Roundtable suggests education superboard’

Brian Bakst

A roundtable commissioned by Gov. Arne Carlson suggests that a super-governing board might help move Minnesota colleges forward as the new millennium approaches.
Six Twin Cities business leaders, known as the Governor’s Roundtable on Economic Development and Higher Education, released a report Monday evaluating the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and University systems. The report, which identifies and offers solutions to problems plaguing both systems, received mixed reviews from University officials and state legislators.
A major focus of the study and an issue of contention is a section stating that a superboard should be created by the year 2000 to preside over the 37-school MnSCU and the four-school University system. Currently, MnSCU is governed by a 15-member board of trustees. A 12-member board of regents guides University policy.
Carlson said he would do everything he could to adopt the aggressive initiatives outlined in the proposal.
But Rep. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids, who heads the Legislature’s higher education finance division, said the two systems should continue with their current boards, and that a third board might impede progress. “Creating a new board isn’t going to do one thing to change higher education,” he said.
Roundtable members said that a superboard would be the most effective way to establish statewide support for funding and directions, according to the report.
Calling it an issue of considerable complexity, University President Nils Hasselmo said the two higher education systems are trying to work together. “Certainly, collaboration and cooperation is important,” Hasselmo said. “But I’m not sure that a superboard is the right solution.”
A superboard could ensure that programs are not duplicated and that credit transfers between MnSCU schools and the University are easier, Kinkel said. But he added it could also add another layer of infighting. MnSCU and the University already compete for scarce funds from the Legislature.
Rep. Becky Kelso, DFL-Shakopee, has criticized the University for trying to provide too many programs for too many people instead of focusing on its research mission. Kelso said the report deserves some consideration if it will help the University establish priorities. MnSCU should be accessible to all students, whereas the University should focus on excellence, the report states.
“(But) if all this is intended to do is basically take away the constitutional autonomy and put management of the University in hands of the Legislature, than I think it’s questionable,” Kelso said.
A superboard might clash with the University’s autonomous status, said Hasselmo’s chief of staff, Mario Bognanno. Hasselmo agreed, and said that such a board would require constitutional amendment approved by the public in a general election.
The report also alludes to the defects of the University’s autonomy by challenging its system of regent selection. University regents are elected by the Legislature, whereas MnSCU trustees are appointed by the governor. The report says that MnSCU’s process is better because it allows the governor to select candidates who have experience in higher education, and it also says that allowing the Legislature to select regents becomes a highly politicized process.
“That’s hogwash, absolute hogwash,” Kinkel said. “There’s no one system of appointing that ever takes the politics of selection.”