LeadMN President Axel Kylander and Vice President David Mesta testified in front of the Minnesota State Board of Trustees about the need for an independent review of the system's racial discrimination and harassment policy and for greater oversight by the Board of Trustees in regards to complaints against presidents and their employment contracts.
Chair Cowles and Trustees,
Over the last several weeks, the Star Tribune has reported on college presidents accused of harassing and discriminating against employees, belittling students with disabilities, creating a leadership style "grounded in fear and intimidation," and spending money on vain exercises when colleges are struggling financially.
These issues are often framed by Minnesota State as labor disputes, disgruntled students raising issues, or behavior that did not violate the “rules.”
Too often, these issues are handled with an attitude that if we just don’t discuss them, they will go away, or at least fade from public memory. But it is that mentality that is now creating real problems of injustice. It is clear that there is a larger systemic issue going on here that can no longer be ignored.
In addition to the issues reported, students have come to LeadMN alleging 1B1 policy violations at the campus level. Those complaints always go nowhere. I know because I have been one of those students, filing complaints that are swept under the rug, or resolved in behind-closed-doors discussions with no written record and with pressure placed on the student to capitulate to the institutional powers that want them to be silent.
Investigations often fail to provide meaningful justice, because the policy as it currently exists does not protect the targets of harassment. Instead, it is implemented in a way that focuses on protecting the institution’s reputation, and its bottom line.
The system office cannot be responsible for fixing internal problems that are allowed to fester whenever there isn’t public scrutiny. A review of Minnesota State’s discrimination and harassment policies cannot be effectively handled internally when these issues have been allowed to arise again and again. That is why we are urging you to call for an independent review of the 1B1 policy.
We were already promised changes by Minnesota State, back in 2020 when the Star Tribune uncovered a culture that fails to take sexual harassment and assault cases seriously by reducing punishments or allowing individuals to resign before they are terminated.
At the time, the Chancellor promised that more could be done and yet we are here two years later with similar issues appearing.
That is why we also support the call for review and overhaul of the presidential review policies. At a minimum the Board of Trustees Workforce and Organizational Effectiveness Committee needs to be informed of complaints against college presidents so that there can be some accountability and a review of the Chancellor’s actions. The Board of Trustees should not wait until the next news article to act. In addition, the Board Workforce and Organizational Effectiveness Committee should conduct a review of the employment contracts for college presidents and the practice of allowing presidents who violate policy to continue working in the system office.
A few weeks ago, when discussing these issues with him, the Chancellor asked us to assess the System’s efficacy based on “the end of the process, not the middle.” But where is the end? When will the harm done to individuals surpass the slowness of institutional process?
So again we ask you to call for an independent review of 1B1 policy. It will yield the most effective results, and it is the right thing to do.
There is a disconnect between what this Board hears and the reality on the campuses. Just last meeting that was made clear on issues regarding the lack of outreach to address vaccine hesitancy, you see it again on issues of racial discrimination and sexual harassment on campuses, and we have repeatedly raised concerns about the consultation process over the last several years.
This disconnect exists because the information the Board receives is highly filtered and shares only the narrow perspective of the system office. Barring constituents and groups from meeting with Board members and attacking those who would disagree leads to groupthink that has hurt our institutions, students, faculty, and staff. It is time to change the culture at Minnesota State.