MARSHALL - Up until 10 days ago, Ron Wood was dreading his first official day as interim president at Southwest Minnesota State University. Had a clearance from the executive branch not been granted, Wood's first action would have been to close down the institution today.
But with the potential government shutdown coming today, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) officials were proactive and sought to request that its higher education institutions be allowed to function independently. That approval was announced on June 21.
"We have independent authority to operate," Wood said. "MnSCU put in the request to be able to operate with our own funds. So SMSU will be open (Friday). We will complete our summer school with no questions and are preparing to welcome the freshmen and returning students."
While one summer term at SMSU has already been completed, two of the three summer sessions extend through the middle of July.
"At least in terms of higher education, while the Legislature is debating the issues, we have enough to keep moving for a suitable amount of time," Wood said. "So many of our kids are halfway through summer classes and that would have impacted their graduation, so I'm happy we received the clearance."
Coinciding with the approval, layoff notices to more than 6,000 employees of the MnSCU system were rescinded. Salaries and benefits were also continued.
"We are grateful that the education of our students will not be interrupted," MnSCU Chancellor James H. McCormick said in a press release. "Minnesota Management and Budget has informed us that the needed services will be provided, and we will be able to continue system operations through the summer and fall terms."
Thirty-two state universities and community and technical colleges make up MnSCU, serving the higher education needs of approximately 277,000 students per year in credit-based courses. Another 157,000 students take part in non-credit classes.
"We can take tuition in the fall, so we'll have a stream of revenue coming in," Wood said. "It's not big enough to exist for 12 months, but into the fall term. If we go that long, we're in deep trouble as a state. It's already going to be costly."
While SMSU has thus far avoided a potentially disastrous scenario, Wood knows that there are countless other organizations that are not as fortunate. As he unpacks his boxes and begins settling in at SMSU today, he'll keep his fingers crossed for the future.
"It still doesn't lessen the impact for other agencies," Wood said. "I just hope the legislative and executive branch come to a conclusion very quickly for the citizens of Minnesota."