State of the University 2006 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
25 August 2006


Good morning! Thank you for attending. Convocations opening the academic year offer the opportunity to recognize new members of the academy and the continuing members who have earned honors. This year, for the first time, this event will appear through streaming video across the State and nation, so I urge you to look your best for the camera. More importantly, we have an opportunity to introduce the new people and those who have earned tenure and promotion to the public at large. On behalf of the entire campus community, I extend a hearty welcome to the newcomers and high admiration to the honorees.

As I walked to the Montana Theatre this morning, I had to avoid a number of people looking for Rolling Stones tickets. What a stir this upcoming visit has caused in the community and across the State and region! A friend explained it to me this way: Typically, we all want to see a famous group perform before we die; in this instance, we want to see them before they die. Unfortunately, because of a prior commitment, I had to decline an invitation to appear as the opening act. So it goes. Now, on to the task at hand.

New Administrators

I will take a few moments at the outset to introduce new members of the administration. If they will please rise as I introduce them and remain standing, I will ask you to recognize them with applause after the introductions.

  • As I believe everyone knows, I have assumed the position as Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, pending the outcome of a national search now in progress. This dual responsibility works only because of the outstanding performance of Associate Provosts Jim Staub and Arlene Walker-Andrews, whom I want to recognize publicly.
  • Bonnie Allen came to the campus in July from Oregon State University to assume the position as Dean of Libraries. Her expertise and broad experience have enabled her to take charge immediately.
  • Claudia Denker, a graduate of The University of Montana School of Law and formerly involved in private practice as an attorney, has accepted the appointment as Associate Legal Counsel and Research Compliance Officer. Claudia will assist us to make certain that we fulfill the myriad of vastly complicated compliance regulations and requirements.
  • Roberta (Bobbie) Evans has agreed to serve as Interim Dean of the School of Education pending the outcome of a national search. She knows the position well, having served successfully as Dean from 2000 to 2003.
  • Barry Good, formerly a Vice President of a community college in West Virginia, joined us in July as Dean of the College of Technology. Only days after his arrival, he facilitated conversations to explore an expanding role for the College in Missoula and Ravalli Counties and about dual enrollment opportunities for high school students.
  • Keith Kuhn, while not technically a University appointee, joined The University of Montana Foundation in late Spring as the Chief Financial and Operations Officer. He brings a new perspective and a vast range of experience from the private sector that holds great promise for the Foundation and the University.
  • David Micus, most recently Associate Registrar of MIT, joined us as University Registrar in July, replacing Phil Bain who retired to spend time with his grandchildren. David has served a number of institutions, has intimate familiarity with the BANNER systems, and has taken on some assignments to enhance the services we provide to students.
  • Mark Pullium has replaced Jim Darcy as Director of Business Services. He most recently served as Director of Finance for Fayette County, Georgia, and as Associate Vice President of Finance and Business Services of Rowan Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina. In a word, he has the range of experience we need in his position.
  • Ric Thomas, formerly Senior Director of Development for The University of Montana Foundation, recently accepted promotion to Vice President for Development for the Foundation following a national search. He has 15 years of experience and knows the University and its programs very well, after one year in his former position.

Please recognize these persons with your applause.

The Year in Review

During 2005-2006, the University maintained the momentum attained during the past sixteen years, thanks to the quality, creativity, responsiveness, and dedication of the faculty and staff. Let me cite some of the accomplishments to support that statement.

  • During the year, we secured approval of an Irish Studies Minor and hosted the President of Ireland to announce its establishment; implemented the M.S. in Information Systems; established the Central and Southwest Asian Studies Minor and hosted once again a national conference on Central Asian Studies; changed the single major in Business Administration to individual majors in several Business Administration disciplines; implemented the new Master of Public Health Program using distance education technology and the M.S. Option in International Resource Management; and implemented three new training programs to place people in good paying jobs.
  • We maintained a balanced budget, sustained the quality of the academic experience for students, and restrained tuition and fee increases below the national average.
  • To fulfill our mandate to educate qualified Montanans who accept the challenge, we initiated the MPACT Program - Montana Partnering for Affordable Tuition, consisting of a combination of grants and loans - to assure that cost does not prevent median-income family students from participating in higher education. In this trial year, with no advance notice to potential students, we attracted more that 130 qualified applicants. Early returns indicate the potential for up to 70 acceptances, a total that more than doubles the number of similarly situated students who managed in the past to attend without assistance. We will work with the Regents and the Schweitzer administration to take the program System-wide. However, I believe we must continue it for this campus whatever the outcome of the System effort. Now that potential students know of the program and its promise of access to higher education for those in need of assistance if they prepare themselves and accept the responsibility to do well, I have full confidence that the numbers will increase.
  • Simultaneously, and with the assistance provided by the Regents, Governor, Legislature, and The University of Montana Foundation donors, we offered scholarships to and received acceptances from more than 5,300 high achievement applicants, a larger number than ever before in our history as a University.
  • During the Homecoming celebration last September, in collaboration with The University of Montana Foundation, we publicly announced a comprehensive Campaign - entitled "Invest in Discovery: Connecting People, Programs and Place" - to raise $100 million from private donors to support the University's faculty, students, and programs. To date, we have pledges and actual receipts in excess of $84 million - more than any Montana educational institution has ever raised in a campaign - and plan to complete the Campaign successfully by 31 December 2007.
  • As a component of the Campaign, under the leadership of Professor Dan Pletscher, we established the fully endowed John Craighead Chair of Wildlife Biology ($2.5 million) that recognizes a former member of the faculty identified as one of the 100 preeminent scientists of the 20th century. In addition, with Dan's involvement, we must raise another $3 million to match the $3 million commitment of the Boone and Crockett Club for a total endowment of $6 million to support the Boone and Crockett Chair in Wildlife Biology by December 2007.
  • With the assistance of private donors, we initiated the construction of Don Anderson Hall for the School of Journalism ($11 million, all private donations, thanks to the tireless work of Dean Jerry Brown, who incidentally has announced that he intends to return to the faculty on 30 June 2007) and the expansion of the Skaggs Building for the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences ($14 million, a mix of federal, institutional, and private funds, with the leadership of Dean Dave Forbes), both scheduled for completion in early Spring 2007.
  • We developed a plan for the construction of new facilities for the College of Technology at Fort Missoula, with a separate facility in Hamilton to serve the Bitterroot community, and a storefront in the downtown area of Missoula to serve the needs of business and industry, subject to approval by the Regents, Governor, and Legislature.
  • In addition, we have made good progress on the deferred maintenance projects I outlined last year. While we have more to do, we will see the benefits of this work during the coming years, thanks to Vice President Bob Duringer and the Facilities Services staff.
  • Faculty researchers generated in excess of $66 million in new grant awards during 2005-2006 - the second highest amount ever recorded for the University. The impact of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War slowed the momentum, but we expect to return to the upward trend this coming year. The successful proposals include a multi-year $9.5 million renewal of the University's first Center for Biomedical Research Excellence grant under the leadership of Professor Rich Bridges; an Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Training grant - focused on infectious diseases - of $3.2 million over 5 years from NSF led by Professors Bill Holben, Carol Brewer, and Mary Poss; and a Howard Hughes undergraduate science education grant of $1.5 million over 4 years secured by a team led by Professors Bill Holben and Carol Brewer.
  • Because of the work of Dean Sharon Alexander and some engaged community members, the University received a grant of $300,000 over 3 years from the Osher Foundation for the establishment of a Lifelong Learning Institute in Missoula with a branch in Hamilton, and the commitment of a million dollar endowment if we successfully mount the program in 3 years.
  • We maintained or received initial accreditation of all programs subject to accreditation.
  • We made significant progress toward implementing outcomes assessment of our General Education Program, relying upon embedded assessment procedures.
  • We developed and have now to implement programs to enhance our retention and graduation rates, and we identified a major campus problem in the increasing incidence of mental health issues among the student population. This problem exists on virtually all campuses across the country, not just the Missoula campus. We have secured the part-time assistance of a psychiatrist to help us respond to the problem.
  • Finally, we recently learned that the Princeton Review's annual publication listing The 361 Best Colleges will include The University of Montana; and that the US News & World Report annual ranking will place The University of Montana in the third tier of national universities, as in prior years. We can do better.

At the same time, we overcame some significant challenges during the year. The one that attracted the most media attention concerned a grant from NASA for work related to commercialization of space technology, access to and potential research use of the international space station, and outreach to the public schools to encourage young people to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The press coverage came in the wake of allegations of conflict of interest against a former Vice President for Research and Development on a campus in Texas after he left this University. Following internal reviews and an audit by the Legislative Audit Division, we have not identified any actual conflicts that occurred here, but we have revised several of our policies to provide better documentation of the ways that we manage potential conflicts of interest in the future.

Another challenge that merits mention resulted from the lower than anticipated enrollment of Montana resident students and the failure to meet our targets for the 2005 Summer Session. The Montana Legislature requires a reversion of all funds appropriated above the total warranted by the number of actually enrolled students, since the State provides roughly 40 percent of the cost of educating a Montana resident student. Because we did not achieve the enrollment estimates, we had to reduce our budget for the unrealized tuition and General Fund support for those expected students who did not enroll or left the University during the year, amounting to some $3 million. We accomplished this difficult task by relying on the Contingency Fund established a few years ago for just such an occasion and by reducing some of our expected expenditures for FY 2006 and 2007. By addressing the enrollment issues, we can prevent a recurrence of the problem. Our admission reports and enrollment projections for Fall 2006, supported by the highest number of residence hall applicants in over-flow housing since 1995, suggest that we will not encounter the same problem this year. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant and deliver what we promise to the students who enroll. If we do not, they will not come, or they will leave in disillusionment.

As we probed the enrollment issues, we found a significant number of currently enrolled students registering for online courses with the resultant credits never appearing on our enrollment reports. Moreover, the currently enrolled students who opt for online courses pay separately for them, even if their on-campus registrations place them above the "flat spot" allowing them to take more credits at no increase in cost. In addition, Montana resident students who enroll online and never come to campus receive no State support, but they pay the same mandatory fees as on-campus students. I have appointed a task force to develop a strategy to integrate these online registrations into our regular enrollment and registration processes and to propose a rational fee structure for consideration by the Regents. As we move into the 21st century, commonly referred to as the "information age," we must seize the opportunities to make better use of information technology for the enhancement of the educational experiences and in response to the preferences of students. Successful engagement will help us to achieve enrollment targets, provide incentives for the appropriate use of online technology to enhance our educational offerings, and improve our balance sheet.

The Prospects for the Coming Biennium

As we contemplate the outcome of the election this Fall and the opening of the next Session of the Montana Legislature in January 2007, I believe we have reason for optimism. The Regents have adopted System initiatives relating to transfer of credits within the System, tuition stabilization, need-based financial aid for Montana residents, distance education, and the education and training of health care professionals and technicians. In addition, the Regents have proposed a number of construction and renovation projects, including construction of appropriate facilities for the College of Technology, expansion of the School of Law Building, and equipment for Anderson Hall. Funding for these projects will undoubtedly depend on whether the State adopts a bonding program, a decision not yet announced by the Governor. However, we have an alternate plan to complete the Law School and Anderson Hall projects in the absence of a bonding program. Finally, the Regents have authorized campus initiatives that will require a tuition increase of .5 percent, a modest increment that can make a wonderful difference for us.

Perhaps as an omen of things to come, both political parties have agreed that the rising tuition burden for Montana residents has begun to threaten access, especially for the children of median income families. In response, both have promulgated proposals that will either moderate tuition increases or reduce existing rates by appropriating more General Funds. That strikes me as a significant potential development for Montanans aspiring to go to college and for all Montanans. In addition, we have had very fruitful discussions with the Schweitzer administration concerning "present law adjustments," a budgeteer's term of art that refers to specific budget increases to deal with inflation and other known cost changes beyond our control. However, the emergence of the movement to adopt a constitutional amendment - CI 97 - arbitrarily limiting increases in State expenditures has the potential to derail all the progress made to date, as experience in Colorado with a similar provision indicates. I will return to this topic later. Finally, the State's ending fund balance projected for 30 June 2007, currently substantial but the subject of considerable debate about its reliability as a foundation for base budget increases, offers at least the potential for some one-time-only funds to address pressing needs that do not require ongoing funding. Of course, we must await the outcome of the election and the Session before we will have certainty about the level of State support. Prospects matter, in this case.

Agenda for the Year

In closing, I will outline the priorities as I see them for the coming year.

  1. Participate actively in the effort to educate the public about the negative potential for higher education if the voters approve CI 97, the proposed constitutional amendment arbitrarily limiting State expenditures. I consider success in this effort as the highest priority for The University of Montana and for all of Montana education.
  2. Implement fully the new policies and procedures adopted by the Regents to assure transfer of credits. The Regents and the Governor rank this very high on the list of priorities, and we must make transfer of credits as convenient as possible for students, since we have a large number of transfers every year.
  3. Finalize the reform and assessment of our General Education Program, utilizing embedded assessment of identified learning outcomes as well as establishing the grade for any individual course. Over the Summer, a group of faculty met and agreed upon an approach that has great potential to satisfy external concerns while simultaneously addressing our effort to enhance the academic experience for the students.
  4. Develop for consideration by the Regents a revised set of Mountain Campus admissions standards for implementation on a prospective date that will help potential students make good decisions about enrollment, whether directly on the Mountain Campus or transfer from a community college or college of technology. The excellent analytical work of Professor Jim Jacobs provides a solid foundation for this effort.
  5. Continue to develop the array of online courses and programs in response to identified needs. Current offerings include the courses that comprise the Master of Public Health, Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and Master of Public Administration Programs, the preparatory Business courses required for admission to the MBA Program for students with bachelor's degrees in other disciplines; and a host of individual academic and training courses.
  6. Complete the ongoing effort to integrate online and on-campus registrations for budgeting, funding, and payment purposes and promulgate an approved fee structure that makes sense for students and the University, scheduled for completion in January 2007.
  7. Implement the programs we have outlined to enhance our retention and graduation rates, including the proposed Sophomore Seminars and an effective early warning system for students at academic risk.
  8. Continue the excellent progress in attracting nonresident students by sustaining the quality of the academic experience and targeting our recruitment efforts.
  9. Continue the MPACT Program to involve more of the students heretofore excluded from participation in college because of costs. In my view, this program has tremendous potential to make a difference in the lives of young people and the economy of the State of Montana, but success requires perseverance to convince young people that college is possible for them if they prepare well and protect their options. We cannot have the economy, quality of life, and personal success to which we all aspire unless we have an appropriately educated citizenry.
  10. Attract more external funds to support graduate education and research, pushing the new grant award total above $72 million for FY 2007.
  11. Develop and implement a plan to ameliorate the burden of nonresident tuition for graduate assistants working on funded research projects.
  12. Secure approval of and establish the proposed Center for Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics involving faculty researchers from the Division of Biological Sciences and the Departments of Chemistry and Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
  13. Develop and deliver through the College of Technology at least 3 new customized training programs to get people into new jobs by July 2007, identifying the programs by reference to the ongoing survey of needs and delivering them where the needs exist.
  14. Secure approval of at least 3 new graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in Resource Engineering jointly with the Butte campus, an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Water Resource Management, and the B.S. and M.S. in Speech Language Pathology.
  15. Complete the construction of and secure equipment for Anderson Hall and the expanded Skaggs Building.
  16. Continue planning the new facilities for the College of Technology at Fort Missoula, with branch facilities in downtown Missoula and Hamilton, completing construction by 2009.
  17. Begin the construction of the Interdisciplinary Science Building.
  18. With the assistance of the Foundation, identify the funds to construct the Gilkey Center for Executive Education ($3 million of $5 million in hand), Washington Education Center ($3 million of $6 million in hand), Native American Center ($1 million plus of $6 million in hand), Montana Museum of Art and Culture facility (planning funds in hand), Alumni-Development Center (planning funds in hand), and College of Forestry and Conservation Building (planning funds in hand); and begin the expansion and renovation of the School of Law Building ($7 million of $11 million in hand).
  19. Sustain the momentum in the comprehensive campaign and raise the total of commitments and actual receipts to $100 million or more by July 2007.
  20. Increase the number of undergraduate students studying abroad by 100.
  21. Implement the planned dual enrollment program for high school students in Missoula and Hamilton during Spring Semester 2007.
  22. Become more efficient and effective in the use of available resources for academic programs, specifically by developing the 2+2 Engineering program with the Butte campus and a Nursing completer baccalaureate for delivery in Helena and Missoula.
  23. Make the campus more user-friendly for students and others seeking our services.
  24. Identify and implement at least 2 more "best practices" for efficiency and effectiveness
  25. Implement new marketing and branding strategies to position the University competitively. I will take a moment to pre-screen three television and streaming spots with you.


In conclusion, thank you for your commitment to the mission of The University of Montana. I begin my 17th year in this position with great enthusiasm and excitement about our collective vision of a "University for the 21st century," and look forward to working together with all of you for the continued development of The University of Montana. Have a great year and enjoy it as you do!