here for PDF format
for participants' responses to this interview.
Clyde Allen, Chair,
University of Minnesota Board of Regents
and David Olson, Chair, MnSCU
Board of Directors
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
April 23, 2010
Verne Johnson (Chair); David Broden, Janis Clay, Paul Gilje, Jan Hively,
Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Jim Olson
Both the University of
Minnesota and MnSCU will
be selecting new leadership in the coming year. Higher education in the
state (and throughout the country) is facing a crisis of financing and
competition from new technologies that are beginning to disintermediate
the core classroom model of instruction. Faced with a bleak financial
future, “things will need to change” in both systems, the speakers say.
A. Context of the meeting—In
less than eight months both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota
State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) will be selecting new
leadership. They begin their searches in the coming weeks. Coinciding with
a long-term imbalance in the state budget, and the election for an open
gubernatorial post, these openings are among the most important in recent
The University of
Minnesota is separate from MnSCU, and has several campuses spread
throughout the state. There are four primary campuses in the Twin Cities,
Duluth, Crookston, and Morris. In addition, university services are
available in Rochester. The university also operates several facilities
around the state, including some large tracts of land. The main campus in
Minneapolis is one of the largest in the country, at over 50,000 students.
The MnSCU system is the
largest single provider of higher education in Minnesota. It has 32
institutions, including 25 two-year colleges and seven universities. The
colleges and universities operate 54 campuses in 47 Minnesota communities
and serve about 260,000 students. The law creating the system was passed
by the Minnesota Legislature in 1991 and went into effect July 1, 1995.
The law merged the state's community colleges, technical colleges and
state universities into one system, under a single chancellor.
In addition Minnesota is
home to seventeen private, four-year liberal arts colleges and
universities. They are represented by the Minnesota Private College
The Caucus will speak
today with the heads of the boards of these two systems about the state of
higher education in Minnesota, the financing crisis it faces and the
disruption underway of traditional formats for learning.
B. Welcome and
is chair of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota. He is
retired following a career in the private and public sectors. He most
recently served as treasurer and vice president for business affairs for
Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota. Before that he was the
commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Revenue, the director of
research for the Minnesota Taxpayers Association and a computer specialist
for Honeywell. He is a graduate of Yale University.
is chair of the Board of Trustees at the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities and president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He has
been president at the Chamber since 1991. Before that, he was president of
the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Burnsville
Chamber of Commerce. Olson earned a Master of Science degree in Public
Administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato and a Bachelor of
Arts degree in Urban/Political Science from St. Olaf College in
C. Comments and discussion—During
Allen and Olson’s visit with the Civic Caucus, the following points were
1. The strategic
position of higher education is one of uncertainty--Allen:
Clearly today the term is the ‘New Normal.’ Even if we want to keep
functioning with the same money, it will need to come more from different
sources—from private and personal sources.
There was a time when an
increase in tuition of $1 was supported by $2 in state funds. Whatever the
cost had to be, the state would share two-thirds of it. The stimulus money
buttressed this year, but there is a cliff. While I’m committed to the U
being a public institution, more and more it is having to raise its money
from private sources, like a private institution; higher price, deep
Olson: His term on the
MnSCU board of directors is up in two months, when he hopes to be involved
in the search for the new chancellor. People ask why he got involved with
the MnSCU system. He tells those who ask that it is beneficial to the
business community—these are our future workers.
“Change needs to happen,”
he said. This change is difficult with 53 campuses, 3 IDS towers of real
estate and 5 unions.
“I honestly think we have
to look at the whole structure and decide who does what best. I think the
overall public higher education system needs to at least be taken a look
at. Should someone have all the four years? Two-year schools separate? I
Do you have any idea who
should do that, a member asked—who should work on those questions? “If we
don’t, the legislature probably will; and that’s not where the
discussion should take place.”
2. The next leaders will
confront a need for change--Both
men said their boards will try to name the new leader before the start of
the next legislative session, in January 2011.
“I think the presidential
search we’re about to undertake is the most important in years,” Allen
said. “We need a change agent. You have to change the beliefs first and
then the behavior follows.”
The regents will announce
the search process at their May meeting. A search advisory committee,
chaired by a member of the Board of Regents, will handle the original
screening process. It will include regents and non-regents. The regents
will be the search committee.
“I feel very strongly the
head of the system needs to be an academic,” Allen emphasized. “We are
entering a long period where higher education will need to change. The
leader is going to need to have the trust of the faculty. But it's not
enough to just be an academic; you’ve also got to be an administrator and
a politician. It won’t be enough to have simply an academic—some groups
will want you to be a scientist; some will want someone from the
humanities, etc. I don’t think the particular discipline is all that
important. A recognition of the role all the disciplines play in our
overall mission is what counts.”
The president will need to
make quick friendships. Bob Bruininks had friendships coming in. We might
not have that this time, so will need someone who can develop the trust
Olson agreed: I think it
will need to be an academic because that is what people feel comfortable
with. But it can’t be someone with a traditional perspective.
“The changes we’re going
to go through are going to require particular skills that match the
institution. At MnSCU we’re going to need skills that can manage change.
Higher education is going to change whether we like it or not. It will
look different than it does today.”
Both men commented that
they would like the chancellor and president not to have to spend as much
time at the legislature.
3. Online learning is
disrupting traditional formats--A
member set up the context of the question: Higher education everywhere in
the country/world is being fundamentally disrupted. Essentially what
happens is competitors with a fundamentally different business model come
in and begin to eat away at the established institution from below. The
classic example was in retailing.
Bruce Dayton, looking back
to when the brothers took over the Dayton's store in Minneapolis in the
early 1950s, said: “We knew we had a dying breed of cat.” The department
store was not going to survive. They heard about discount retailing—moving
in opposite directions—both upscale and downscale.
This situation applies to
education: the time of simply using teachers to present information is no
longer going to make it. The relentless cost-pressures, a new age with new
technologies—this is a perfect storm. They’re all coming together now. And
the competitors are marching up-stream: who would have thought for-profit
and online learning would be proliferating so rapidly?
This gets beyond the
question of how the institutions relate—it gets to the core question of
what the concept of higher education is and whether it becomes a factor
that is fundamental in the question of the kind of person that comes in.
The easy-access of virtual
education has strong appeal. Students can get a course for $200 here, for
free over there, and the credit is accepted at the schools. They can get
housing cheaper. They’re picking things off, and piecing together their
4. Responding to disruption--How
do you tie in needing someone who can lead change, to the nature of the
Olson: MNSCU brought in
Stephen Shank to speak to the board and said: you’re beating us to the
punch. Why? He said he could design a new course, hire someone and enroll
people within a week. They can turn on a dime, while it would take up to
three years at MnSCU.
Allen: “The growth of the
online schools and for-profits may be the catalyst that pushes us to
consider change. He expressed concern about letting the change happen and
not strategically shaping it.
Differentiated modes of
learning are great, he said—“Just in time learning.” But we don’t want
“Just in time ethics.” He pointed to the history of television.—Given a
wonderful technology and the profit motive, we got reality shows.
A member tried to separate
the question of content from the medium and quality control form the
larger need to innovate:
“Are you—each of
you—hiring one leader or two? In other words: If you decided your
institution should have a major initiative with alternative forms of
learning, would you assign that job to the person being brought in to run
the traditional instructional program? Or would you bring in a second
person to handle the online program—kept separate from the traditional
The question that emerges
from Bruce Dayton's quote about the department stores is a key one: Is it
possible the traditional university is “a dying breed of cat?”
5. Need to be
more nimble. Set up a different unit?--How
do you think your respective systems would respond, a member asked, to
setting up a third public system for online education? The University of
Maryland created an independent body that now enrolls 300,000 students.
And in the Western states, the governors got together and created an
online university. What if the state of Minnesota figured there would be a
continued press from the for-profits and created its own system?
Allen: Seems to me it
would be duplication.
Olson: MnSCU now is 25
percent online now—it could become that, if it is not already.
“Dayton Hudson used to
have the bargain basement,” a member noted. And MnSCU has online. “But
Target didn’t come out of the bargain basement. It didn’t emerge from
existing stores. It was created new.”
Allen: I worry about that
problem of shaping what education becomes by letting technology drive it,
unregulated. I think we somehow need to figure out how we shape the
I don’t want the
technology to move ahead of our decisions on content.
Olson: One of the things
we’re working on, in the search for the chancellor, is that we’re always
working with the same search firms; they have their same stable of
candidates. Maybe this question isn’t delegated to the search firm, but
handled at the level of the board? “It strikes me that in the past the
academics would set the agenda: now the students for the first time have a
right in the market to drive change.”
The accreditation standard
might safeguard quality, a member observed: Who do you say you are; and
then are you living up to it?
“Looking forward, both of
these institutions do really good things, Olson said. “We should be taking
advantage of both and seeing where they can cooperate.” Allen agreed.
They also agreed search
chairs will probably sit down together once the processes are underway.