State of the University 1998 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
28 August 1998

Good morning, with an especially warm greeting to the new members of the faculty and staff! We applaud your decision to join us, and we anticipate that you will make a difference within a short time. Do not hesitate to call on any of us to do whatever we can to smooth the transition for you. We understand that we gain in direct proportion to your becoming productive as soon as possible.

This event that opens each year affords a special opportunity to me. First, I have the chance to introduce new members of the administrative team. Second, I can express publicly my appreciation for the accomplishments of the prior year. And, third, I can briefly sketch the challenges before us. I will proceed in that order.


  • V. Scott Cole, Vice President for Administration and Finance:

Most recently from Arizona State University, Scott Cole brings to campus the experience and background necessary to keep us on track, especially his expertise in strategic planning. In harness since Monday, he has already become a familiar figure. Some of us appreciate even more that he brought his daughter with him as a new student.

  • Fred Lee, Chief Executive Officer of The University of Montana Foundation:

Although not yet with us-he arrives tomorrow-and technically not a University officer, Fred Lee has the expertise and drive to help propel the University to the next level in private fund-raising. He served most recently as Vice President for Advancement with the University of Alabama in Birmingham. I know you will join me in welcoming him and his family to Montana.

  • Claire Carlson, Assistant Vice President for Research:

Ms. Carlson previously served as Director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Ohio University. As the Search Committee concluded, she comes to us well prepared to help us administer research funding. We will derive incidental benefits from her earlier working relationship with Vice President Chesnut.

  • Michael D. Heuring, Director, Office of Career Services:

Mr. Heuring served as Assistant Director of University Career and Employment Services at the University of Kansas since 1992. He has the kind of background and experience we need, with special expertise in the use of technology in career services. He will arrive on campus in early September, just in time to help us plan new and enhanced services for students.

  • Mark Peters, Director, Export Assistance Center and Office of the Commercial Service of the U. S. Department of Commerce:

As a federal officer housed on the campus, Mr. Peters will work closely with Arnold Sherman and the staff of the Montana World Trade Center. He has five years of experience providing export counseling and services to companies in the West. Bringing this expertise to Montana represents one more of our efforts to serve the State in global competition.

  • John T. Weyhrich, Director, Laboratory Animal Resources:

Dr. Weyrich previously served as Senior Veterinarian at the Washington Regional Primate Research Center in Seattle. He will hit the ground running and get us on track with this critical program. In recent years, we have come to realize the importance of this service to the research community.


Last year at this time, we launched the strategic planning process to develop the agenda for the next five years. That process engaged some 180 faculty and staff from the four campuses of The University of Montana, and resulted in seven quite substantial reports. The Task Forces collected information-with representatives of several actually visiting other campuses-to identify best practices and develop recommended strategies. The Steering Committee and I aggregated and synthesized these reports into a relatively brief statement of Strategic Directions for The University of Montana. In doing so, we sought to identify the direction of travel for the institution without prescribing the details or the exact time schedule. I will not discuss the document this morning, but I urge each of you to secure a copy and to review it carefully. In my view, whether we want to or not, we must deal with the items listed. If we take action at our own initiative, we can control the outcome to a far greater extent than if we allow external agencies to seize the agenda.

During the next few months, I believe that we can reach agreement after thorough discussion of the critical issues before us. In doing so, we can strategically position the University for the next century and propel the restructuring effort into its next phase through greater collaboration and cooperation. When I announced the strategic planning process last year, I made a commitment to reject any recommendation that extended or deepened the bureaucracy. I enthusiastically reaffirm that commitment. As we seek to develop a single University with a presence in several communities, while simultaneously respecting the unique identities of each of the campuses, we must avoid additional layers of bureaucracy. One of the Task Forces urged us to provide for the functions that enable the University to serve its constituents by effectively and efficiently delivering services where and when people need them. If we remain focused on this goal, we will emphasize actual programs and services, and not the management of either programs or people. And, if we succeed, I think we will invent a University that functions very differently from most others. That strikes me as a challenge worthy of the effort.

You have undoubtedly received the report compiled recently within the several functional areas concerning the savings, efficiencies, economies, and enhancements that have resulted from restructuring the Montana University System. If you have not yet reviewed it, by all means do so. The record shows that we have achieved savings and efficiencies and provided enhanced services with a value of more than $11 million. While that total arouses everyone's skeptical attention, I have reviewed it carefully and have full faith in its integrity.

The report demonstrates convincingly the benefits of restructuring to all the stakeholders. Certainly critics can and will attack the report from a variety of perspectives. For example, the representatives of SCT, the vendor of the BANNER software we have implemented to resolve the 2000 problem, calculated that the University saved $3.3 million because of the multicampus implementation over an extended period. Some will argue that the smaller campuses would never have made an investment that large on their own, but would have settled for much less responsive and expensive systems. While I concede the point, I submit that all four campuses have a much better system because we acted in a timely way as a single University rather than making individual campus acquisitions.

We have solid evidence supporting some actual dollar savings as well. Together, the four campuses saved millions by issuing revenue bonds as a single University rather than individually. Moreover, the smaller campuses could not have issued revenue bonds to resolve their structural needs and thus would not have realized the resultant facility enhancements, except as part of the multicampus University. Finally, the ongoing effort to integrate the four libraries into one for the University alone, in my opinion, will produce benefits sufficient to warrant the changes that have occurred through restructuring.

Let me list for you some of the other accomplishments of the last year. While we have much yet to do, we have:

  • Negotiated an agreement with the faculty covering the last two years of the "Four Plus Two Plan."
  • Completed a gender equity salary process for faculty.
  • Initiated a review of faculty appointment procedures to assure fair treatment and establish a solid foundation for academic programs.
  • Provided at least symbolic recognition of staff needs with the bonus program, the freeze on the cost of parking permits for staff, and the professional development program for staff.
  • Earned interest above our budget requirement by investing tuition revenue and dedicated the funds to the Montana Tuition Assistance Program to provide scholarships of $500 for 200 Montanans enrolled at The University of Montana campuses this year.
  • Achieved a new enrollment record.
  • Improved our retention and graduation rates.
  • Increased the student credit-carrying load, which shows we have enhanced access to classes.
  • Made good progress in implementing the SCT BANNER suite of integrated systems.
  • Completed the cabling project to connect all buildings to the campus backbone.
  • Achieved another record level of funded research, although at a reduced rate of increase.
  • Secured funding for seven additional facility projects on the campus.
  • Initiated an effort through The University of Montana Foundation to raise the institutional endowment to $100 million; and
  • Finished the year with a balanced budget despite lower enrollments than projected and unexpected contingencies, thanks to the cooperation of the faculty, contract professionals, and administrators in foregoing equipment funds and part of the annual salary increases.

I believe the record shows we had a good year, despite some persistent and plaguing problems. You-the faculty, staff, and administrators-made it happen, and I commend you.


So much for the past. What of the future? You can infer a great deal from my earlier comments. Quite clearly, we have an ambitious agenda in the Strategic Directions. Engaging those issues and achieving resolution will require much of our time and attention. I will talk about some of these issues in other contexts as I outline this year's challenges.

  • The campaign to renew the Six-Mill Levy for the support of higher education demands our attention. That Levy will provide upwards of $140 million to the University System over ten years and The University of Montana gets roughly half that amount. It behooves us to donate to the campaign, to speak out, and to vote for it.
  • During the coming year, we must conduct the self study required for our institutional accreditation visit in 2000. Dean Gerry Fetz will lead the effort, but we need broad involvement to succeed. Among other things, we must demonstrate that we have an operational outcomes assessment process and that we use the results for program planning and enhancement. I understand that many people continue to harbor doubts about proficiency-based admissions and graduation, and I applaud constructive criticism. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that failure to implement an assessment process of our own devising will result in a withholding of accreditation and the imposition of such a process by an external authority. I hope you agree that we need to retain control of the process to assure its responsiveness to our educational aspirations.
  • We must prepare for a legislative session likely to differ from those in the recent past. I say that for several reasons. First, this session marks the implementation of term limits, which means that a great number of people on both sides of the aisle will not return. I believe that many of them will want to leave a legacy, and we have the chance to persuade them that an investment in higher education will make a great difference for Montana's most valuable resource, its people.

In addition, recent demographic studies reveal that prison populations will not grow as fast as projected a few years ago. As a result, the policy makers will have greater discretion when they decide how to appropriate funds. We must seize the occasion to make our case.

Finally, the public concern about the impact of tuition increases upon access to higher education has registered. National and regional studies reinforce each other on two salient points. Tuition has increased faster than the rate of inflation, but state appropriations have lagged. We must emphasize the direct and causal relationship between those two points. To maintain the quality of the education, we cannot ignore costs! We can do everything possible to control costs, but we must pay adequate salaries to retain good people, acquire modern equipment and technology, maintain facilities appropriate to our educational programs, and provide for faculty and staff the working environments enabling them to sustain their productivity. Anything less will not do.

It follows that we can control tuition increases and still serve the people of Montana only if we persuade the policy makers that an increased appropriation for higher education represents an investment in the future as well as a present expenditure. The studies show that our society will have to pay more than seven dollars in the future to deal with the problems created by refusing to invest one dollar in education today. It makes good social and economic sense to invest in our young people rather than to try to reform or to incarcerate them later.

We have essentially two sources of revenue to fund our educational programs: State appropriations and tuition. If State appropriations fail to keep pace, we can reduce enrollments or increase tuition. We must do one or the other, or both, to protect the quality of the education. We have relied on tuition during the last few years, and the students have accepted the burden. No one wants to restrict access. The time has come to restore the balance between State appropriations and tuition.

The Regents have identified an increased appropriation per student as the highest priority in the budget request. To make up for the relatively modest appropriations of the last few years will require a sustained commitment over several years. We must work with the policy makers to achieve that goal. That means we must do our part by focusing even more closely on efficiencies, economies, and cost containment, and by eliciting support on a matching basis from the private sector. Together and in collaboration, we can maintain quality while assuring access at an affordable cost.

The Regents have also identified additional State-supported financial aid for Montana students as a critical investment. Other states have followed the example of Georgia with scholarship programs having rather high performance expectations of student recipients. Montana students have the ability, drive, and work ethic to do well if we give them the chance and expect a great deal of them. They welcome the challenge.

  • In the next few weeks we will intensify our collaborative negotiations to reach an agreement with the faculty for two, perhaps four, prospective years. Discussions have continued through the summer as we seek an outcome that benefits all the stakeholders. I remain confident we can achieve the goal.

We also have to implement a strategy to address the serious plight of the staff. For several years, the increases provided to staff have not kept pace with inflation, cost increases to them for health insurance and other services, and with salaries in the private sector. The University System has taken a commitment to put this issue high on the priority list. While few will try to predict the outcome, no one should doubt our commitment.

  • In each of the last few years, I have urged the faculty to develop the curricular means to assure that we educate our graduates for meaningful lives in the global society of the 21st century. In a recent report, the Carnegie Foundation described American students and faculty as the most parochial in the world. We must change that unfortunate fact. Certainly, creative minds can devise a variety of ways to achieve the goal. I personally believe that a semester or partial semester abroad for students and faculty works best, but I do not question the validity of other approaches. I pose this challenge again to the faculty because of its importance to the future of our country.
  • Because of our mission in graduate education and research, we must remain ever mindful of this critical area. I want to commend the Provost, Deans, and faculty for the successful effort to raise the number of doctorates awarded annually above the threshold of forty required for Doctoral I designation. We must now sustain that level. At the same time, we cannot allow the funded research volume to lag. The volume increased by about two percent last year, a rate of increase lower than we have seen in eight years! We must renew the effort and regain the ground we have lost. I challenge the faculty to attain $35 million in funded research by 2000-an increase of roughly forty percent. With the distinguished researchers present on this campus, I have no doubt you will meet the challenge.
  • Finally, I think the time has come for us to address all those issues we think about when we consider the institutional mission, image, and aspirations. We have an aspirational statement emphasizing our role in the State, region, and nation as a "public Ivy." Use of that appellation has stirred some concern among various groups. Some have accused us of elitism, while others have warned of the consequences of signalling tuition levels associated with Ivy League schools. While we intended to indicate our commitment to quality and our expectation of learner productivity as well as faculty, staff, and administrator productivity, I doubt that any of us meant to suggest radical tuition increases. However, I submit that we did use the term to indicate our determination to sustain an environment conducive to learning and achievement by all willing to accept the regimen. If that defines elitism, then I stand fully in favor!

I mention all of this because I believe we have yet to explain fully and clearly what we intend to those willing to support us. In all likelihood, we do not yet have consensus on campus. We need to review our statement and develop the rationale that makes the case. Then we need a marketing campaign designed to make certain that our supporters and prospective students understand what we intend.

Image includes all those aspects and attributes that set us apart as an institution. Fully developed, the image must mirror the reality of the campus while also refracting our aspirations. We constantly pursue excellence even if we never fully achieve it. If we did, what then? I prefer to seek improvement, since we can always do better.

An attribute of our image that does not receive the attention on campus that it attracts in the larger community results from a successful and academically sound athletic program. We have come to take for granted the performances of our student athletes and coaches who give a great deal of themselves to enhance the image of the University. We cannot continue to benefit from this successful program and yet fail to support it. Virtually all analysts agree that The University of Montana has the most efficient athletic program of any Division I-AA school in the country. That means we rely less on State support than other institutions. I think we can count on our program to continue to lend lustre to the University, but we must also support it. Two examples of need come to mind.

  • Student athletes do not have priority registration despite the time constraints their practice and competition impose upon them. I think we need to address that inequity and will ask the Provost to initiate discussions.
  • Because of the renovation of Harry Adams Events Center, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will not have the associated revenue stream this year that has supported it in the past and will again in the future. We must identify ways to help during the interim. That will prove difficult and will undoubtedly generate some controversy. However, fairness requires it.

In general, I think it time to develop and implement a marketing plan that will enable us to achieve our aspirations. Let me say that I do not view marketing either as a panacea or as a waste. Rather, I view it as the means to inform our constituents and stakeholders so they can support us in our mission and aspirations. A successful marketing strategy will cost money, as do all worthwhile undertakings. I pledge to make certain we receive appropriate benefits for all costs incurred.

If we come together in collaboration to support these initiatives during the coming year, we will assure the future of the University. At the same time, we cannot relax our ongoing vigilance to deliver needed programs and services and contribute to knowledge. I have the confidence inspired by eight rewarding years that this faculty and staff will meet the challenge. So I leave you this morning with wishes for a good year and my pledge to do all I can to assist.

Thank you.