Board of Trustees Remarks - 19 June 2019

(Note: delivered remarks may vary slightly from written notes shared here)

Before I say anything else, I want to offer my congratulations to Deidre Peaslee, Mike Raich, and Jeff Williamson on their interim appointments as college presidents at Saint Paul College, NEHD, and North Hennepin.

All three institutions face significant challenges and immense opportunities.

The MSCF believes all students deserve high quality learning, and this is an interest I know we share with all three of these incoming presidents.

We look forward to advancing these shared interests through our full engagement with shared governance at each of these institutions.

These two days have been emotionally intense. I have sat here and written and rewritten my remarks in my head, and as I sit here before you now, I’m still not totally sure what to say.

I do know that I am filled with a sense of hope and determination.

I am hopeful about the singular goal Chancellor Malhotra has placed in front of us. Eliminating educational equity gaps is an appropriately inspiring and challenging goal. It will not be easy, but pursuing it has the chance to measure the best of our abilities. I thank the Chancellor for his leadership.

But as everyone in this room knows, our biggest challenge in the pursuit of this goal is resources, or the lack thereof. In fact, over the past two days, “resources” has been the key word underneath every single conversation we have had.

It will surprise no one in this room to hear that over the past 17 years, there has been a 10-14% decline in starting salaries for faculty at the two year colleges. That is, a faculty member starting today will earn thousands less than a faculty member with identical education and experience would have earned in 2002-2003 when adjusted for inflation.

Further, faculty starting today are much more likely to have a mountain of debt to contend with than they were in 2002-2003. 

Given this, how can we fully measure the best of our abilities when we’re facing so many barriers just to get by. How can faculty and students pursue success together when we’re all struggling and hurting.

This matters deeply to us; and I have felt every bit of testimony offered by the students today. After all, the students of today are the faculty of tomorrow, and their struggles are our struggles. 

I want to share my own story not to say that I understand—I don’t think claiming to understand is my purpose is to listen—but to share my story to illustrate how dramatically things have changed.

When I first started college in the late 1990s in Iowa at a regional state university (the University of Northern Iowa), I was able to pay tuition by working part time at a garden shop and nursery,using pell grants, and saving money by living at home. Even then, I had to take out a very small but reasonable amount of student debt.

However, by the time I defended my doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota in 2012, I did so having accumulated 6 figures worth of student debt. 

In that period of time, something changed dramatically, something we must take seriously.

So what are we to make of this situation? Everything we’ve talked about over these past two days, we’ve talked about it in the context of the lack of resources.

We’ve talked about affordability, access, tuition, and even bonding—I was shocked to see the chart provided by associate vice chancellor Yolitz about how little of our bonding requests have been filled by the legislature.

So the question I have is this: where did those resources go? Starting salaries for faculty have decreased 10-14%; where did that money go?  I know that money did not go to our good friends and colleagues in the IFO— they didn’t do better because we did worse. I know it didn’t go to our good friends and colleagues in MSUAAF, MAPE, or AFSCME.  More broadly, I know that money didn’t go to working families across this state.

And that money certainly didn’t go to help students afford college or life outside of college. Their tuition has gone up, and everything outside of school has become less affordable. Everyone is hurting; everyone is struggling.

This is the status quo, and the status quo must change. What we are experiencing here in all its intensity is proof that the current status quo is unsustainable.

As the MSCF, this is what we are determined to do.

First, we will refuse to play any part in any discussion that pits faculty against staff, faculty against students, and more broadly, worker against worker.

We live in the richest country in the world, and yet we are made to fight each other for scraps. It doesn’ t have to be this way.

Second, we intend to raise expectations, increase discontent, and dream big that we can have a better world. Again, I believe the Chancellor’s goal of eliminating educational equity gaps is a great example of believing we can create something better than what we have.

Most importantly, though, we intend to fulfill our responsibility as a public sector labor union and force the desperately needed, crucial conversation about state revenue. We intend to force the issue over whether or not everyone is truly paying their fair share when we live amongst great wealth and still have students trying to learn while they can’t afford food or are uncertain of where they will sleep at night.

We intend to push these conversations at the ballot box; we intend to push these conversations at the legislature; and if we must, we will push these conversations on the streets.

We must do better; we will do better. Thank you.