State of the University 2010 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
27 August 2010

[Watch the video of the State of the University Address here]

[Listen to audio of the Address here]

Good morning. For two decades, I have opened the State of the University Address with a warm welcome to continuing faculty and staff and an expression of appreciation to the newcomers for accepting the invitation to join us. I typically include some commentary about the economic environment, indicating that we have weathered the storms, however violent, because of the dedication, commitment, and engagement of the faculty and staff. Those same comments apply this year, but with one significant difference. Neither I nor anyone else anticipated my presence here to open another year for my alma mater. I have learned, however, during my years in the academy not to place too much faith in well laid plans. Details frequently change, even if the direction remains the same. I will retire from the Presidency, but not on the date I originally announced. As I believe everyone knows, campus interviews for the presidential finalists will occur as soon as possible and the Regents intend to move forward as expeditiously as they can. In the meantime, I intend to fulfill my responsibilities and make certain that we pay attention to the pressing tasks before us in the new year.

Let me begin by assuring the newcomers that they have come to a good place at a good time, despite persisting economic challenges. What if any evidence exists to support that assertion? First, we weathered the economic meltdown without having to resort to lay-offs or furloughs, replaced the departing faculty and staff either temporarily pending or permanently following a search, and served the needs of hundreds more students without any additional support from the State. Second, the faculty and staff accepted this additional burden without any compensation increases because of their commitment to students and the University. Third, we not only maintained a balanced budget but managed to reallocate funds to enhance student success. And, fourth, we accomplished these tasks and maintained a healthy contingency fund in the event that some unanticipated disaster with enrollments or something else threatens us during the coming year. Those outcomes occurred only because the faculty and staff responded so well. You deserve a round of applause. Join me in congratulating yourselves.


Several new people joined the University’s administrative team during the year. I will introduce them briefly, asking each to stand and remain standing so you can put a face with a name. Please hold your applause until I have completed the introductions.

  • First, although I introduced these two individuals in their interim capacities during this event last Fall, they have since accepted and served permanently in their positions for quite a while: Ed Johnson, Registrar, and Sharon O’Hare, Executive Director of the Office for Student Success.
  • Professor of Biochemistry J. B. “Sandy” Alexander Ross has accepted the permanent position he occupied on an interim basis last year as Associate Dean of the Graduate School. Sandy will continue the effort to strengthen the University’s status as a graduate institution.
  • Professor of Mathematical Sciences Jennifer McNulty has agreed to serve the College of Arts and Sciences as an Associate Dean. We all welcome her support in advancing the College’s research programs and managing the physical space.
  • Susan Harper Whalen, Director of Field Experiences, will serve as Interim Associate Dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences. In her new role, she will apply her expertise in teaching, clinical direction, and extramural funding in supporting the academic strategic plans for the University and College.
  • Dr. Beth Howard arrived last December from Rutgers University to lead the Undergraduate Advising Center. She brings exceptional expertise and experience to the University to promote student success.
  • Amy Kinch serves as the Coordinator for the newly formed Faculty Development Office and will coordinate professional development opportunities for faculty to foster excellence in teaching, research/creative activity, and service. Amy brings experience from her role with the Partnership for Comprehensive Equity (PACE) Program and the Quality of Worklife Council.
  • Robert Currie accepted appointment as Director of the Montana Digital Academy in January 2010 after a successful stint with the Michigan Virtual School. The Academy announced healthy enrollment in 44 classes now available to every student in a Montana public high school as well as homeschoolers.
  • Sandra Schoonover comes to us as the new Director of Residence Life from the University of Oregon where she held similar positions for 11 years. Her experience prepared her well for this important role in Student Affairs, and the influx of students to the University will challenge her expertise.
  • Dr. Mary Lee Vance became Director of Disability Services for Students in July, coming to us from the University of Wisconsin-Superior where she served as the Director of the Center for Academic Advising and Disability Resources. Her depth of understanding and strong personal commitment to improving the experience of students will serve the University well.
  • Kent McGowan joined us just this month from the University of New York College at Buffalo as Director of Financial Aid. He has large shoes to fill but brings a wealth of experience, deep commitment to students, and contagious enthusiasm for this critical role on the campus.
  • Jim Darcy, formerly Director of Business Services and Director of Budgets for Academic Affairs, has taken on yet another role at the University as the Student Affairs Budget Director. Jim’s knowledge of and experience on this campus and in higher education will make a difference immediately.
  • Dr. Brian Krylowicz, the new Director of the Counseling and Psychological Services in the Curry Health Center, will lead the campus efforts to assist students to manage the psychological and emotional challenges of their college experience, helping them achieve balance and success.
  • Beth Hammock, the new Vice President for Strategic Communications and Marketing for the UM Foundation—most recently the Director of Development Communications for the University of Missouri Foundation—brings an exciting level of expertise and strong experience to the Foundation and the University.
  • John Heaney, a UM Journalism graduate, has become the Editor-in-Chief of The Montanan. John comes back to campus from the Missoulian but has worked at other newspapers in Anaconda, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Missoula.
  • Finally, Robin Pflugrad emerged as the successful candidate to lead the Montana Grizzlies into the new season of football championship competition. Coach Pflugrad brings a wealth of experience and the right instincts to keep an academically and athletically successful program on track.

Please help me welcome these new members of the administrative team.

We also have some special visitors with us today, and I want to take a moment to introduce them.

  • Sheila Stearns, Commissioner of Higher Education.
  • Alex Apostle, Superintendent of the Missoula County Public Schools
  • Jane Dennison, the person who has planned most of the events during the last twenty years.
  • We also have some legislators with us today. Will the legislators please stand so we can recognize you for your good work?

Please welcome and thank these people.


The coming year presents five related challenges we must confront simultaneously: 1) serving the needs of students; 2) reclaiming the momentum we must have in funded research and technology transfer; 3) protecting institutional accreditation; 4) preparing for and participating in the Legislative Session that begins in January 2011; and 5) positioning the University for the coming five years. I will deal with each in the order listed and then offer some specific comments.

  1. By all indicators, we will have the largest enrollment in the history of the University, in part because of the economic down-turn and in part because of the growing attractiveness of the University and its programs. We will draw on the contingency funds to make certain that we have the faculty and staff to serve student needs. Provost Engstrom, the Academic Deans, and Vice President Branch have the situation well in hand and will receive the support they need to respond as necessary. Some problems will require temporary fixes until we can find long-term solutions, such as the apparent need for more student housing, staffing pressures, and space issues. More specifically, we must address the critical situation in the College of Technology caused by rising enrollments and limited space and resources. With facilities built in 1965 for 700 students, the College now has some 2,200 students and must have the resources to support those students. In addition, we will make every effort to assist students with financial obstacles so they can stay on track to graduate.
  2. For the last couple of years, we have remained at about $68 million in sponsored program expenditures, although we have moved up somewhat with indirect cost recoveries. For the most part, the economic conditions in the country have had a negative impact, and I commend the faculty for valiant attempts to sustain momentum. Nonetheless, we must redouble the effort because of the critical importance of the research and graduate education mission to the well-being of the campus and the State of Montana. Without external funds, we cannot possibly sustain the graduate programs we have worked hard to develop. I think something like $75 million a reasonable target for the coming year. To assist in this effort, Dean David Forbes and Regents’ Professor Paul Lauren have agreed to lead a task force to develop a strategic plan for research, scheduled for completion by the close of Fall Semester.
  3. The University came through the accreditation process with flying colors, thanks to the work of the Steering Committee chaired by Professor Jim Hirstein. In truth, the entire campus contributed to the successful outcome, and I want publicly to thank everyone. The Commission accepted the seven recommendations for improvement made by the Evaluation Team, noting that the University complied with all the standards and requirements, and requested a written response to those recommendations next Spring, after having learned that we have already begun to address the recommendations. In fact, we have developed responsive plans and will move to implement them by the end of the Academic Year. However, because you deserve to hear the Commission’s words of praise, I will quote directly from the accreditation letter we received on 5 August.

    The Commission commends the University’s faculty and staff for their dedication, energy, and commitment in providing a culture supportive not only of each other but also of the student body. Likewise, the Commission commends the University for its system and spirit of shared governance in which faculty, staff and students all have appropriate voices and influence. Moreover, the Commission applauds the University for the growth and quality of research and creative/scholarly activity of its faculty as their work has achieved national and international visibility for the University at large. Further, the Commission finds laudable the University’s extensive renovation and construction of new facilities over the past ten years. In addition, the Commission commends the University for its emphasis on the goal of ‘ensuring access for American Indians and fostering the preservation of their culture,’ which is manifested in multiple ways including the completion of an architecturally-significant building dedicated to American Indian studies, culture, and service; a robust Native American Studies program; and academic and outreach initiatives throughout the institution. The Commission further commends the University for bringing together the many disparate elements of information technology. Lastly, the Commission finds noteworthy the commitment of the Davidson Honors College to enhancing the student experience through an Honors curriculum, study abroad, service learning, guided application for prestigious scholarships, and undergraduate research.

  4. Because of economic conditions, we expect difficulty in securing any additional State appropriations. The legislators will search for ways to do the least harm in view of the slow recovery of State revenue. Predictions range from $200 to more than $400 million they will have to trim from current expenditures. Montana hardly stands alone in this regard, having fared much better than most other states. That fact provides little consolation as we seek to serve student needs while also assuring access and preserving quality. Most importantly, we must find a communication and advocacy strategy that informs the public and policy makers of our needs while also emphasizing our accountability to the people, State, and students. I will not participate in the Session itself, but I will work with others to develop and implement a strategy designed to achieve our goals, specifically gaining as much as possible from the State to support current services to enrolled students, a reasonable pay plan, and an adequate College of Technology facility.
  5. How we succeed in this effort will influence how we deal with the fifth challenge. We cannot expect the economic conditions to change much until at least 2015. The State will have limited funds to support the Montana University System despite the rising demand for access to higher education, a discouraging prospect because of the need to reclaim world leadership in the educational attainment of our citizens. But we must take a commitment and develop a plan to do our part toward the achievement of that objective. As I have said on other occasions, quoting Craig Barrett, former President of Intel, “You cannot win unless you choose to compete.” I will use the remainder of my Address to outline a strategy I think suitable to the challenge, the successful implementation of which will position the University well for the future.


While I commend this strategy for The University of Montana and the Montana University System, I hasten to add that not all the stakeholders have considered and endorsed it. In fact, they have not seen it. Discussions will unquestionably lead to some revisions and modifications. But we must start somewhere and then shape a strategy that meets the needs of the various stakeholder groups. I believe strongly that we must move forward in response to the challenge of our time, reclaiming world educational leadership. In collaboration with Superintendent Alex Apostle and the Missoula County Public Schools, the University has built the foundation for this effort in the Program for Student Success and Graduation Matters Missoula—likely to become Graduation Matters Montana in the near future.

Student Success provides the driver for the strategy, assuring critical support to students seeking certificates or degrees from the two-year to the advanced graduate level. To date, we have reallocated resources to enhance relevant services and programs and pursued “best practices” to generate savings we can commit to pressing needs.

Best Practices and Base Budget Reallocation Charts

The charts above present a detailed listing of the savings and reallocations to date, and we will have more to report in the coming years. So let’s begin. Keep in mind that a successful strategy will require collaboration with the policy makers and stakeholders, premising productivity and accountability in exchange for support, but always focused on student success.

  1. Incentives for Productivity and Accountability: We will seek agreements with the State policy makers, Regents, faculty, students, and others for this purpose.
    • The Regents plan to implement a new allocation methodology for the distribution of the State appropriations for the 2013 biennium that will 1) reward course completions rather than course enrollments; 2) take account of the different resource requirements for the various disciplines; 3) recognize and compensate for the fact that smaller campuses can never generate sufficient funds through course completions alone to cover the fixed and the variable costs of instruction; and 4) provide incentives for meeting specific annual campus retention and graduation goals. Full implementation of the methodology will require at least two biennia because it involves reallocation of State funds in response to course completions by enrolled resident students. Keep in mind that nonresident students pay the full costs of their education. This new methodology matches resource allocation with productivity, after accounting for the fixed costs of the smaller campuses, thus fulfilling a commitment by the Regents to State policy makers. In addition, the methodology requires attention on campus to student demand and fulfillment of mission and niche defined academically. Failure to achieve the productivity goals for the System as well as by campus results in reduced appropriations or allocations in future years.
    • The faculty and staff members have shouldered the increased burden of more students and enhanced efforts to assure student success without any compensation adjustments for four of the most recent six years. While we all understand the fiscal situation, most reasonable people also consider some recognition of need, competitiveness, and effort necessary. The Regents requested and received reports on the situation of all employee groups, but also have indicated a desire to base any compensation adjustments on productivity, equity, inversion and compression, and market factors. To that end, we will pursue an agreement with the State, Regents, and others to address these converging needs, seeking participation by all parties, including the State with an appropriation increment and the students with a tuition increase. A successful agreement will greatly enhance our student success efforts by recognizing the faculty and staff contributions.
    • For the last few years, The University of Montana has sought to alter its current admissions policy so as to assure that admitted students can and will do well in their academic pursuits. The new policy outlines a curriculum of study in high school that appropriately prepares young people for the academic rigor expected when they arrive on campus, but also alters the method of review and actual admission. Suffice it to say that this new policy, scheduled for implementation in Fall 2013, will contribute significantly to our student success effort. Nonetheless, we must develop, promulgate, and implement effective assessment processes to demonstrate its efficacy. Even with the new admissions policy, every Montana student seeking access to higher education will receive assistance to find the best possible campus fit for success, with avenues open for subsequent transfer after satisfactory performance. The State of Montana cannot afford less than that because of the need to develop its human resources.
    • Similarly, the University has consistently sought to maintain a tuition policy that balances equitably the needs and contributions of all student groups while also providing incentives for timely graduation. For the 2013 biennium, we will seek several changes in the tuition policy to further this effort. First, the University will request a Regental policy setting tuition for all graduate students who serve as teaching and research assistants at the resident level, regardless of their state of origin, as do nearly all other research universities in the country, recognizing their contributions as employees to the University and the State. Second, we will request a change in the reporting rules and regulations to define a full-time advanced graduate student (doctoral) as one admitted to advanced study and enrolled for at least 9 credits. Third, we will propose moving the so-called tuition flat spot for baccalaureate-seeking students from 12 credits to 9, after which the students pay no additional tuition; this change more equitably distributes the cost of delivering the instruction between full-time and part-time students; provides an incentive to the students to graduate on time by taking full loads; and, finally, prevents serious distortions reflective of the differences among the student groups by exempting from its effects all College of Technology and graduate students. Fourth, we will also seek agreement from the students for a reasonable tuition increase to 1) address the compensation issues of the faculty and staff and 2) assure the maintenance of quality and responsiveness in academic programs and student services.
    • In order to assure that people in Missoula and the western Montana area have access to the services provided by the College of Technology, we simply must find a way to construct an adequate facility. In exchange, the University will commit to allocating adequate resources to support the development of workforce training that begins with mentoring and work-shadowing for public school students, serve displaced workers in the area, assure dual enrollment, meet the educational needs of the Bitterroot Valley, deliver the training programs identified for the workforce of a new and different economy, and participate fully in distance delivery of programs through the Virtual Community College for Montana and the Montana Digital Academy.
  2. Engagement with the Public Schools: The United States cannot achieve the goal of reclaiming educational leadership without the active participation of the public schools.
    • To that end, The University of Montana and Montana State University have provided leadership for the Montana Math and Science Teacher Initiative designed to assure that Montana has the number and quality of math and science teachers required to respond to State needs. To date, the Initiative has gathered the proper stakeholders to establish and document the needs and during the coming year will develop and seek support for a responsive plan of action.
    • In Missoula, the University has collaborated actively with the Missoula public schools to plan and offer professional development academies geared to assist public school teachers and administrators to grow and mature as professionals, while also working for student success: Graduation Matters Missoula! We have collaborated to establish a P-20 Steering Committee charged to assist in the development and maintenance of an educational system responsive to the needs of the Missoula area in the 21st century.
    • At the State level, the University will participate in the ongoing work of the Office of Public Instruction to develop and implement common core curricular standards, to identify appropriate and effective assessment processes and methods to assure curricular alignment between the high schools and the colleges and universities, and to pilot and test evaluation processes that aid and assist teachers and administrators in the public schools to fulfill their responsibilities and assure student success: Graduation Matters Montana!
  3. Contributions to Montana Economic Development: Montana stands between sustainable economic systems, and has for some time, with the mining and timber industries much reduced by recent developments and in need of new alternatives.
    • The sponsored research programs of the University not only create good paying jobs in the State, thus providing opportunities for students and others in the surrounding community, but also generate the inventions and solutions to State problems and challenges that have the potential to nourish new economic opportunities. The University advanced graduates also contribute directly to the development of new businesses and industries by providing the intellectual capital required for that effort.
    • MonTEC, the business incubator established a decade ago by the University and the Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation, with the assistance of Senator Max Baucus, has great potential to host spinoff companies for the commercialization of inventions, technology, and processes developed by University researchers. The University will restructure and revitalize MonTEC during the coming months to enable it to fulfill its role and mission. In addition, the University will participate in the activities of Missoula Area Economic Development Corporation and Mayor John Engen's Best Place Project.
    • The University also participates actively with the two hospitals in Missoula and the Area Health Education Center housed on the campus to establish a primary care residency in Missoula to serve the healthcare industry in western Montana.
    • Because of the engagement of the students, faculty, and staff, combined with the leadership provided by Cherie Peacock and Vice President Bob Duringer, the University has made significant progress in its sustainability initiative. The Climate Action Plan, completed last year, has the goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. To make progress, we will focus on alternative sources of energy and a campus-wide educational program to change energy consumption behavior, while also implementing energy-saving renovations focused on windows, lights, controls, and related issues.
  4. Model “best practices” and implement technological changes: As a major source of funding for re-investment, “best practices” and the creative use of new technology have great potential, in addition to enhancing our accountability for the use of taxpayer and student funds.
    • As the displayed chart reveals, The University of Montana has realized millions for reallocation through re-engineering and re-invention of business processes on the Missoula campus. Nonetheless, much remains for implementation not only in Missoula but on the other three campuses.
    • In the mid-90s, the multi-campus University initiated the process of integrating central functions while assuring local services. As a result, The University of Montana campuses have benefitted from significant savings. The student modules of the BANNER integrated suite have remained separate because of connectivity problems. The completion of the Northern Tier Network – thanks to the excellent work of CIO Ray Ford -- makes the integration of the student modules feasible, and the University will finalize multi-campus integration during the coming year. As a direct result, people on the various campuses will realize enhanced services, as will the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, and with a considerable reduction in cost.
    • The Northern Tier Network, combined with the implementation of the Health Information Exchange of Montana, allows the needed connectivity for distance medicine and education. Within the next context, the Virtual Community College and Montana Digital Academy assure responsiveness to the educational needs of Montanans wherever they reside. In addition, distance-mediated medicine becomes possible and readily accessible, as does education in response to the special needs of the health care professionals wherever located in the State.
    • Finally, Director Lucy France and the Diversity Advisory Council have revised the campus Diversity Plan for consideration during the coming year. This revision will provide guidance, establish a process for facilitating the annual diversity reports required by the Regents and other external entities, and help to assure that the University serves all the people of Montana.


Before I close, I will take the opportunity to comment about an impending change in the Division of Continuing Education and Summer Session. Dean Sharon Alexander has announced her retirement at the close of this calendar year, and the Provost has launched a search for a new Dean. Dean Alexander has served the University well for two decades and deserves great credit for a number of developments. I personally believe that the Montana Lifelong Learning Institute, funded in part with an endowment provided by the Osher Foundation in recognition of the successful program developed by Dean Alexander, will serve this University well over the coming years.

I will close by thanking you for your commitment and fine work, and for your attention to these priority issues over the coming year. In my view, The University of Montana stands well positioned for the challenges ahead and will certainly prosper because of your continued efforts. I have absolutely no doubt that you will rise to the occasion as you have in prior years. I also believe that you will ultimately receive the recognition and reward appropriate to your dedication and hard work. Recognizing this as my last State of the University Address, I want you to know that I regard it as a high honor and privilege to have had the opportunity to return to UM after nearly thirty years and reciprocate in some small way for all that I received. The University of Montana gave Jane and me a fine start, and now also witnesses the close of a wonderful career. I wish you all the best.

Have a great year. Thank you.