What makes Winona State University unique?
And are there pressures on the university from the state office that threaten WSU’s identity?
Those were the big questions Wednesday morning at an open forum at WSU, where President Scott Olson led a discussion about the ongoing work from a group of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system administrators on “Charting the Future,” a reimagining of the roles all state-run colleges play and what distinct values they provide.
Attendees argued for a future where WSU retains local control, and expressed concerns that the MnSCU system office may consider consolidating the kinds of programs and services that give the state’s colleges and universities their own identities.
“Changing the governance model is a bad way to go,” said WSU faculty union president Darrell Downs. “It seems to be a clear invitation to centralization.”
Participants brought up concerns that WSU might lose its distinctiveness if academic programs or curriculum were centrally planned.
“We’re thin at WSU already,” WSU associate director of student activities Tracy Rahim said. “How is that going to affect our learners?”
Olson has been a key player in the “Charting the Future” initiative, as the leader of the workgroup on education. He dismissed concerns Wednesday that MnSCU and its chancellor, Steven Rosenstone, is seeking to expand its central office, and said the group was created to identify ways to create efficiencies and save money, not to strip any of the colleges of their identities.
“It’s about coordination, not centralization,” he said. “If it’s about a system office staff of 70, that’s a problem. I’m not interested in this if it’s not about local control.”
“Charting the Future” focuses on the future of MnSCU’s workforce, the education the system’s colleges provide, and the system itself. Among the primary issues the group is working on is investigating online learning, creating opportunities for traditionally underserved students, the creation of competency-based credits, and other topics.
The groups plan to reconvene next month to create a set of recommendations that will be sent to the MnSCU board of trustees for final approval.
That means, Olson said, that now’s the time for WSU faculty and staff and community members to voice their opinions on any changes. MnSCU is listening, he said.
“I do sincerely believe the chancellor will hear what we have to say,” Olson said.
“There have been strategic plans in the past where this step did not occur. You are now at the table.”