Editorial: Senator is on track about trimming MnSCU

Published 8:35 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

What do you call recent legislation to trim the central office at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities?

A good start.

The bill to trim the bloated central office of MnSCU, which has administrative oversight for Winona State University, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical and (gasp) 30 other campuses, was introduced by state Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.

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It should get very good play because Miller is the vice chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

It’s about time.

For years the central office has seemed to live with few other purposes than to figure out ways it can justify its own existence by a layer of bureaucracy so spectacular that it couldn’t even provide an organizational chart of itself. Another legislator, Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, had to develop one in his office. It ran several dozen pages.

For years, we’ve said MnSCU has been a deeply flawed organization. In its inception in 1996, the fledgling organization was created to suck up the redundancy that goes along with administrative support of college campuses, thereby leaving just a scant few administrators at the local level.

In theory, the system should work. Bills should get paid in one place. Technical support could be centralized.

Instead, an administrative hierarchy was created to lord over the campuses, making every aspect a more cumbersome process, and, in turn, more expensive.

The taxpayers and the students have been the ones to shoulder the cost of such a wasteful redundancy. Chancellors and assistant vice chancellors don’t come cheap, you know.

What Miller’s bill aims to do is to cut the system office’s administrative budget by 10 percent. It tries to make sure that when MnSCU is cut, the cuts don’t happen in the classroom and can’t necessarily be easily passed as surcharges to the campuses that do the real work.

Somehow, MnSCU believes that it would still exist even if there were no campuses.

Instead of the central office looking at cutting executive wages, or looking to streamline more functions, or even sharing more control with campuses, its response is jumping to cuts that would be aimed directly at service to students.

In many ways, MNSCU’s typical and predictable response demonstrates the structure has outlived its usefulness.

We think that Miller’s bill is a wonderful step at really having a substantive discussion about how regionalization and centralization could happen without the intervention of the overlords at MnSCU.

We bet if the central office was shuttered, the other campuses could gather together to figure out the functions that could be shared, like business office, legal affairs and technical support.

How are we so sure?

Well, businesses (many without the benefit of highly educated doctoral-level folks) have been figuring out regionalization and lean practices for years.

— Winona Daily News, March 8