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State of the University Address

President Royce C. Engstrom August 26, 2011

[Listen to audio here:]

Good morning. Welcome to the 2011-12 academic year. I hope that each of you has had a rewarding summer. This is always a time of mixed feelings: disbelief that summer has gone by so quickly combined with the excitement of a new year, new students, and ambitious plans. This will be my 32nd beginning of an academic year, not counting student years. Some of you have been at it longer, and for some of you it will be your first academic year. In just three days, we will welcome students back into the classroom, including a new crop of first year students who will be embarking on the next stage of their lives. They will be deeply dependent upon us, all of us who make up the University community. Ours is a great responsibility, important not only to those individual students, but to our state and nation, as well.

Let me offer my congratulations to the new members of our University community. You have come to a special place and we wish you a long and fruitful relationship, one in which you can fulfill your goals and aspirations professionally and personally, and at the same time contribute to the strengthening of this great institution. We have done our best to select you as an individual whose personal agenda overlaps strongly with the University’s agenda. We are proud to call you colleagues and pledge to do all we can to support you. Thank you for choosing UM.

Congratulations also to those of you who were recognized through promotion and tenure. You have demonstrated to your colleagues here and in your disciplines that you are a successful teacher-scholar and University citizen. Your recognition is both a reward for contributions to date and a covenant for the promise of things yet to come. Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm.

Congratulations to those of you in new leadership positions. Leadership within an academic setting is especially challenging. You lead people who are creative and critical by nature. Your authority is not so much because of your position, but by example and trust. Thank you.

I will take this opportunity to introduce a few more people who are in new administrative positions:

  • Perry Brown, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
  • Loey Knapp, Interim Chief Information Officer
  • Terri Phillips, Associate Vice President for Human Resources Services
  • Gary Taylor, Director of Public Safety
  • Elizabeth Roosa Millar, Director, University Center
  • Tom Battaglia, Assistant Chief Information Officer, Technology Support Services
  • Kim Vietz, Assistant to the President

I have had the privilege of serving as President for nearly a year now. I want to thank each of you for making this transition smooth and yet exciting for the University. Without a doubt, the greatest asset of this university is the dedication and quality of the people associated with it. Because of you and others that have gone before us as employees, students, and friends, there is a spirit here of discovery, of truth and integrity, and of intellectual excitement. Mary and I have spent a great deal of time meeting people around Montana and beyond who are in a position to advocate for the University. From Whitefish, Kalispell, and Bigfork, to Sidney, Glendive, and Miles City, from the west coast to the east, we have met wonderful people who are grateful for the education they received and for the contributions of the University to their lives.

In this State of the University address, I will begin by reinforcing the context provided by our new strategic plan and the annual planning-assessment cycle. I will then talk about some areas of which we can be proud of our standing and some areas that present challenges for us. Third, I will discuss some of the active areas of work for this academic year.

UM 2020: Building a University for the Global Century was released at the Inauguration in May, and it reflects the hard work of the newly created University Planning Committee, as well as detailed planning at the sector level. A solid plan is the first thing our accrediting agency looks for and it is the key first step in the path to transformative resource generation. Most importantly, it focuses our attention every time a decision is made and every time resources are spent. To remind you, the plan is an integral part of a four-component annual cycle of planning, budgeting, implementation, and assessment.

As you came into the auditorium, you were given a pocket version of the plan and annual report card. On the front, the five strategic issues are summarized:

  • Partnering for Student Success
  • Education for the Global Century
  • Discovery and Creativity to Serve Montana and the World
  • Dynamic Learning Environment
  • Planning-Assessment Continuum

On the back is the University Report Card, a condensed version of the annual assessment report. The report card shows some of the metrics we are tracking to keep focus on our goals. I will refer to a few of them. For those of you on the cutting edge of technology, note that the card includes a QR code that you can scan to get to the full assessment document.

We begin the annual review process today. The session in the Masquer Theatre after this talk is an invitation for audience members to ask questions about the plan and to provide input as to how we are doing and what needs to change so that we do better. A plan is only effective if it is under continuous dialogue. There will be other sessions during the month of September, arranged by the University Planning Committee, chaired by Provost Brown. The dates and locations will be posted on the Web. Our intent is to be as open and inclusive as possible, so please participate.

We ran the annual cycle in abbreviated form this past spring and summer. The University Planning Committee published the plan in the spring, and the University Budget Committee began its deliberations in the spring by reading the plan and considering budget initiatives in the plan’s context. The University Budget Committee proposed budget recommendations for the Vice Presidents and me, which I approved with minor revisions. We’ll get to the details a little later. Implementation will occur in an ongoing sense, and, as you have seen, the University Assessment Committee is already working. If there are ways to make the process more accessible or transparent, please let us know.

Let’s take a look at the State of the University now, beginning with the heart of any university, its people. First, the students. Students are choosing UM in record numbers. Both last fall and spring brought record enrollments for the respective semesters. The official headcount last fall was 15,640, with spring dropping off by relatively few students. Two factors account for much of the growth: increasing enrollment at the College of Technology, including the Bitterroot College Program, and improvement in retention through the determined efforts of Partnering for Student Success. On the Report Card, you will see that we are making progress toward our first-to-second year retention rates, our goal being the top quartile of public research universities. Our society needs a more educated workforce, and the place to begin is with those students who don’t persist to graduation.

The Office of Student Success, under the leadership of Sharon O’Hare, has helped us “move the needle” in the direction of higher persistence. An important next step will occur this fall, when Jed Liston and his staff in Enrollment Services will go public with a revised admissions process that reinforces the importance of a full college preparatory curriculum in high school. Continued strengthening of advising, career counseling, and tutoring, building on the solid foundation we already have in these areas, will be necessary.

We took a significant step in our ability to recruit non-resident graduate students when we received approval from the Board of Regents to set non-resident tuition for graduate assistants at resident levels, among the last states to make that change. The next major step is to raise stipend levels to regionally and nationally competitive levels.

Our students’ accomplishments give us tremendous pride.

  • We continue to lead the nation in the production of Udall Scholars.
  • Six UM students received Fulbright Fellowships.
  • We received the designation as a Pre-Peace Corps Program because of the hard work of our faculty and the interest of our students.
  • Our students increased their participation in study abroad, and students from countries around the world seek us out in greater numbers.
  • The University was recognized on the President’s Honor Roll for civic engagement.

Let’s turn to the faculty. As I tell prospective students, our faculty members love their disciplines and they love learning, learning by themselves and by their students. Here are just a few examples of faculty enthusiasm that I have encountered just recently:

  • This summer, Professor of English Jill Bergman hosted a national conference on a relatively unknown author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I had the opportunity to welcome the conferees, and afterward Jill sent me a short story written by Gilman, entitled The Yellow Wallpaper. Not only did Jill send me the story, she sent me a detailed interpretation of the story. Her excitement for the author and the story were a refreshing reminder of the love of learning that exists among our faculty.
  • Last spring, we hosted the first President’s Classroom, an opportunity for a Saturday morning of learning and dialogue for campus and community members. Robert Green of History, Clint Walker of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, and Jim Sears of Geosciences spent the morning introducing us to the fascinating history, culture, and geology of Russia. Their enthusiasm and expertise made for a delightful morning.
  • Peter Koehn of Political Science was the distinguished recipient of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Mike Malone Award for International Education. Named after a former President at Montana State University, it was especially gratifying to bring this award home to Montana.
  • UM, through the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, hosted Adventures of the Mind, bringing 150 high school students and 50 mentors to campus. Our own faculty were heavily involved.

Certainly, the quality of life on campus and in Missoula, combined with our stunning surroundings, helps us recruit great faculty members. But our faculty grows stronger primarily because of the critical mass of well-prepared and highly productive scholars. Success breeds success—every time we hire a great faculty member, our chances of hiring the next great faculty member increase. Let’s continue to view every faculty hiring as among the most precious opportunities we have. It appears we have done so with our new faculty members this year.

I am happy to report that in its first year of operation, the new Faculty Development Office, with the hard work of Director Amy Kinch, sponsored a full slate of development opportunities ranging from proposal-writing workshops to quality of life for faculty members. On the latter, we now have in operation an on-campus childcare facility for faculty and staff operated by ASUM.

We do have two serious issues involving faculty, however. One, we don’t have enough faculty members. Our student-to-faculty ratio is 22:1. In comparison, the flagship research universities in the other low-population states have a ratio of 18:1. That ratio is important to classroom quality, to the availability of faculty members for mentoring and advising, and to research productivity. We must increase our resources directed at number of faculty lines. More on that later.

Second, our faculty salaries are not as competitive as they should be. Scenery and quality of life aside, we recruit our faculty from a national pool. Being around 80 percent of national average salaries presents a considerable challenge. Salary inversion and compression are areas we must attend to. In the past year, we did use all available mechanisms—merit pay, promotions, and market adjustments—to inject approximately $400,000 into faculty salaries. But we have much work to do.

The staff, both professional and classified, consists of those people who keep the ship moving. They provide us with one of the most attractive campuses in America. They keep our internet connectivity running nearly flawlessly. They are often in first-line contact with our students. They keep us fed. We are fortunate to have a staff that sees itself as a key part of the campus community. As our student enrollment grows, we must make sure that our staff numbers keep pace. Our overall student-to-staff ratio is approximately 7.5 staff members per 100 students. The Office of University Planning, Budgeting and Analysis examined that ratio over the past eight years of enrollment growth. Somewhat to our pleasant surprise, we learned that the ratio overall has kept pace, but we also learned that there are some significant distributional problems in those numbers. Some areas have not kept pace with the increased demands brought on by higher enrollment.

I am proud that, in the past couple of years, staff members have engaged in professional development as well—for example, through the Staff Ambassadors program. In that program, individuals commit to a year-long effort in which they get in-depth exposure to all sectors of the University. I appreciate the dedication of those that have participated.

Our Administration is a fine group of people with whom I truly enjoy working. I am continuously impressed by their commitment to the University and by their own accomplishments as administrators or within their respective disciplines. Several of our deans, for example, serve in leadership roles within their professional organizations. They continually challenge themselves with development opportunities and many remain active scholars. You may have seen, for example, Dean Kalm’s magnificent performance on this very stage just a few days ago as the Count in the opera The Marriage of Figaro. The deans self-organized into an evening group they call “Tapas and Talk,” at which they pursue questions of leadership development. Recently, the President’s Cabinet undertook a similar evening, with more to come. As with the faculty, recruitment of administrators is conducted on a national scale, and it is imperative that we maintain competitiveness in our recruitment efforts.

Let’s turn now to the State of our University with respect to financial resources. We’ll concentrate first on what is called our general fund, or the unrestricted portion of our budget. This portion represents about $150 million of the $380 million total budget. The general fund budget is what pays for the instructional activity, the salaries of most of the faculty, staff, and administration, and the general operation of the University. On top of the general fund budget are those budget categories that are designated or restricted for specific purposes—for example, research funding, room and board, or ticket sales.

The general fund budget has two principal components: legislative appropriation and student tuition and fees. Three key actions defined the size of our general fund budget as we head into this fiscal year.

First, the Legislature did, indeed, decrease the appropriation to higher education relative to the last biennium.

Second, the Regents, working through the Office of the Commissioner, recalculated the distribution of the appropriation based on today’s enrollment. The UM Affiliation gained significantly by that action.

Third, the Regents approved a 5 percent tuition increase for each of the two years of this biennium, with tuition at the COTs held constant.

The bottom line of those three actions did, in fact, increase the total resources available to this campus. Last year, the general fund budget totaled $152 million. This year, contingent upon final enrollment, our projected budget is just under $157 million, for an increase of $5 million, or about 3 percent. That funding will permit us to do several critical things.

First, while negotiations are not yet complete, we anticipate that about half of that amount will go directly into increased salaries and benefits for all categories of employees. Investing in our people is the most important thing we can do.

Second, we will be able to re-establish a reasonable contingency in our budget for the eventuality of unanticipated enrollment drops or emergencies. Prudent institutions maintain a contingency of 3-5 percent; ours had fallen to essentially zero during recent years of enrollment growth, as funding for additional sections and other enrollment-related needs called upon the contingency.

Third, we will increase funding to a number of important initiatives as recommended by the University Budget Committee, chaired by Robert Duringer, Vice President for Administration and Finance, and guided by the strategic plan. Let me give you some examples.

  • Approximately $1 million will go into Academic Affairs, including $500,000 in faculty lines and other base additions at the main campus and the COT.
  • Approximately $500,000 will go to research and graduate education to fund core facilities and the non-resident graduate tuition waiver.
  • Additional funding within Student Affairs will strengthen American Indian Student Services and Disability Services for Students.
  • Funding will accelerate the Campus Network Upgrade project within IT.
  • We will put $300,000 into a general increase in unit-level operating budgets to help keep pace with fundamental needs of working with nearly 16,000 students.

You can find more information about the budget process on the strategic planning website.

I will comment upon two other revenue sources that are critical for the University. One of these is private philanthropy. Virtually every public university relies upon the generosity of donors to help fund a variety of functions. We are no exception, and we are blessed with a hard working Foundation, with a strong alumni base that is grateful for the opportunities provided by the University, and with friends who understand the importance of higher education for individuals and for society. I am pleased to tell you that in the fiscal year that just closed, the UM Foundation raised over 20 million dollars. That money goes to work for us in many ways, including scholarships on both need-based and merit-based distribution, permitting students to attend college who might otherwise not be able to, and helping to recruit outstanding students from within and beyond Montana. It funds endowed professorships and endowed chairs, it funds physical infrastructure, and it provides “Excellence Funds” that permit both students and faculty to engage in special projects and activities. This would be quite a different place were it not for the generosity of donors. Many of you in this room have been donors yourselves, or have played a role in encouraging others to donate. I thank you on behalf of the University.

Much of the research and creative scholarship at the University is funded by grants from the federal government, some state agencies, and some private foundations. Last year, as a university, we generated $67 million in external funds, most of which was aimed at research, but educational and outreach activities as well. You can see from the Report Card that we have ambitious goals for increasing the amount of funded research, but we are in a difficult climate, with some agencies funding only 1 in 10 proposals. Thank you to all of the faculty and staff members who have contributed to bringing in funding from outside sources. Again, we could not fulfill our mission without those funds and the hard work of people who bring them to campus.

Let’s talk now about some of the specific projects and activities that will be the focus of our attention and energy in the upcoming year.

We will be searching for some new members of the President’s Cabinet. Dan Dwyer has decided to step down after several years of service as the Vice President for Research and Development. Dan, thank you for your contributions. A search committee, co-chaired by Dean David Forbes and Regents Professor Martin Burke, is under formation and a national search will begin immediately to fill the position by the end of the academic year. That search will be guided by the thorough planning efforts of a Research Planning Task Force that operated last year, as we make a determined effort to increase the impact of our research and creative scholarship.

Ray Ford stepped down as Chief Information Officer. He will continue some of his work on national networking projects and transition to the faculty. Loey Knapp has been appointed as Interim CIO and a search will be conducted this year for a new CIO. We will engage first in serious thought about our IT structure and direction, making sure we have made deliberate decisions about functions conducted centrally and functions conducted in a distributed manner, optimizing the effectiveness of IT while fostering an environment of creativity and innovation.

We will emphasize the importance of relationships with state, federal, tribal, and municipal governments by reconfiguring what has been the position of Executive Vice President, held by Jim Foley, to the position of Vice President for External Relations. This will allow us to prepare a more detailed and ambitious agenda for our relationships with all governmental entities. That position will also be a primary contact with the new economic development activities initiated by Mayor John Engen and others here in Missoula.

We will not be searching for a new Provost this year because, frankly, in Perry Brown we have someone who has been in the lead on developing so many aspects of our strategic direction, and the continuity and energy he brings are critical at this time.

Several key projects are scheduled for implementation this year. One of those is to develop a marketing and brand strategy. The University of Montana has so many strong characteristics and when each of us thinks about the University, different images emerge. We might think of the breadth and depth of academic programming around the liberal arts, for example. Or we might think of the strong international connections for both faculty and students. We might think of our fierce devotion to shared governance, or the stunning natural surroundings, or the powerhouse of Grizzly Athletics. Although these characteristics are strong, we have not undertaken a detailed effort to define our brand, our promise, our fundamental character. I believe it is essential that we pursue such a study, so that we can all communicate the strengths and distinctiveness of our campus in common terms. Therefore, I have asked the UM Foundation to “loan us” their Vice President for Strategic Communications and Marketing, Beth Hammock, to direct a project this year aimed at developing a marketing and brand management strategy. Beth and a steering committee will engage the help of an outside firm to talk widely among campus constituents about what makes UM so special and about how we can communicate that consistently and powerfully in our messaging. We will emerge from this exercise with a consistent message to be used in recruiting students and employees, in communicating with other institutions of higher education, in fundraising, and in communicating with the many publics that are important to us. Each of you will have the opportunity to provide input into this exercise during the course of the year and I ask that you take that opportunity.

The Provost will be initiating a study of Program Alignment with the new Strategic Plan. This project is designed to ask each unit to think about its own programming in the context of the Global Century. Is the program optimally configured in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, and staffing to meet the needs of today’s students? Is our overall portfolio of programming at the two-year, baccalaureate, graduate, and professional levels providing the educational opportunities of interest to today’s students and relevant to today’s educational needs? One outcome of this exercise will be the identification of candidates for Programs of National Distinction. Which of our programs are on the cusp of national distinction, where further focused investment will propel them to be clearly among the top tier in the nation? Let’s identify those programs and make strategic investments, thereby bringing further distinction and prestige to the University, enhancing our impact on education and scholarship in targeted areas.

This year, we will launch the Global Leadership Initiative, as I announced in my Inauguration address. The Initiative is designed to enhance the educational experience of our undergraduates, first on a pilot scale, but eventually on a scale that affects the experience of all students. A faculty committee, co-chaired by Daisy Rooks and Arlene Walker-Andrews, is designing a program that adds four components to the education of students who choose to become Leadership Fellows.

In the first year, students will participate in seminars focused on the big questions we face as a global society. In the second year, these students will be in a “models of leadership” program, in which they spend time with recognized national leaders from among our own alumni base and beyond—leaders in the arts, science, policy, education, business—individuals who can inspire our students into leadership roles themselves. The third component will be to extend their education beyond the classroom through study abroad, internships, civic engagement, or research. Finally, a capstone will bring together students of differing academic backgrounds and experiences to define a significant question, research the question, and develop a solution that might find its way to a policy-maker, a business leader, a decision-maker. To excel in today’s world, we should be giving our students the experience of putting their education to work while they are still here.

Fundraising for the Global Leadership Initiative is going well and we will begin the program with a cohort of 200 students in the Spring semester. To assist with both the Global Leadership Initiative and the broader goal of student engagement, Terry Berkhouse will lead a new Office of Academic Enrichment during this upcoming exploratory phase.

The dynamic learning environment in which we work and study will get some attention. The classroom technology project, initiated two years ago, is steadily moving forward with the goal of equipping essentially all of our classrooms with a sophisticated technology package over the next few years. Fundraising is underway for the Learning Commons project in the Mansfield Library, under the leadership of Bonnie Allen.

Jim O’Day and his staff are moving forward with fundraising for student-athlete locker rooms, weight rooms, and an academic study center, all of which need attention to meet the exceptional standard of Grizzly Athletics. With the recent good news of the NCAA recertification of our athletic program, due to the hard work of a committee chaired by Teresa Branch and Bill Muse, and the awarding of the President’s Cup from the Big Sky Conference, Grizzly Athletics is poised for an exciting year. We wish them well.

We will soon finalize plans to meet a longstanding need that will enrich the campus environment dramatically—a home for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. Along with our excellent academic programs in arts, we will send a strong message to Montanans and others that the arts are essential parts of the quality of life we cherish at the University.

UM will strengthen its role as a responsible organization regarding the atmosphere by installing a biomass heating plant. Bob Duringer and staff have just received the completed environmental assessment report, which we are now reviewing. We anticipate moving forward on this project, which will reduce our carbon footprint by nearly a quarter, make use of a local fuel source that supports the timber industry in western Montana, and provide educational opportunities for students in multiple disciplines. The new tobacco-free campus policy is another example of the University recognizing its responsibility for the health of its students and employees. Please help us in our efforts to eliminate tobacco from the campus.

I want to close by calling your attention to a concept out of a business-oriented book that many of you may have read. The book is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It is a book that examines those characteristics that take good companies to great companies. Collins has written a monograph that focuses on institutions other than businesses, including institutions of higher education. The President’s Cabinet has all read this monograph and has had a discussion about it. One of my favorite concepts is that of the “flywheel.” Let me read you a passage from his book:

In building a great institution, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, …it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort—days, weeks, and months of work, with almost imperceptible progress—you finally get the flywheel to inch forward. But you don’t stop. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you eventually get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing, in an intelligent and consistent direction, and the flywheel moves a bit faster. You keep pushing, and you get two turns…then four…then eight…the flywheel builds momentum…sixteen…you keep pushing…thirty two…it builds more momentum…a hundred… moving faster with each turn...Then, at some point, breakthrough! Each turn builds upon previous work, compounding your investment of effort. The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum. This is how you build greatness.

Let’s build a great university together.

Thank you for your attention and for your dedication to The University of Montana.