Retrenchment, Day 37

Today the president of Bemidji State University is going to have a combined campus budget update virtual forum at 11:00 AM. That will be right after my class, so I will try to watch it from my office on campus. Before my class I'll be meeting with a colleague on Zoom who is an instructional designer working out of the system office. She has been doing some Open Ed related work recently, so we're going to compare notes.

It's interesting that in a system like ours, with over thirty colleges and universities, there are a lot of siloes. People in different places may be working on similar projects and pursuing similar goals, but don't necessarily know that there's someone else. This limits opportunities to share ideas, support each other, ask and answer questions, and talk about our projects. Not to mention collaborate! We end up reinventing a lot of wheels. Concurrent independent development can be useful. In biology it creates adaptations that can reinforce each other when they ultimately do meet. It can create a set of local optima: little hilltops that we can then look at and see which one is higher. But it can also add time and a lot of duplicated effort.

There's always a tension, in a system like Minnesota State, between centralization and campus autonomy. Partly this is due to history. The campuses weren't established and built by the system. Bemidji State University, for example, was a "Normal School" or teacher training college when it opened in 1919 with 124 women students and six men. It was the sixth of its kind chartered by the state legislature. The teacher's college became a university in 1975. The Minnesota State system was created by legislation proposed in 1991 and finally implemented in 1995. Before the merger, there were the seven universities, 34 technical colleges and 21 community colleges. Many of the technical and community colleges were consolidated over time. The seven universities remain, along with 26 colleges.

So there's a long tradition of financial and academic autonomy. And there's a lot of sensitivity at the system office, trying to avoid giving the impression that they are dictating to the campuses from St. Paul. I'm not suggesting that campuses and faculty shouldn't have some measure of academic freedom and license to customize their programs to meet the needs of their particular region. But it does strike me that we're not taking nearly as much advantage of opportunities to coordinate and enhance local efforts. So I'm going to try to sell people on this idea and I'll let you know how it goes.

Link to YouTube: