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State of the University Address

Royce C. Engstrom, President - August 24, 2012

Good morning! Welcome to the new Academic Year. The excitement on campus is escalating rapidly as our students return or come to us for the first time, filled with eagerness to begin a new adventure. Each of us should take pride in knowing that we are in one of the most important professions anywhere. The future of our young people, our state, our nation, and our world depends upon us. I am proud to be part of one of the nation’s finest universities. 

I offer a special welcome to those of you who are new to Missoula and to The University of Montana. Congratulations on your choice of career and institution. I know that you will find your colleagues helpful, energetic, and ready to bring you into the “Griz Family”. Whether a part of the faculty, staff, or administration, we have hired you to play an essential role in fulfilling our mission and contributing to the exciting atmosphere that makes UM such a special place. 

It feels like just a few weeks ago that we gathered in Washington-Grizzly stadium to recognize our graduates at Commencement. It was a spectacular day as we celebrated the graduation of 3,190 people from the 2011-12 year, a record number. Since then, I hope that you have had the chance to enjoy our beautiful state, to make progress on your scholarship or other projects, and to recharge for the upcoming year. Mary and I had the chance to meet with many of our alumni and friends of the University these past few months. I am delighted to report that the pride and enthusiasm out there for the University are exceptional. Graduates are grateful for the quality of the experience they had here; friends recognize the dedication of our faculty and staff. 

One of our dear friends, Tony Wertz, was tragically killed Wednesday in an automobile accident outside Lincoln, MT. his wife, Grace, remains in the ICU. Tony as the incoming chair of the UM Foundation Board of Trustees. 

I am pleased to introduce some additional people who are new to the administration. Some of you are serving in interim positions and I appreciate your enthusiasm in stepping in as we build a leadership team for the future.

  • Tom Battaglia, Assistant CIO for Technology Support Services
  • Beckie Christiaens, Director of Academic Budgets and Personnel within the Office of the Provost
  • Mick Delaney, Head Football Coach
  • Denise Dowling, Dean of the School of Journalism
  • Gerald Fetz, Director of the Office of International Programs
  • Christine Fiore, Presidential Leadership Fellow
  • David Forbes, Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship
  • Vernon Grund, Dean of the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences
  • Michelle Jensen, Budget Director, Division of Student Affairs
  • Peggy Kuhr, Vice President for Integrated Communications
  • Donna Lewis, Director, Laboratory Animal Resources
  • Brad Murphy, Executive Director of the Adams Center
  • Sharon O’Hare, Vice President for Student Success, and continuing to serve as Executive Director of the Office for Student Success
  • Rebecca Power, Assistant to the President
  • Dawn Ressel, Associate Vice President, Office of Budgeting, Planning and Analysis
  • Sandy Ross, Dean of The Graduate School
  • Dan Smith, Director of the Mansfield Center
  • Rhondie Voorhees, Dean of Students
  • Sha Li Zhang, Dean of the Mansfield Library, will join us in October

We have some special guests in the audience as well:

  • Clay Christian, Commissioner, MUS
  • Joe Thiel, Student Regent

 I would also like to introduce our student leadership team for this year:

  • Zach Brown, ASUM President
  • Bryn Hagfors, ASUM Vice President
  • Micah Neilson, ASUM Business Manager

Thank you all for being here today and for the work you do for the University and Higher Education in the State of Montana.

 Today, I am dividing my remarks into three sections. First, I will talk about the past year of accomplishment. I want to highlight a number of collective and anecdotal indicators of what we have done as an educational community. Second, I will comment on the challenges we faced in the past year and how they have made us better and stronger. Third, I will focus on the year ahead, outlining our major opportunities and challenges.

 In all cases, my remarks are made in the context of our strategic plan, UM2020: Building a University for the Global Century. For those of you who are new, or those who need a reminder, the plan is built around five major issues that relate to the expectations of students and the needs of our society. These are:

  • Student success: increasing the number of people who have access to higher education, not just by entering college, but by graduating with a college credential.
  • Education for the Global Century:  insuring that we are providing our students with the richest educational experience possible, so that students graduate with an education that prepares them to be the next generation of thinkers and doers.
  • Discovery and Creativity:  increasing the impact of our research and creative scholarship by conducting more of it and by focusing on questions of relevance to today’s world.
  • A Dynamic Learning Environment:  the combination of great minds, rich programming, stimulating activities, and stunning surroundings of both our community and our natural environment, places UM among the most special campuses anywhere. Princeton Review recently released a report naming UM as one of the top four-year institutions in North America. The School of Law was just ranked at the 7th best value out of 201 Law Schools.
  • Planning –Assessment Continuum: making sure that we take time to reflect upon where we are headed and to examine our progress on a regular basis. On your way out, please pick up a copy of our latest annual assessment report. It shows both quantitative and qualitative indicators of progress, not just as a bragging sheet, but to make sure we see clearly where we must improve.

 A Year of Accomplishment

In that context, let’s take a look at some of our accomplishments. First, our efforts at student success are working. I already mentioned the record number of graduates – 3,190. Those individuals leave here to be the next group of nurses, lawyers, historians, teachers, business men and women, artists, journalists, conservationists, pharmacists, and entrepreneurs. Retention rates are going up, with UM’s system-wide freshman-to-sophomore retention rate the highest in the state at 75%. Students are coming to us more prepared. In just one year, we saw a dramatic increase in the percentage of students who have gotten the message about college preparation. Our last entering class had 52% who had taken a full college prep curriculum in high school, compared to 44% the year before. The percentage of our students who need developmental, or high school level work, has gone down by several percentage points.

 While here, our students are accomplishing impressive things. I’ll give you some examples:

  • I will begin with our new ASUM President, Zach Brown. Zach was recognized as the University’s latest Truman Scholar and as a two-time Udall Scholarship winner and was one of three students to be a part of the Clinton Leadership Initiative. You may already know this, but UM leads the entire nation in the number of Udall scholars we have produced, building on the legacy of being among the leaders in Truman and even Rhodes Scholars. Zach and his colleagues have developed the Smart Buildings Initiative, adopted by this University and the Board of Regents. It is a program to save energy and money by monitoring and controlling the energy consumption of our buildings.
  •  Our ASUM President last year, Jen Gursky, is running for the Montana Legislature;
  • Our President from two years ago, Ashleen Williams, became UM’s first Mitchell Scholar and is pursuing study in Ireland after spending a year in Bahrain.
  • Another eight of our students became prestigious Fulbright Scholars, a remarkable number. They are now studying and teaching around the world, in Vietnam, Georgia, Norway, and Mexico.

 Our students are engaged in and beyond the classroom. Terry Berkhouse, Director of Academic Enrichment, estimates that more than 7,000 undergraduate students participated in academic enrichment activities last year, activities: service learning, study abroad, internships, research and creative scholarship, national student exchanges.

 Here are some additional examples of student accomplishment:

  • For the first time in recent history, UM led the state in the number of students accepted to medical school, including acceptance into the cooperative WAMMI program;
  • Last year’s editor of the Kaimin, Jayme Fraser, was one of three students nationally to win a prestigious Hearst Fellowship, placing her in the Hearst enterprise for two years. The other two winners were from Dartmouth and Columbia University.
  • Students at the COT, now the Missoula College, developed and entered a solar-powered vehicle in the national competition last year.
  • This Fall, we awarded a record 42 Presidential Leadership Scholarships to exceptional incoming Freshmen based on their academic performance, leadership, and contribution to community;
  • Graduate student Erik Samsoe took first place in the North American Cartographic Information Society’s Dynamic Map Competition.
  • Not just one, but four of our teams of student-athletes, won Big Sky Conference Championships last year: football, men’s basketball, women’s soccer, and men’s tennis.

 This list could go on for a long time. The point is that our students are an energetic and talented group and they get recognized for their accomplishments in many ways.

 Our graduates are making some pretty exceptional contributions as well. For example:

  • Rachel Schneller, a 1995 Davidson Honors College graduate and a French major is now serving as State Department Counsel in France after accumulating considerable foreign policy experience in Iraq.
  • Dawn Houle, a 1994 Forestry graduate was appointed by President Obama as Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Our students have these opportunities because they set high standards for themselves, but also because they are taught and nurtured by a truly exceptional faculty and staff. This year’s new group of faculty follows the tradition of attracting top teacher-scholars to the University.

 Let me focus on a few accomplishments of our recently hired faculty members:

  • Mike Rousulek, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, won a National Science Foundation CAREER award. The remarkable aspect of these awards is that they require not just an innovative and significant research proposal, but also a nationally competitive educational proposal.
  • Anthony Johnstone, in his second year at the School of Law, was featured by the National Law Journal as Appellate Lawyer of the Week for his work on the Citizens United case before the U. S. Supreme Court.
  • Matthew Bundle, a second year faculty member from the Health and Human Performance Department was just featured in Sports Illustrated for his work assessing the degree of advantage or disadvantage of Olympic runner and double leg amputee, Oscar Pistorius.
  • Ashley McKeown from Anthropology has her research on exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington and it will be used as the focus of an Alumni event there this fall.

Our staff and administrators are also impressive in their own accomplishments.

  • Sally Mauk and Dan Boyce of Montana Public Radio were recently recognized by the Society of Professional Journalism;
  • Mark LoParco, Director of Dining Services was just elected President of his professional organization;
  • Judy Fredenburg of the Office of Research just finished a term as President of the National Council on University Research Administration.

 The point is not to provide an exhaustive list of recognitions, but to demonstrate that the people who make up The University of Montana are a wonderfully engaged group of dedicated professionals whose talent and creativity are recognized here, and across the nation and the world.

 Programmatically, this has been an important year of progress as well. Since last year at this time, we have launched with approval by the Board of Regents several new academic programs.

  • A new Ph. D. program in the area of Systems Ecology was approved this year, involving faculty members from several departments with a locus at the Flathead Lake Biological Station. Already, 14 graduate students are registered in the program that studies ecosystems on scale ranging from molecules to mountain ranges.
  • An academic minor in Arabic Studies was designed and approved with tremendous student interest. Students were actually able to graduate in May having completed the minor.
  • Another minor in Global Public Health was approved. The first class of students entered the recently approved Master’s program in Teaching of Middle School mathematics.
  • We have a new Athletics Training Master’s Program starting this fall

 I am especially excited about the Global Leadership Initiative or GLI, which was launched last year. The program provides a pathway for students to supplement any major with a set of experiences designed to prepare them to be leaders when they graduate. The Office of Academic Affairs, along with the GLI Committee of faculty members, solicited special seminar courses for incoming freshmen on the “big questions we face as a global society.” The seminars were taught to students who selected into the program, and they covered such interesting topics as:

  • Issues in Global Public Health
  • News Literacy
  • Food and Society in a Globalized World

 The seminars were designed to provide students with a context in which to design their educational experience at UM. The first group of students will now participate in a Leadership Development program in Year 2. Our second group of first-year students is now enrolled in GLI, and we have learned that it is popular! We anticipated 200 students for the second year – 370 wanted to be in the program.

 Some important building projects were approved by the Board of Regents as well. Upon approval by the Governor, construction will begin on three projects: The Gilkey Center for Executive Education, a student-athlete academic success center, and additional expansion of the Interdisciplinary Science Building.

 Fund-raising is underway for the Learning Commons, a renovation of the ground floor of the Mansfield Library, which will provide a technology-rich individual and group study environment, supplemented by areas for the Writing Center, the Math Center, and a coffee bar.

 We have made additional progress on technology in the classroom, bringing on-line another 21 classrooms with a common technology package. We are at about the 50% point now for equipping classrooms, with the goal being essentially 100% of all classrooms. IT is expanding wireless capability around the campus and the Northern Tier Network is fully functional.

 Our support from generous donors has once again been exceptional. We received over $19 million in gifts this last year including:

  • A $2 million bequest from Jim Auger to establish scholarships for Business Students;
  • A $1 million gift from an anonymous donor to support the Flathead Lake Biological Station and
  • A $75,000 gift from John and Ann White to renovate the lobby of the Fine Arts Building.

 So, it has been an exceptionally busy and productive year in many ways. I credit that productivity fully to you, the people who have the spirit and tradition of this institution in your hearts. It is your creativity, hard work, and collaborative nature that gets so many things done and that continually enhances the reputation of The University of Montana.

 A Year of Challenge

I'd now like to talk about the challenges we faced during this past year, and – more importantly – about the clear and deliberate steps that are in place as we move forward. Let me set the stage with this summary.

 In mid-December, we received a report of sexual assault and during the course of the next few months, a number of past assaults were reported and several more assaults occurred. We immediately put into motion of number of actions because it became all too apparent that we had an extremely serious issue before us. From the beginning, our objectives were, and continue to be, threefold:

  • Prevent sexual assault from happening
  • Provide care and counsel for victims of sexual assault
  • Rid our campus of known assaulters

 Sexual assault has no place on our campus or in our society. The women who were assaulted had their lives changed forever and some of them had their educational dreams shattered. Their experience goes against everything I believe higher education and the University of Montana stand for. The men who carried out these acts exhibited complete disregard for those women, and secondarily, for this institution and many fine people affected by these episodes.

 Our response to increasing student safety has had several components.

 First, we began our own investigation in accordance with the University Student Conduct Code and the university’s policies and procedures, as we are ethically and legally committed to doing. Over the course of a few months of intense work, assisted by an outside investigator, we brought to closure the cases before us. We cooperated with local law enforcement in the cases that involved police.

 Second, we chose to hold community and campus forums to keep members of our community informed, and we communicated regularly with the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Higher Education. We did learn during the course of the semester that we had to become even more proactive and cooperative with the media, so we took steps and continue to take steps to learn more about communications and to adopt a better communications strategy.

 During the course of the year, we became the subject of investigations by the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the NCAA. Those investigations are ongoing and we committed from the beginning to cooperate fully with those agencies. We have nothing to hide: we want to learn all we can from these investigations to improve the safety of our campus.

 We put in place a new student-athlete conduct code, clarifying infractions of all types and the sanctions associated with those infractions. We put in place, as did the Board of Regents, a mandatory reporting policy that requires employees to report to our Title IX Coordinator any knowledge of a possible sexual assault or dangerous situation for members of the university family. We clarified reporting protocols for both victims and employees to remove ambiguity between receiving confidential care and reporting to either law enforcement or campus authorities. We co-sponsored a “Call 911” effort with the City of Missoula. We have added an additional police officer to Campus Security and we will increase the patrolling of the residence hall areas of campus, especially at night and on weekends.

 We have embarked upon a sweeping educational campaign that has multiple components. A cornerstone of the campaign is a video training module, or tutorial, that is required of all students at The University of Montana, beginning this semester.

 After putting the student tutorial into place, we will begin the development of a comparable module for employees. The tutorial is called PETSA, Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness, I want to give credit to the team primarily responsible for it: Danielle Wozniak from the School of Social Work, Robert Squires from the School of Extended and Lifelong Learning, Rick Hughes, also from the School of Extended and Lifelong Learning, and Beth Hubble, from the Women and Gender Studies Program. These campus experts created what we believe is an industry standard. I want you to look at a short segment of the video to get a sense of its content and effectiveness.


 We will need the help of each of you in calling attention to this educational module. While there will be considerable communication around campus about it, as faculty and staff please call attention to it in your classrooms and your daily contact with students.

 In summary, we faced a serious challenge during this past year, but nothing as serious as the personal challenges faced by the women who were subjected to assault. The University of Montana is building one of the most effective learning environments in public higher education, which means we need to have one of the safest environments. Together, we will make UM a safer place and do everything we can to eliminate sexual assault as a threat.

 The Year Ahead

Let’s turn now to the year ahead of us and identify our priorities. Again, I do this in the context of UM2020. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are key areas that we will focus on.

  1. Certainly, a clear priority is the area I just discussed, making sure our campus is as safe as it can be. I won’t go into any more detail on that at this time, but if you want to talk about it more in the discussion session that follows this event, we can certainly do so.
  2. A new facility for the Missoula College, formerly known as the College of Technology. We will be working during the upcoming legislative session to secure funding for this building, which is the highest priority new construction for the Board of Regents. The message behind this facility is three-fold:
    1. The existing facility is old, small, and nowhere near what today’s students need for an education of the standard we expect at The University of Montana. Having students and faculty in temporary trailers, no matter how well constructed by our own students, is unacceptable.
    2. The Missoula College must be more fully integrated into the University, both for practical reasons of delivering services cost-effectively to our students and for maximizing educational opportunities for students and faculty.
    3. The Missoula College will be the first building on the new South Campus of the University, setting the stage for the next century of growth for the University in a cohesive, cost-effective strategy.

We will be holding a community forum, open to the campus and Missoula communities, next month to discuss in more detail these three points and other aspects of the Missoula College building project.

  1. Also associated with the Legislative session will be our work to secure a pay plan that recognizes the national recruitment environment in which our university exists. I am convinced, and I know you agree, that the long-term competitiveness of our state depends upon attracting the highest quality of faculty, staff, and administration to the University.
  2. Our “per-student” investment in higher education needs strengthening. Our investment is significantly less than that at similar institutions – even in other states that have a small population base. It is that investment that relates directly to student success, the quality of the educational experience, and our ability to carry out cutting edge research and creative scholarship. An investment in higher education is an investment in the growth of Montana’s economy. The cost of public higher education in Montana, and at The University of Montana, has NOT been rising out of control, contrary to the national rhetoric. In fact, we have had among the lowest tuition increases in the nation over a multi-year period.
  3. With the help of many people heading and serving on search committees, I will continue to develop the leadership team at the Cabinet level. This fall, we will finalize cabinet level appointments in the positions of Athletic Director, VP for Research and Creative Scholarship, VP for Administration and Finance, VP for Integrated Communications, Chief Information Officer, and Chief Legal Counsel. As I promised last year, we will initiate a search to name a permanent Provost during this fall. I might have wished that not all of these positions would become open at the same time, but I see this as a tremendous opportunity to create a leadership team for the future.
  4. Together, we will continue to push the specific objectives of UM 2020. In particular, we will keep our focus on the Global Leadership Initiative, making sure we continue to implement this program that is cutting edge in today’s world. We will continue to strengthen efforts at student success through many strategies, including work on the Learning Commons in the library. We will increase our efforts to enhance the impact of our research focusing our investment strategy more precisely, by working with the faculty to strengthen our research infrastructure, and by increasing our emphasis on technology transfer. I want to let you know of two exciting events that are planned for the year that will improve the visibility and strength of our academics:
    1. VP Forbes is organizing a new event called the President’s Research Day, scheduled for early November. The day will highlight research and creative scholarships for the general public and for our campus. Through this event, we want people to see the exceptional work being done at UM on cutting edge questions.
    2. Provost Brown will organize a special event called, “A Celebration of Academics,” to be scheduled for late fall or early spring. It will be a day to showcase the quality of our educational program and the innovation behind new approaches to teaching and learning.
    3. Communication, Communication, Communication! This will be a year where we tell the story of the University in full context, and in a manner that highlights the tremendous accomplishments of our people and the extraordinary contribution to Montana. The VP for Integrated Communications will be charged with coordinating that work, and Peggy Kuhr is filling that role now. Communications includes the implementation of a new brand strategy that is under development through the work of Mind Over Media. We will see the results of that relationship beginning this coming month.
    4. Support from Alumni and the Foundation. Philanthropy has become essential to every institution of higher education at some level. We are blessed with an especially loyal alumni base and a supportive donor base. We will use this year to position ourselves for transformative fund-raising. Philanthropy is essential to virtually every major issue of our strategic plan. We are working closely with both the Foundation and the Alumni Association to lay the groundwork for this effort.

 It promises to be a busy year, and it promises to be a rewarding year. Let’s never forget the fundamental reasons we are here, to open doors for our students and to carry out the intellectual work that propels our society forward. Ours are among the most important jobs in existence and I applaud each of you for the vigor with which you pursue your respective work. The future of Montana and our country depends on us as we are preparing the leaders, the problem-solvers and the creative thinkers for our world in the global century. During the work that Mind Over Media has done, one of the comments that came back captures a good deal of what we must be about this-coming year. That comment was: “Let’s tell the world what we’ve built here.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe we are building one of the nation’s finest universities. Let’s take pride in that and tell the world.

Thank you for your hard work and for your support.