MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone

Steven Rosenstone

UPDATED: 10:30 A.M.

ST. PAUL — Administrators and faculty at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities have soothed months of acrimony with an agreement over how to handle an overhaul for the system's 31 institutions.

Students and faculty will have a stronger voice in the rollout of Charting the Future, a plan that has faced sharp criticism since its formal introduction more than a year ago, two faculty unions and the system announced Tuesday.

The agreement repairs a rift that jeopardized extra state funding for MnSCU.

The two unions combined represent more than 8,000 faculty, including faculty at Minnesota State University and South Central College.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone has said the revamp will make the system more efficient and better align it with business needs. Critics argued it will turn MnSCU's 54 campuses into homogenized degree factories for Minnesota industry.

Faculty pulled out of reform discussions in the fall, saying they embraced the plan's values but were being ignored. 

That worried students because they interact with faculty much more than administrators, said Kari Cooper, state chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association.

"We're just happy that finally everyone is getting back on the same page," Cooper said.

Under the agreement, Charting the Future will become campus-based and regionally focused, said Mary Visser, president of MSU's faculty association. 

Faculty, who were represented only in small numbers under the original implementation plan, will serve on new "coordinating committees," working alongside college and university staff, community members, business advisory groups and other regional constituents to roll out Charting the Future at their individual campuses. 

"We have an intimate understanding of what the needs are on our campus and what the needs of our students are," Visser said, adding that the faculty union always "wanted to be a part of the process but also wanted the process to be meaningful and the outcomes useful for our campuses." 

Teams currently tasked with carrying out the plan will finish their work in June, said Kevin Lindstrom, president of the union for faculty at the system's two-year colleges. The campuses will then decide how to move forward in the fall semester.

Visser said she anticipates the new coordinating committees will go through ideas and recommendations put together by those teams, and implement those that best serve their campuses' student populations. 

For instance, because campuses such as those in Mankato and Bemidji have different minority student populations, they might adopt different plans for promoting diversity. 

"It allows us to tailor to our specific groups," Visser said. 

The agreement between the unions and the Board of Trustees will likely smooth MnSCU's path at the state Capitol this year. Gov. Mark Dayton in January left additional funding for the system out of his budget proposal to jolt the warring parties back into communication, though he's since said he'll recommend extra dollars for MnSCU.

"We're optimistic that what we've come up with will satisfy his request for an agreement," Lindstrom said.

House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Bud Nornes said he thinks faculty and administrators would have reached an agreement without Dayton's not-so-subtle nudge. But Tuesday's announcement removes a distraction and lets students get back to learning, the Fergus Falls Republican said. 

Visser said it also has opened up a channel of communication between the MnSCU Board of Trustees and the faculty unions, who in the past didn't a mechanism in place for talking to each other. 

"This has been a difficult process between two groups that, in the past, haven't had a lot of direct contact," she said. "We really haven't had a lot of direct interaction with (the trustees) ... I think one thing that came out of this is the board needs to be more involved and more knowledgeable about some of these things." 

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