ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system selected Steven Rosenstone as the next chancellor on Wednesday, saying they preferred the passion they saw in him over the experience the other candidate would bring.
The board picked Rosenstone, currently a University of Minnesota vice president, on a 14-1 vote. Trustee Thomas Renier compared Rosenstone to retiring Chancellor James McCormick.
“I think what he brought that made him an inspirational leader was passion,” Renier said of McCormick. “I heard that passion in Dr. Rosenstone’s voice.”
Trustee Michael Vekich said McCormick was leaving the system in good shape. Now, he said, it was time to hire a “transformative” leader to make it better. “This really is the season for risk,” he said.
Rosenstone had not signed an employment contract before leaving the MnSCU office in St. Paul for a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday afternoon. Scott Thiss, chair of the board of trustees, said he expected a deal would be signed soon. If so, Rosenstone would start Aug. 1.
The system has been strained by declining state support while admissions and tuition have increased. Given the budget pressure, two trustees said they preferred the other, more experienced finalist.
That finalist, William Sederburg, 63, is Utah’s commissioner of higher education and a former president of two different universities. He was also a former state lawmaker in Michigan.
Trustee Phil Krinkie said that in times of adversity he preferred the candidate “who would make the trains run on time,” and who could be the face of the system to the public and the Legislature.
“We need someone who is going to be a champion in terms of a sales person,” he said. Krinkie was the lone vote against Rosenstone.
Trustee James Van Houten said he was concerned that Rosenstone had never reported to a board and hadn’t had to supervise high-level employees, like the presidents of the system’s colleges and universities. However, he eventually said Rosenstone was acceptable and voted for him.
“I think it is a very risky choice,” Van Houten said.
After he got the nod, Rosenstone said his first job would be to meet the various leaders in the system and the Legislature and listen to their concerns and suggestions to improve the system. He said he would stress the important role of MnSCU and his desire to avoid tuition hikes.
“The colleges and universities that comprise the MnSCU system play an incredibly important and unique role in our state. They are crucial to the vitality of Minnesota,” he said. “They provide students and adult learners across the state with opportunity and they provide them with hope.”
During the final round of public interviews with trustees earlier Wednesday, Rosenstone said that over the next 10 years he would focus on pushing to improve the quality of the education the system provides. “That is fundamentally what the people of Minnesota were counting on when they authorized the system,” he said.
At the same time, he said, the system needs to find a financial structure that will allow it to function long term. That means controlling costs and finding new ways to teach. The system also needs to become more collaborative, he said, both among its own schools and with the K-12 school system that feeds into it.
Rosenstone said getting there will take ideas from everyone, not just the chancellor’s office in St. Paul. “The approach has to be to engage the best minds across the system,” he said. “My vision of leadership is that it’s a team sport.”
Rosenstone has been vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs at the University of Minnesota since 2007. He came to the university in 1996 as dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He was a professor at Yale University before leaving for the University of Michigan in 1986.
His former boss, University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, issued a statement praising him. “He is a creative and strategic thinker and an outstanding leader who is well suited to strengthen the MnSCU system in the 21st century,” Bruininks said.
More than 200,000 degree-seeking students were enrolled in MnSCU’s colleges and universities this fall, a record high and the fifth straight annual increase. Enrollment has been soaring while state support as a share of the overall budget has been falling. McCormick, the outgoing chancellor, has said that while state appropriations covered about 66 percent of the system’s costs in 2002, it was only about 43 percent this year.
As a result, the system has initiated several rounds of layoffs and clamped down on expenses including travel and equipment purchases. The number of courses being offered is shrinking and class sizes are rising.
Tuition is also going up. Last year, the trustees raised tuition an average of 4.4 percent at the system’s 25 state and technical colleges. Undergraduates at the system’s universities saw their tuition bill go up 4.8 percent.
Travis Johnson, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, said he thought the trustees made and “excellent” choice. He especially appreciated Rosenstone’s desire to keep down tuition.
“Chancellor Rosenstone indicated tuition increases should be a last resort, that’s how students feel as well,” Johnson said.
Karen Foreman, a member of the executive board of the local chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, one of MnSCU’s largest unions, said it was a bold move for the trustees to pick the less experienced candidate.
“It will be a sharp learning curve,” she said. “I think we are OK with it. It depends on how long it takes.”
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