This identifies MnSCU’s bad habits quickly. The structure was flawed from the start. It established a bureaucracy without establishing who was responsible for ensuring accountability to the taxpayers. That’s likely because accountability wasn’t that high of a priority. Then Dr. Downs cuts to the heart of the matter of what’s broken:

Minnesota State is led by 15 trustees appointed by the Governor and is run by a central bureaucracy comparable in size to the largest of our state universities. The trustees possess overall governing authority, as well as the authority to set academic policy. Bit by bit, this authority has imposed uniformity on how the campuses are managed and increasingly on how the courses are taught, with rare, if ever, meaningful input from campus communities.

Let’s examine this a bit. Let’s think of this from the standpoint that different communities and different regions of the state have different workforce requirements. Top-down bureaucracies don’t specialize in customization. They specialize (if that’s the right word) in one-size-fits-all ‘solutions’ that are frequently counterproductive.

Next, let’s examine this situation:

Minnesota State’s June report reflects the same tin ear to the value of campuses. It even takes aim on labor agreements so it can more easily create “dedicated administrative structures.” Campuses and their instructional spending are apparently viewed as the key cost drivers while the administrative side of the house is somehow in need of protection. Pardon me for complaining that a system devoted to education now views administration as a fixed cost, while spending on instruction is viewed as a variable cost. This is the same wrong-headedness that led to the MnSCU faculty rejecting the Chancellor’s Charting the Future plan in 2015, and the state university faculty’s votes of no confidence in his leadership.

Think about this. Colleges and universities are where students go to learn, at least theoretically. Based on MnSCU’s ‘business model’, it sounds like the Trustees’ highest priority is to provide administration without providing a great educational product. That’s as foolish as I’ve ever heard.

If you don’t take anything else from this post, highlight this:

It noted that while administrative spending per student was presented by MnSCU to be low compared to other states, the audit found that it depends on how you count administrative spending, and if all administrative supports are counted, MnSCU ranks well above other states in spending per student. So who among the trustees is charged with protecting the instructional priorities on the campuses?

Like I said earlier, there is a bureaucracy established. Its priorities, however, aren’t established, or, more to the point, their priorities aren’t the right priorities.

Dr. Downs is right. It’s time to kick down the doors. It’s time for real change within MnSCU. This isn’t just a warning to the bureaucrats. It’s putting legislators on notice that we aren’t satisfied with the product MnSCU has been producing and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Technorati: Minnesota State, Rebranding, Strategic Planning, Top-Down Management, One-Size-Fits-All Government, Administration, Accountability, Board of Trustees, Darrell Downs, Faculty, Campuses, Higher Education, Reform, Bureaucrats, Legislators

Authored By Let Freedom Ring Blog

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