State of the University 2000 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
1 September 2000

Good morning and welcome; a very special and warm greeting to the faculty and staff joining us this year. You have come to a good place, with good people who care and show it. This campus has a unique culture that sets it apart, combining an intriguing blend of elitism and egalitarianism. Everyone has the chance to excel, and we expect everyone to do so, each in an appropriate way. This distinctive culture helps to explain theattractiveness of the University and its capacity to retain outstanding faculty, staff, and students. It also provides the dynamism that enables the University to prosper despite periodic fiscal stress. I speak for the entire campus when I extend our welcome. We expect great achievements of you.


I have the pleasure this morning to make some introductions before turning to the "State of the University."

You have already met the new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Lois Muir, our Master of Ceremonies. She comes to us from Kent State University in Ohio, but - as most academics - she is a well-traveled, well-experienced nomad. We hope she has found a permanent home here.

Ray Ford actually needs no introduction, since he had the good sense to come to the University when the new President arrived ten years ago. He has accepted a new assignment as the Associate Vice President for Information Technology - the "I T guy" in his words - and he has already made a difference.

Candy Holt has agreed to serve as Interim Director of the University Center while we search for a replacement for Gary Ratcliff who left us this summer. She knows the place and the responsibilities and will do well.


This past year marked a decade for me as President of my alma mater. Even after ten years, I remain grateful and humbled by the honor and privilege of leading a great institution. A decade represents a moment in the history of an institution, but consumes a significant span in a person's life. It behooves one who accepts the position of President - or any position for that matter - to do more than hold it, since time passes so swiftly. To have and yet miss the opportunity to influence the course of institutional history strikes me as the ultimate in irresponsibility. I have sought to err in the other direction.

Three rather simple but directive premises guide my approach to the work. Do all humanly possible to identify the opportunities to further the development of the University. Always remember that it usually matters more that decisions get made than that absolutely right decisions result. And, finally, given the circumstances that threaten to overwhelm us as human beings, remember that we must take action, even if the actions sometimes prove erroneous.

Adherence to these premises will not guarantee success, however defined. Nothing can or will. But attention to them will sustain the dynamism of a great University. For every university is its faculty, staff, and students, not the buildings or the legal abstractions creating it. If the faculty, staff, and students stop believing and cease to strive for excellence, the University will falter and inevitably decline. Because we have kept the faith, and despite the threats and obstacles, the words of our founding President, Dr. Oscar John Craig, continue to inspire us:"The University, it shall prosper."

Over the course of a decade, we have accomplished a great deal, even with a few false starts and missteps. Reaffirmation of accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges provides partial support for that claim. (Let us take this opportunity to applaud Dean Jerry Fetz for his leadership of the effort.)The site team report contained seven commendations and five recommendations; the former focus on what we have done well, the latter on what we have to do. In my view, both attest to the dynamism and vitality of the University, themselves aspects of the institutional culture and manifestations of a committed, engaged, and creative faculty and staff interacting with able students.

I cannot imagine a set of commendations more reflective of the institutional mission and our preoccupations during the last decade. I rank the commendation for strong interaction among students, faculty, and staff highest, followed closely by that for the commitment and dedication of the staff. We have worked hard to make this a student-centered campus focused upon developing student potential. We know that development which endures has its proof in lives of achievement, depends upon high expectations as much as careful nurture and guidance, and never results from condescension or acceptance of mediocrity. While on-going studies indicate we have much yet to do, we have done well and can take pride in the progress.

Three other commendations also speak directly to our priorities. This University pays attention to general education, our responsibility as the intellectual and creative center for the fine arts, and our obligation to serve all Montanans. The evaluators recognized our commitments and commended our successes. This faculty has always insisted that a sound baccalaureate combines general education, disciplinary or professional mastery, and free electives in a synergistic whole. A campus known for integrating liberal arts education with professional training can do nothing less. This faculty has also emphasized the humanistic, ethical, and artistic foundations of culture and the need to engage the people of the State in cultural dialogue. And this faculty has recognized a very special responsibility to the Native Americans in the State and indigenous peoples around the world. I believe the commendations merited.

Another commendation notes our attention to our values. With great effort, we identified new ways to fund the facilities to meet the needs of the students, faculty, and staff. As a result, we added thousands of useable square feet for instruction, research, student life, student services, and outreach, all with careful attention to the campus ambience and aesthetic. In doing so, we respected a wonderful past as it exists in the present while releasing the creative energy of the present. I want to use this occasion to express appreciation to the Arboretum and Public Art Committees, the several building committees, and our benefactors for their collaboration to preserve and celebrate our historic legacy.

Finally, the remarkable success of the faculty in attracting external funds to support research and graduate education demonstrates the internalization of the mission to extend the frontiers of knowledge, prepare the next generation of scholars and intellectual leaders, and assist the State in desired economic and social development. The volume of funded research represents these institutional commitments, but does not fully measure our success in fulfilling them. Such a measure must take account of the achievements of our creative artists, humanists, educators, and social scientists, typically with much less external support because of societal values and practices. But success in attracting external funds does, indeed, stand as a surrogate measure of our fulfillment of those institutional commitments.

The recommendations also reflect institutional values and priorities. We all recognize that we must engage the stakeholders in dialogue about the adequacy of the investment Montana as a State makes in higher education. I will return to this challenge in a bit. We also know that we must work even harder to achieve the diversity that enriches the education we offer, and that we have barely begun to extend the campus resources in a collaborative way to assist communities around the State, especially the Native American communities. While the international thrust has apparently taken firm hold on campus, our exchange programs have not yet attracted large numbers of faculty, staff, and students. We can and will do better.

Another recommendation, a responsive campus master plan for the changing program array and state-of-the art facilities, has become an imperative. The plan will have to accommodate the increasingly ubiquitous and absolutely essential information technology, an important key to our and the State's future. Incidentally, ten years ago the campus had no fiber backbone, no robust connection to the Internet - then in its infancy - none of its buildings wired, few desk top machines, no integrated automation system for the libraries, no plan for information technology, a piecemeal implementation of systems to meet administrative and planning needs, and few advocates for any of these essentials. Who today can imagine doing without this technology?We have made a fine beginning but must now carry the work forward, a process we will never complete because of changing needs and technological innovation.

Two recommendations focus on academic issues per se, one calling for attention to staffing and operating expenses in the libraries - especially Instructional Media Services, another manifestation of the pervasiveness of technology - and the other noting the need to develop comprehensive outcomes assessment programs to serve the academic planning process. We have initiated steps to address the libraries issues. Every Department, School, Program, and entity on campus has begun to assess outcomes. This must become a campus preoccupation as we seek to determine how we can demonstrate the achievement of our academic and institutional intentions.

This report card on a decade of effort charts the course for the future. The Commission on Colleges has required two reports and a campus visit in 2002 to evaluate our responses to the recommendations. In that sense, the Commission has given us a mandate for the future. We will respect it.

Most will agree that we have reached a critical stage in the development of the University. For ten years, we have worked with students, alumni, friends, policy makers, and external partners to broaden and deepen the bases of support for the University.

With student endorsement, we raised tuition faster than the rate of inflation, thereby generating the funds for faculty and staff salaries and general expenses when State appropriations lagged. As a result, tuition revenue rose by some 500 percent, including rate increases and enrollment growth, with State appropriations up by just over 2 percent.

  • With student endorsement, we adopted fees thereby generating revenue to defray bonds issued to renovate classrooms and laboratories, build and renovate residence halls and family housing, implement information technology, make needed building improvements, and maintain a healthy and safe environment for students. In all, we added 308,000 square feet and renovated 295,000 more, and we have not yet completed several projects.
  • Through the success of faculty researchers, we increased the research volume by more than 500 percent, from roughly $7 million to $38 million annually during the last decade, while the indirect costs recovered went from a few hundred thousand to more than $3 million annually.
  • In a productive partnership with The University of Montana Foundation, we conducted the most successful capital campaign in the history of the State, raising more than $70 million to support the University. As a result, the institutional endowment will soon exceed $100 million.

These rewarding achievements sustained the University during the decade of the 90s. But as the new millennium opens, the time has come for a new strategy.


So, what now?Do we pause and rest on our laurels?As I see things, we cannot afford to do so. If we do, we put too much at risk in terms of the obligation to protect what we have achieved and extend it. This new century promises more change and challenge than the world has ever witnessed, either as threats or opportunities depending on one's perspective. We must prepare to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, if it relates to the institutional mission and vision. Otherwise we will live in the shadows, seeking to draw sustenance from the achievements of the past.

According to the revised mission statement, this University has a vital role to play in the State, region, and world:

The University of Montana-Missoula provides a unique educational experience through the integration of the liberal arts and professional training with an interdisciplinary, interactive, and international focus, thereby preparing students to become ethical persons of character and values, competent and humane professionals, and informed and engaged citizens of local and global communities; and serves the State, region, and world through basic and applied research, technology transfer, and cultural outreach.

The words sound simple enough but convey heavy responsibility. The vision for The University of Montana-Missoula puts flesh on the bone of the mission and outlines the challenge for the next five years and beyond:

Educate students to become ethical persons of character and values, engaged citizens, competent professionals, and informed members of a global and technological society.

Increase the diversity of the students, faculty, and staff for an enriched campus culture.

Attain the Carnegie Commission status of Doctoral Research-Extensive University (50 or more doctorates in at least 15 fields annually) and increase funded research to $50,000,000 annually by 2005.

Develop more partnerships - especially with local communities, businesses and industries, public schools, community and Tribal colleges, State and local governments, and universities abroad - and expand the training and technology transfer programs to promote community and economic development.

Develop the capability and infrastructure for information technology to increase the efficiency and productivity of the campus and the State.

Involve and engage the faculty, staff, students, alumni, partners, and friends of the University in institutional governance.

If we respect the mission and realize the vision, we need not worry about the change and challenge of the new millennium, for we will have taken control of our own destiny.

With the counsel and guidance of the Executive Planning Council and the Executive Committee of The University of Montana Foundation, I have outlined a Strategic Plan for the next five years which I believe assures respect for the mission and achievement of the vision. Designed to assure the continued development and vitality of the University, the Plan anticipates the expenditure of energy in focused activities to fuel the dynamism from the last decade. Its implementation depends on the participation of the entire campus community to flesh out the details and move the University into the 21stcentury.

The Plan anticipates a University in 2005 with the following attributes:

A student head count population of 13,000, with 3,000 graduate students, at least 4,000 non-residents, 800 Native Americans, and 1,000 international students.

  • Funded research totaling $50 million annually, with indirect cost recoveries approaching $7 million.
  • At least 50 doctorates distributed among at least 15 different fields awarded annually.
  • A responsive array of academic programs to meet needs in the State, region, and world, each structured and monitored through outcome assessments to ensure that the graduates have the skills, attitudes, values, understandings, and competencies to contribute as engaged citizens of the world
  • A curricular insistence upon verbal and numerical literacy, service learning, study abroad, professional and disciplinary mastery, and technological competence.
  • Faculty, staff, and student engagement in the civic life of the city, region, State, and world
  • An outreach program extending the academic, intellectual, and cultural resources of the University to the State and selected areas of the world
  • A sophisticated information technology capacity and infrastructure sufficient to serve the University, public schools, government, and the private sector as appropriate.

I have no doubt that success in this effort will also increase the University's list of Rhodes Scholars to at least 32, protecting and improving our fifth place ranking among all public universities in the graduation of Rhodes Scholars.

Achieving this vision depends in equal measure on our own energetic action and the availability of resources. I have commented frequently that great societies depend for their sustenance and vitality on great public universities. In today's environment, we cannot have great public universities without significant and sustained private support. Experience during the 90s shows that we cannot have significant and sustained private support without appropriate and dependable public funding. I do not suggest a return to the 50s or even the 70s, when public funds accounted for 70 to 80 percent of the support for public higher education. But the support cannot drop below 25 to 30 percent for long without weakening the infrastructure that enables public universities to attract external support. We have reached the critical stage in Montana that places the public colleges and universities at risk of decay if not gradual extinction, unless the State makes a commitment to restore the balance with new investments.

I believe we can make the case for renewed investment and that the people and State will respond. But, in contrast to our posture in the past, we will have to define precisely the benefits, show how we will provide them, and help to identify the means to make the new investments. Over the next two months, we will concentrate our efforts on the candidates seeking public office to ensure that they understand the nature of the crisis in higher education. The Legislative Fiscal Division has provided data which prove conclusively that Montana has fallen far behind other states in the region in its investments in higher education. Actually we already had ample proof of that fact in the per capita income ranking of the State - almost dead last. Every state that has invested in its higher education system and held the system accountable has prospered. Montana, as a State following the reverse strategy, certainly offers a striking contrast, one I suspect that most people want to change.

But how can the policy makers manage the new investments without either reallocating the finite pool of funds thereby reducing support for some critical services to assist higher education, an outcome sure to generate strong resistance; or increasing the pool with some revenue enhancers, otherwise known as taxes and equally certain to encounter opposition?Therein lies the challenge before us. We can never dictate a solution, nor should we try; but we can collaborate in the development of one.

To that end, I have asked several people with relevant expertise to give this challenge their attention and develop potential solutions we can discuss with the policy makers. While I have no details as yet, I incline toward the view that any viable solution will involve a carefully crafted sales tax, with rebates on property or income taxes to residents. I know the history of sales tax proposals in Montana. Nonetheless, I believe that a tax that spreads the burden of support for vital services to the millions of Americans and others who visit Montana annually and claim it as part of their legacy makes good fiscal sense. In any event, we must help to identify a solution to the problem.

The success of this educational campaign will depend upon the engagement of all members of the University community. Students and their families can exert tremendous influence in their hometowns and neighborhoods, as can faculty and staffin their communities. When we take on the role of engaged citizens, we simultaneously fulfill our responsibilities as educators, providing an example to our students and assisting them to become informed and participate in the political process. We in higher education have neglected that responsibility for too long, with the direct result of serious erosion to our political culture. A democratic society cannot long endure without citizen engagement. In my view, much that we have witnessed with abhorrence in the United States during the last four decades has its roots in this civic and political malaise. We must begin to correct it.

In addition to the exciting work of instruction, research, and service, we must attend to a series of important tasks in the year before us.

  1. As mentioned, I will personally lead the effort to address our funding challenges by engaging the stakeholders in a public dialogue, with the assistance of Bob Frazier.
  2. Vice President Scott Cole will develop a campus master plan within the next 18 months for final review and approval by January 2002.
  3. Provost Lois Muir and Dean Frank D'Andraia will resolve the library issues by September 2001.
  4. Provost Muir will assure progress on outcomes assessment and academic planning and report the results annually to the campus.
  5. Provost Muir, Vice President Lloyd Chesnut, Vice President Barbara Hollmann, and the Diversity Advisory Council will collaborate to revise the Diversity Plan by October 2001.
  6. Provost Muir will work closely with the appropriate Departments and relevant Committees of the Faculty Senate to coordinate the refinement of the writing proficiency admission standards and measures; the full implementation of the writing proficiency gating examination; and the development of the writing proficiency graduation requirement.
  7. Provost Muir will initiate a similar process for mathematical proficiency, technological competency, and our other curricular objectives and intentions.
  8. Provost Muir, Vice President Hollmann, Assistant Vice President Mark Lusk, and the International Programs Committee will collaborate to develop plans to expand study abroad for students; encourage faculty and staff involvement in exchanges; and increase the number of international students on campus.
  9. Vice President Chesnut will initiate a plan to bring the funded research volume to $40.5 million by July 2001.
  10. Provost Muir and Vice President Chesnut will collaborate to increase the number of doctorates awarded annually to at least 40 by July 2002.
  11. Provost Muir will work with the Deans to increase Summer Session enrollments by ten per cent next year.
  12. Provost Muir and Vice President Hollmann will collaborate to develop and implement a strategy to increase enrollments, especially non-resident enrollments, for Fall Semester 2001 and thereafter so as to reach 13,000 head count by fall 2005.
  13. I will work with President Free Lee of The University of Montana Foundation and the Campus Development Council on a fund-raising plan focused upon our priorities.
  14. Director Kathy Crego of Human Resources and the Steering Committee for the new classification system will collaborate with Executive Officers and Deans to assure a successful outcome of the ongoing pilot projects in anticipation of implementing the new classification system for the University in the coming biennium.
  15. Bob Frazier will lead the effort to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for the University during the next year.

We have much to do and many challenges. I remain very optimistic and quite confident about the future. The University of Montana can and will prosper, if we respond to the challenges. I urge your engagement and participation.

Thank you. Have a great year!