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State of the University 1997 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
President
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
29 August 1997


Good morning and welcome for another year. We begin this year as we have others -- not entirely confident about enrollments, quite certain that the budget will press us severely, but nonetheless ready and eager to respond to the challenge of preparing the students to become active and productive citizens in an increasingly global and interdependent world. What a challenge! Responding appropriately will require that we attend closely to the needs of these students who will live their lives in a world radically different from the one most of us knew at their age. We must also expect that these students will in all likelihood excel anything we have accomplished, which underscores our responsibility to educate them well. That has always seemed to me at once the awesome burden and the exquisite joy of life in academe. Whatever else changes -- the specifics of the curriculum, the pedagogy, the medium of delivery, the setting -- that ultimate responsibility remains the magnet that attracts talented people to the profession and holds them. Each year at this time, we gather to renew our commitment.

INTRODUCTIONS

As has become customary, I will take a few moments to introduce new members of the University's administrative team, or those persons who have assumed new administrative roles. Will those introduced please stand for the introduction.

  • T. Lloyd Chesnut, Vice President for Research and Development:

Dr. Chesnut joins us from Ohio University where he held the post of Vice President for Research for a number of years. He arrived on campus early this month and has not missed a beat. I want also to commend the staff in the Office of Sponsored Programs for outstanding work last year while we conducted the search.

  • Barbara Hollmann, Vice President for Student Affairs:

Most people on campus know Dr. Hollmann from her many years of service as Associate Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and then Dean of Students. It has become increasingly apparent during the last few years that her role on this campus goes far beyond that typically associated with a Dean of Students. In recognition of her responsibilities, I have asked her to help us identify more effective ways to fulfill our obligations to students.

  • Rosi Keller, Associate Vice President for Administration and Finance:

Rosi Keller has served this University well as Director of Business Services. She has an earned reputation as an astute and insightful fiscal professional. Others know her talents and have tried to entice her to leave us. However, she has agreed to assume this new responsibility and apply her expertise in a larger sphere.

  • Jim Taylor, Interim Director of Business Services:

Jim Taylor joined the staff in Administration and Finance when the Vocational-Technical Center became the College of Technology. He served initially as Assistant to the Vice President for Administration and Finance and guided the Benchmarking Teams that produced such excellent recommendations as the creation of Griz Central, the one-stop center for students.

  • Sylvia Weisenburger, University Liaison to Montana PRRIME:

Most of you know Sylvia Weisenburger's fine work for the University. When we received the request to assign a person full-time to the multi-year project to recommend new administrative systems for the State, her name headed the list of possible appointees because of her knowledge of the University. She will return to the Budget Office in the summer of 1999.

  • Jane Fisher, Director of The Center at Salmon Lake:

Jane Fisher joined us in late spring to provide direction to The Center at Salmon Lake and she has moved energetically to put The University of Montana on the conference center map. She came to us from a similar position in Reno with the University of Nevada, and her knowledge, skill, and experience will serve us well.

  • Peggy Schalk, Interim Director of the Budget Office:

Peggy Schalk has served the University in a number of different capacities, initially in the Budget Office and then as Assistant to the Dean of the College of Technology. She has agreed to accept appointment as Interim Director of the Budget Office on 1 October when Sylvia Weisenburger departs for her new assignment.

  • Jim Foley, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations:

A native of Helena and former Chief of Staff and Director of Legislative Relations for Congressman Pat Williams, Jim Foley brings broad experience and wonderful contacts to his new role with The University of Montana Foundation. We have already seen evidence of his effectiveness and anticipate much more.

  • Rita Munzenrider, Assistant Director for News, University Communications:

Because of her background as a member of the working press, and her talent for interacting with people, Rita Munzenrider has the credentials to help us immensely in our efforts to enhance and increase the public image of the University. In fact, she has already made a difference, with publications such as Main Hall to Main Street.

  • Arnold Sherman, Director of the Montana World Trade Center:

Arnold Sherman came to the University from the private sector where he had broad experience in the international arena. He brings this background to his new role as Director of a Center charged to provide assistance to Montana businesses accepting the challenge of globalism.

  • William Schwanke, Director of Development, Intercollegiate Athletics:

From his time as the "Voice of the Griz," Bill Schwanke has provided extraordinary service to The University of Montana. Now he has us on the right track to assure the continuation of private support for our athletic program.

STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS

During the last few years, we have relied upon a financing plan developed to support the collaborative bargaining agreement with the faculty in 1994 to keep us on track. In addition, since 1992 the information technology plan has helped position the University to benefit from the new technologies. Finally, we have pursued quite aggressively an agenda to create and maintain an environment supportive of faculty and student achievement within the University. I think these strategic directions served the University and its constituents in an increasingly competitive environment. However, the time has come for us to reassess the challenges and opportunities and systematically chart the course into the next millennium.

To that end, we will engage a strategic planning process during the coming year to envision the future we want for the University and develop strategies to realize it. It seems indisputable that the college or university failing to plan its future will find itself condemned to suffer a future imposed upon it. While we cannot control all the externalities that affect us, we stand a much better chance of succeeding if we do all we can to help ourselves. Folk wisdom has it that you have to know where you want to go in order to recognize when you get there. Unless we chart the way carefully, we will perhaps confirm Gertrude Stein's observation that "There is no there there."

As we launch this process, we must start from a full understanding of all that has changed in recent years. Because of the restructuring of the Montana University System in 1994, The University of Montana has become a very different institution, taking on new dimensions and attributes. Over the interim, we sought to articulate the vision of a single University with several unique campuses as we learned to function in a new environment. In some respects, very little changed, or so it seemed. But in other important ways, a great deal changed, as we found when we tried to fulfill our responsibilities. Many people have shouldered additional or significantly altered assignments as the new University took shape. Despite our best attempts to do so, however, we have not yet analyzed and defined all the relationships and responsibilities attendant to the multi-campus University of Montana.

In addition, we have just begun to glimpse the implications of the impact of new technology on administrative procedures and processes. The review of administrative functions and the several benchmarking studies we have conducted have alerted us to the promise and the potential, but we must assess the possibilities comprehensively. We have learned enough to recognize that the technology can enlarge our capacity to deliver service and perform essential functions if we can manage its costs and prepare for its introduction. Making the transition will require carefully planning and coordination.

The University's administrative team arrived at the conclusion this summer, after extensive discussion, that we must plan and implement the next logical step in restructuring the University. In plain words, we must explore how we can become a single University with a presence in several communities, and how we can take full advantage of new technologies. Subsequently, I received a mandate from the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Regents to begin to integrate administrative functions within The University of Montana while also respecting campus identities. In my view, we will accomplish the latter only if we succeed in the former. It makes little sense to integrate administrative functions if, as a result, the University becomes less responsive, less efficient, less effective, more bureaucratic, and dysfunctional. But if we invent and implement new ways to perform administrative functions and deliver needed services without regard to location, than we will have discovered the means to become a single University with a presence in several communities.

I have charged a number of task forces to begin the planning process in the next few weeks. To do so, the task force members -- representatives of the faculty, staff, and students of all the campuses -- will not confine themselves to rooms somewhere and try to imagine what we need. Instead they will conduct comprehensive research to analyze the issues and identify best practices, and then visit other University campuses to see what actually does and does not work. In addition, we will ask expert consultants to give us the benefit of their insights and the guidance to avoid the inevitable pitfalls. We cannot guarantee the outcome, but we can and will go into this process with our minds open to new ideas and directions, and a firm determination to do the best we can to succeed.

Once the task forces have formulated progress reports and tentative recommendations, we will share those broadly on and off the campuses. We will conduct an open, deliberative, and consultative process that affords everyone the opportunity to participate. Moreover, we will consider any proposed policy, policy revision, or other recommendation through the established processes of University governance. We must do so or we will jeopardize any chance of success in our response to arguably the most profound challenge confronting higher education in our time, an effort that will test our collective abilities. In this instance, I believe we can truthfully say that we will have to reinvent the University in order to succeed.

But why do this? Why run the high risk of failure when we can settle for business as usual? I think the answer quite simple. The external environment has changed so much in the last decade that those colleges and universities that try to preserve business as usual will find themselves an endangered specie. Moreover, the pervasive changes also open new opportunities to us. Finally, we must find ways to respond more effectively to identified needs in the State. I personally prefer to seize control of our future and make it the best we can. I think you agree, and I urge you to help shape the desired future for the University.

Let me close on this topic by admitting candidly that I do not know how best to accomplish the goal of becoming one University with a presence in several communities. However, I have great confidence in our collective capacity when we work collaboratively toward a commonly accepted goal. We do not enter this planning process with preordained conclusions. We have only a concept or a vision to guide us. The task forces will develop the means to transform the vision into reality. As we begin, we must remain ever mindful of Kenneth Burke's admonition to guard against "the bureaucratization of the imagination." With that phrase, he warned of the consequences of failing to attend to the human dimensions of any new project. The vast majority of our problems today derive from excessive bureaucracy. I pledge to reject any recommendation that increases rather than decreases the bureaucracy.

QUALITY OF WORKLIFE AND THE UNIVERSITY DEVELOPMENT PLAN

In my address last year, I commented in some detail on the Quality of Worklife Task Force Report and pledged to develop appropriate responses to the findings. During Spring Semester, we implemented several initiatives that reflected the recommendations of the Task Force. For example, we conducted a series of workshops and held the first Staff Appreciation Day. During the year, I met with nearly every conceivable group to discuss the issues and solicit guidance and counsel. In addition, I worked with the Quality of Worklife Steering Committee and the Executive Officers to revise several times the University Development Plan as a response to the Report. While not everyone views the University Development Plan in the same light, it has my full commitment.

What does that mean? When I make that commitment, I envision an effort that will allow us to focus sharply upon the challenges before us as a relatively complex organization with a critical mission to perform for the benefit of the society that provides a portion, albeit a declining portion, of our support. As an organization, we must confront the same challenges that have plagued other institutions and organizations because conditions have changed in modern society. No organization enjoys the level of funding today that enables it to continue operating as it has in the past. Every relatively large organization has difficulties with communication, internal and external, some more than others. And every organization that has prospered under emergent conditions has introduced technology and substantially altered how it conducts its affairs, thereby enhancing the productivity and effectiveness of its most valuable resources, the people who constitute it.

I have the following considerations in mind when I state my commitment.

  • First, I believe we need a guided discussion across the campus focused upon the challenges public higher education must confront and overcome to fulfill its mandate, taking account of the strategies that other institutions have used to deal with these challenges. We also must reaffirm our commitment to the mission of the University, generating as much understanding as possible of that mission, its importance to society, and the contributions each of us must make to assure its realization.
  • Second, we must find ways to communicate more effectively with each other to engender a broader understanding of our individual dilemmas and contributions. That educational effort will require more than one or two seminars, and will also involve a willingness to walk in the other person's shoes, literally or figuratively.
  • Third, we must persist in the ongoing task of redesigning or reengineering the processes, procedures, and methods we use to provide responsive services and perform essential functions so as to derive the full advantage of all that new technology can offer. As mentioned earlier, we have only begun to appreciate what we can accomplish by reconceptualizing how we conduct our affairs and how we make the best possible use of our resources and the talented people who constitute the University.

On the other hand, my commitment in no way denigrates all that we have accomplished by way of great effort and sacrifice over the past seven years. It does not mean that we will no longer pursue an agenda to develop the University as a research-oriented, doctoral-granting institution. It obviously does not mean that we can forego the search to identify ways to become more productive, more efficient, and more effective. Finally, it does not mean that dedication and diligence no longer count for much in the University's reward system.

My commitment reflects my view that the University Development Plan offers the means to identify and refine the strategies that will enable us collectively and collaboratively to accomplish the mission of the University. We must all share an understanding of that mission and the means to fulfill it. We must all recognize that resources will remain scarce, and that we will have to find new ways to use those resources as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can. Further, we must create the conditions to allow the fullest development of the human talent that constitutes the University.

In my view, the Plan meshes well with the strategic planning process we will undertake simultaneously. That should surprise no one, for success in the latter virtually presupposes the former. Because I believe that the Plan has the potential to energize the entire campus, I urge your participation. We cannot succeed unless we collaborate toward the achievement of our common goals.

THE AGENDA FOR THE YEAR AHEAD

As my comments make clear, we have a full agenda for the year. However, we also have some more immediate tasks to attend or complete. Let me list them briefly.

We have initiated the collaborative process to renew the bargaining agreement with the faculty for two more years. Those at the table have found common ground on virtually all of the issues, and I anticipate that we will make the improvements necessary to produce an agreement meeting the needs of all the stakeholders. This innovative experiment with a new approach to bargaining has worked well. I believe that we can make it work even better in the future.

Vice President Jim Todd has announced his decision to retire at the close of this fiscal year, and we will have to search for a successor. The search committee will include representatives from all four campuses of the University. I regret that I have not succeeded in persuading him to remain. For six years, we have relied upon his vast knowledge and keen insight to keep us on track. Those who have worked with him know the breadth of his experience, the integrity of his abiding faith in the necessity to collaborate, and the strength of his commitment to this University. We will never find anyone as well suited for the pivotal role he has in Montana. His influence permeates the Montana University System, and we will all lose with his departure.

I have indicated my intention to establish a planning function for the multi-campus University through some administrative restructuring. In its simplest form, that will require bringing together into one organization the Budget Office, Institutional Research, and the planning components of Facilities Services. Under the supervision of a Director of Planning, this new organization will provide staff support for institutional planning. We must work out the details during the coming year, since we clearly have great need for this kind of assistance.

The Provost launched a series of initiatives in graduate education last year to assure that The University of Montana reclaims its status as a Graduate I institution as quickly as possible. The response across the campus has encouraged me to conclude that we will attain the goal within a year or two. I appreciate all that you have done to date, and urge you to renew your commitment.

In my address last year, I discussed the need to develop the capacity for enrollment management and proposed some administrative restructuring toward that end. However, most of those who commented about the proposal urged against its implementation. They called for a different approach based upon closer collaboration between Academic and Student Affairs, but without the restructuring. Upon reflection, I accepted that counsel and charged the Provost and the Vice President for Student Affairs to develop collaborative plans for enrollment management, student counseling and advising, and student retention. The Provost has appointed a Director of Advising who will work with the faculty and Student Affairs personnel in pursuit of these objectives. In addition, we will complete Griz Central -- the student one-stop center -- by late Spring, and implement a Web-based communication system to facilitate access from any location on or off campus.

I urge the faculty to complete the redesign of our General Education Program begun last year. Defining the competencies and understandings characteristic of an educated person ranks as one of the most critical tasks before us. Because of the rightful concern within the society at large about the state of education, we have no choice but to demonstrate our commitment to quality. The competencies and understandings needed for the 21st century may not differ from those Henry Adams sought but never found in the 19th century to aid him in the 20th. I will venture the opinion that we must redefine them for relevance, just as Adams urged at the dawn of the 20thcentury.

In addition, we must seize the moment to elaborate the most appropriate uses of information technology in the educational process, for students on and off the campus. If we continue to bifurcate our efforts, separating the distance learner from the traditional learner, we will miss a wonderful opportunity. If this technological revolution has any reality, it amounts to much more than a virtual reality. Our focus must remain sharply fixed upon enhancing the quality of all instruction, without regard to the location of the learner.

We have experimented on the margins with service learning as a valuable component of undergraduate education. Those who have the most experience with service learning argue that it enhances education only if viewed as central to the learning process. Therefore, the faculty members who design and deliver the courses must accept it and integrate it into the curricular design or it will remain marginal. I believe it has great potential and I urge serious consideration of it where appropriate.

Finally, I reaffirm my conviction that we must do more to prepare our students for life in an increasingly global society. Some have referred to the internationalization of the curriculum. I confess that I do not know what that means. However, I do know that the quality of the education we provide derives directly from the diversity of the student population and the curriculum. Our students need the opportunity to experience another culture directly, either through interaction with international students who come to Montana to study or by studying abroad. I proposed some years ago a semester-abroad requirement for graduation. I continue to support such a requirement, and urge consideration of it.

CONCLUSION

I will close by expressing my appreciation for all that you have made possible on this campus. Together, we have accomplished a great deal. Because of the strength, quality, and responsiveness of our academic programs, we continue to attract students in healthy numbers. We have made progress toward improving faculty salaries and taken a short but very important step in the right direction with regard to staff salaries. We have completed or in progress roughly $100,000,000 in construction on campus, with the overwhelming majority of it focused upon academic needs. In October, we will celebrate our success in the largest capital campaign to benefit higher education ever conducted in the State of Montana. Our funded research program provides ever greater support for research and graduate education. We benefit immensely from the willingness of the faculty, staff, and administration to find ways to collaborate and cooperate. We have indeed made progress, and we have good reason to start the year with a sense of optimism.

But the challenge begins anew every year. We cannot rest on our laurels. We must persevere in pursuit of the excellence we all desire for the University and its programs. I will do all I can to assist you in this noble undertaking, and I know I can count on each of you to do your best.

Thank you for your commitment and your support.