Pact forges stronger U, MnSCU bond

Sarah McKenzie

The leaders of the state’s two major higher education systems will announce today at the Capitol that they will tighten existing partnerships through a formal pact.
The pact, tentatively known as the Minnesota Public Higher Education Compact, commits the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to a number of shared ventures. They include more cooperative degree programs, shared libraries and technological resources.
University President Mark Yudof and MnSCU Chancellor Morris Anderson will unveil the proposal together at a press conference and pact-signing ceremony.
In a prepared statement obtained Wednesday by the Daily, Yudof and Anderson recognized that both systems have a different focus, but agreed that the time has come to solidify their partnership. Yudof was returning from his trip to China and could not be reached for further comment.
MnSCU, with a more than 145,000 student enrollment, currently serves more post-secondary students than any other higher education system in the state. The University, on the other hand, is the state’s major research school and land-grant institute.
“While we acknowledge and respect that each system has a distinct mission and charter,” Anderson and Yudof said in a joint statement, “we recognize that meaningful partnerships and collaborations are an important way to serve the state and contribute to student success.”
Officials from both systems have worked on the agreement for six weeks.
Currently, the systems cooperate on 58 projects, and this initiative will accelerate the pace of interaction between the systems, said Linda Kohn, MnSCU associate vice chancellor for public affairs.
A joint committee comprised of the chief academic officers of both the University and MnSCU will work on inter-system policies, according to the compact document.
The core committee will include Executive Vice President and Provost Bob Bruininks and MnSCU Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Linda Baer.
Baer said this partnership will save the state money in the long run. She expects that the new compact will be well received by the Legislature.
In fact, unveiling of the compact just days before the opening of the state legislative session is no coincidence.
Baer said that both collegiate systems want to send a strong message to state lawmakers.
Kohn agreed.
“Legislators expect the two public systems of higher education to work together, not to fight each other,” she said.
Chairman of the Higher Education Finance committee Gene Pelowski said it’s about time the two systems formed a tighter partnership.
The Winona DFLer said anytime the two systems can avoid duplication, whether through facilities or degree programs, state dollars will be put to better use.
“It will certainly help us allocate resources,” Pelowski said, who wouldn’t speculate on the respective systems’ legislative requests.
However, he said the compact must be more than just a piece of paper. “There must be demonstrable action behind the handshake,” Pelowski said.
Those who collaborated on the pact sense they have done just that. Thomas Cook, associate to the provost, pointed to a number of shared programs already in existence.
“The compact itself underscores what has already been done before,” Cook said. “This will smooth out any bureaucratic hurdles.”
Currently, Minnesota’s Virtual University and the University Center Rochester highlight the list of joint efforts between the two systems. The University Center Rochester houses educators from both systems. This facility will serve as a primary test site for the initial stages of Virtual University.
Increasing accessibility for students, educators and individuals to Virtual University is one of the compact’s main strategies, Cook said.