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State of the University 1999 - The University of Montana

George M. Dennison
President
The University of Montana

Missoula, Montana
27 August 1999


Good morning. Once again we come together in the familiar routine of beginning a new year. This year will mark a decade for me as President of my alma mater, an honor far beyond my wildest dreams when I graduated some 37 years ago. When asked, I made it clear to all that I eagerly anticipated the life of a faculty member - reading, writing, teaching, and talking endlessly about topics that captured and held the imagination. To this day I remain convinced that none can compare to the life of a faculty member. No other profession compensates the practitioner for self-indulgence while also serving the public interest. Most faculty members enjoy the luxury of doing precisely what they want most to do. The aspects of the profession that assure this result derive from the sheer joy of discovery and the continuous interaction with bright people, young and not so young, curious enough about themselves and their world to generate excitement. And each year brings new challenges and opportunities.

I have the pleasure this morning of welcoming our newest colleagues to the campus and our community. I want also to congratulate those members of the faculty who have earned tenure and promotion during the last year. These marks of distinction do not come easily, and they deserve public recognition when attained. In the past, we did not do enough, in my opinion, to celebrate with our colleagues their accomplishments. This year we have rectified that as we reinstitute a practice common in European universities. Through this tradition, we communally celebrate the life of the mind as exemplified by our colleagues.

INTRODUCTIONS

As each year, we also have some new members of the administrative team you will want to get to know. I ask each to stand as I read their names and remain standing until we can recognize the group.

Jon A. 'Tony' Rudbach, has accepted the position of Director of Technology Transfer. In this role, Tony coordinates all patents and commercialization of intellectual property for the University. He also oversees technology transfer activities and monitors compliance with federal, State, and local statutes and regulations.

John Kuglin accepted the challenge of Interim Associate Vice President for Research for Information Technology. He will have administrative oversight of information technology, develop an online learning community that will serve students both on and off campus as the University extends it reach into the global marketplace, and maintain a leadership role in the Earth Orbiting Satellite Education Project. With assistance and guidance from the Information Technology Council and the new advisory committees, John will strive to coordinate information services for the benefit of the entire University.

Dean McGovern, currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Leadership, has accepted appointment as Executive Director of The Montana Campus Compact, replacing Ryan Knee who resigned to accept an appointment in the Department of Social Work. The Compact originated in Montana on this campus, and the headquarters will remain here. Dean will have the challenge of finding more ways to involve faculty and students in the work of the Compact.

CHALLENGE FOR THE YEAR

This year differs from all others we have known because it will bring with it the dawn of a new millennium. On such an auspicious occasion, it behooves us to take stock of whence we have come and where we aspire to go. This University had its beginning during the period when an earlier generation of Americans successfully invented the social institutions that have served the country so well during the last hundred years. As Robert Putnam has observed in his earlier article and recent book entitled Bowling Alone, these institutions have atrophied during the last fifty years. Using a series of indices related to club memberships, volunteering, voting patterns, philanthropy, and even family dining behavior, Putnam argues that we Americans have virtually depleted our stock of social capital, which he defined as the glue that holds us together as a society and a country. While not without controversy, the Putnam thesis deserves our collective attention as we launch a new century of American life.

If Putnam has it even partly right, then I think he also has correctly identified a model for us to follow as we seek to address the challenge before us. The earlier generation that invented the institutions now in decline acted from the concern that the society they knew seemed out of control and about to disintegrate. They came together in an amazing display of creativity to shape the social, professional, political, and community associations that proliferated and flourished during the early part of this century. These institutions nourished an ethic of involvement and service, institutions such as the PTAs, Boy and Girl Scouts, NAACP, Rotary, Lions, Elks, and other animals, professional associations that served the public while also assisting professionals, the CCC and WPA during the Depression, the waves of citizen volunteers during the great world wars, the Peace Corps, VISTA, and many other examples. The country and all its communities benefited from this citizen involvement. Putnam observed from his research that only the generation currently passing from the scene continues to respond to the ethic of service. The more recent generations attend more to the personal needs and whims of the moment. As the social capital depletes, we edge closer to that disintegration the earlier generation feared.

In recognition of this developing challenge, the college and university presidents who participate in the Campus Compact met in Aspen, Colorado, in July and adopted the "Fourth of July Declaration on the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education," perhaps better described as a Declaration of Interdependence. Campus Compact originated as an organization of presidents committed to finding ways to encourage student involvement in community service. The Aspen meeting reflected a growing awareness among Campus Compact members that community service alone will not suffice to deal with the challenge before us. The central question becomes service for what purpose? Self-gratification or societal improvement? The Aspen Declaration makes the point emphatically:

This country cannot afford to educate a generation that acquires knowledge without ever understanding how that knowledge can benefit society or how to influence democratic decision making. We must teach the values and skills of democracy, creating innumerable opportunities for our students to practice and reap the results of the real, hard work of citizenship.

In an inspiring conclusion, the assembled presidents called upon their colleagues, faculty and staff, students, and members of governing boards to rise to the occasion.

We believe that the challenge of the next millennium is the renewal of our own democratic life and reassertion of social stewardship. In celebrating the birth of our democracy, we can think of no nobler task than committing ourselves to helping catalyze and lead a national movement to reinvigorate the public purposes and civic mission of higher education.

No one has exclusive knowledge of the means to the end. Rather, only through collaborative endeavor can we attain the goal.

Without intending to prescribe either the approach or the details, I urge the faculty and staff to consider curricular and co-curricular ways to achieve this aspiration. This campus has a deserved reputation for community engagement and service, and the faculty, staff, and students engage in activities and projects that serve myriad needs on and off campus. However, we can and must do more. Directly to the point, we cannot denigrate politics and political involvement every day on the campus and still expect our students to carry away with them any sense of urgency concerning civic engagement. We must make certain that we educate not only by the content we teach but by the example we set as well. In my own view, as the Declaration emphasizes, our success will manifest itself in "the robust debate on our campuses, . . . the civic behaviors of our students . . . [,] the civic engagement of our faculty [and staff] . . . [, and] our community partnerships [which] improve the quality of community life and the quality of the education we provide." If we find success in this noble endeavor, I submit that we shall have restored the public purpose to higher education in this State and set an example for others to emulate.

STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY

As we launch this new year, what can we conclude about the one that just passed? I believe we can take pride in the fact that we survived another challenging year and still managed to accomplish a great deal. Last year began with the infamous "Fall Surprise" that left us below our projected number of nonresident students. As a direct result, we all understand much better the intimate relationship between our enrollments and our budgets. We made last minute spending reductions and adjustments in order to balance the budget and still serve the needs of the students who enrolled. Because of the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices of the faculty, staff, and administrators, we brought the budget under control and closed the year in a sound position. In addition, we established a new strategic and budget planning process that will help us to avoid similar problems in the future. I want to pay public tribute to the original members of the Committee, and Chair Ray Ford, who launched this important process. From this beginning, we can plan systematically for the future.

At the same time, we worked hard to persuade the Montana Legislature, Regents, and students of the needs we identified. The Legislature appropriated an increase of just over 8 percent for the Montana University System for the biennium, counting all funds. The Regents approved a tuition increase averaging 4 percent across all campuses, but slightly higher on most campuses in order to freeze tuition for students enrolled in the Colleges of Technology and as freshmen and sophomores on the Dillon and Havre campuses. The implementation of differential tuition will continue for the next few years until we reach the targeted differences by sectors - i.e., two-year and small schools distinct from the two Universities. I also believe that the smaller schools that opted out of the plan - the Billings and Butte campuses - will rethink that decision before the next biennium. In addition, I have no doubt that sooner rather than later the differential will apply to all students enrolled on the smaller campuses. Finally, we also began the process of revising the funding model used to make allocations to the campuses in the interest of achieving equity. As a result, this campus will realize an increase to the education and general budget of just over 5 percent.

With as few numbers as possible, I need to comment briefly about the components of the increase to the System so you will understand what occurred. Those components include salary increases for faculty and administrators of 3 percent; salary increases for the staff of 5 and 5.5 percent; $800,000 in one-time-only funds for technology, with the stated intent of reducing the student fee by an equivalent amount (which we have done); $3 million to provide permanent funding for the Montana Tuition Assistance Program or MTAP; approximately $10 million for research matching funds; the funds needed for the enrollment increases to the System; operation and maintenance funds to support the new buildings that will come on line during the biennium; and a modest increase in the utilities budget reflecting price increases. As you can see immediately, these increase components will help, but they will not resolve all the financial issues.

Nonetheless, these developments favorably affected our budget for the coming two years, if indeed we realize projected enrollments. At one point in the planning process, the Committee speculated about the need to reduce our planned expenditures for the biennium by as much as $7-8 million. However, the increases, combined with modest enrollment growth and careful management, will enable us to get through the biennium with adjustments of roughly $1.2 million. We have developed plans to deal with that challenge while also serving the students. The willingness of the students to approve a Technology Fee of $28 per semester has helped immensely as we seek to respond to the needs of the campus for investment in this critical area. The salary increases we have implemented will help the staff members to keep pace with the escalating cost of living. Minimal as they sometimes appear, the increases represent a good beginning. Finally, the new Baker Grants made possible by MTAP will help to halt and perhaps reverse the trend of shifting more of the cost of public higher education to the students and their families. While we have much yet to do to complete the reversal process, we have made a good start in Montana.

Because of certain as yet unknowns, we have not established the final budget plan for FY 2001. However, we will do so as soon as we have confirmed the enrollment numbers for Fall Semester and resolved some issues concerning proposed adjustments. I have great confidence that we will not encounter another "Fall Surprise" because of the cooperative efforts of the Admissions staff and the faculty working with them. In addition, we can anticipate the continuation of the incremental implementation of the funding model revisions that began this year. As a result, I think we will soon complete the planning process and can then shift the focus to our budget request for the FY 2003 biennium. Without doubt, we will find budgets very tight again, but I believe we can manage the challenges and still serve the students. Failure to serve the students will exacerbate the problems.

In other respects, this Session of the Legislature produced some good results for us. I will mention a few that will serve us well. The Legislature authorized us to issue a request for bids on the open market to satisfy our energy needs without the involvement of State Purchasing. That will help us in the long run by enabling us to get the best deal possible. In addition, beginning on 1 July 2000, we can accept the lowest bid for our workers' compensation insurance. Finally, staff members now have the option of remaining with the State's defined benefit retirement program or switching to one of two defined contribution programs. These seemingly small and technical actions will play key roles in our ability to manage our affairs and satisfy the desires of the faculty and staff.

In terms of construction on campus, we will complete three projects early in the year and begin two more. The Adams Center will open on schedule in October and provide the venue we need for our basketball games and other events. The Skaggs Building will come fully on line in January 2000, making a very significant difference for the faculties of Pharmaceutical Science, Pharmaceutical Practice, and Physical Therapy and their students. In addition, the entire campus can already enjoy the new but smaller twin to Urey Lecture Hall. The Information Technology Resource Center (ITRC) in the Davidson Honors College Building provides the kind of technical support for the integration of education technology into instruction, research, and management -- including student recruitment and retention -- that we have needed. We owe a great deal to our good friends, Fred and Polly Rohrbach of Seattle, who agreed to furnish the ITRC as they did the Davidson Honors College itself.

The two new projects will respond to long-time needs. The Center for Student Success requires an addition to the east end of the Lodge, bringing related student services together with Griz Central. Having completed the planning, we await the beginning of construction that will consume the better part of a year and one-half. The renovation of the third floor of the University Center will also include the construction of new meeting rooms above the Copper Commons. We expect to complete the work by March 2000. These two projects have consumed a considerable amount of time to plan, but they will make a great difference in the lives of students on the campus.

The major new project before us still lacks final Regental approval and a favorable market for a new bond issue. The students approved an additional fee in the Spring elections to finance the construction of a new Campus Recreation Center on the north end of the Adams Center. The preliminary plans call for a four-story climbing wall and space for fitness, recreation, and related pursuits. Since the students have agreed to pay for the Center with an additional fee, the faculty and staff who wish to use it will also have to pay a fee. However, we have not yet worked out all the details concerning such payments. We will seek Regental approval in the September meeting and then wait for the appropriate time to sell the bonds at the best possible interest rates. This project has broad support among the students and will make the University a much more attractive place to potential students. In addition, it will give us the facility we must have to promote healthy life-styles among our students.

During this last year, we implemented the staff professional development leave program as an integral part of the Quality of Worklife initiative on the campus. This initiative also put the University in strong support of the effort to improve staff salaries and conditions. We have agreed to participate actively in the pilot project authorized by the Legislature during the next two years to develop a more responsive classification and compensation system for the staff. While we have made progress, we still have some major items on the Quality of Worklife agenda that will occupy our attention, including the development of ways to address the equipment and furnishing needs in the offices around the campus. It will take time, but anything worth doing takes time. We will persevere.

The restructuring of Information Technology on the campus and for the multi-campus University appears to have gone smoothly, for the most part. Vice President L. Chesnut assures me that the new advisory committees will soon come together to provide guidance and counsel, and that the administrative structure works very well. John Kuglin has accepted the responsibility to manage this vital area, with Steve Henry and Lynn Churchill working as members of the management team. John Kuglin, Sharon Alexander, and others will soon roll out UMT OnLine, The University of Montana's Internet portal. We have joined UCAID, the organization of universities committed to the development and use of the next generation Internet for instruction, research, and service. As perhaps the most immediate and exciting aspect of these developments, students will soon apply for admission, register for classes, purchase their books and supplies, and conduct a major portion of their affairs through Web interfaces over the Internet. We have almost caught up with the curve, and we must strive to get in front of it.

Over the last few years, faculty members have become even more competitive in their search for external funds to support graduate education and research. Vice President Chesnut reported in excess of $31 million in new grant awards during the year that ended on 30 June 1999. That amounts to about a $5 million increase in one year, a very commendable outcome. These funds help immensely, as we all know. No university today can support its graduate and research programs without external support. I want to express my appreciation for the excellent effort, and I challenge you to reach the $40 million level within the biennium.

I believe as well that we have begun to address systematically the academic program needs of the campus. In fact, over the last couple of years, we have seen a great deal of activity focused upon revising existing programs and developing new ones in response to ascertained needs in the State and region. While most of the activity involved timely revisions, we also now have several new programs that have already proven their worth.

In addition, the appropriate faculty committees have looked at graduation and general education requirements with an eye toward developing outcomes-based criteria. This latter effort will require a great deal of time and care to assure that we maintain the quality of the education we offer while also assuring its responsiveness to needs in the new millennium. I can think of no more important and critical task for the faculty to undertake. I also believe that success in the effort will empower us to prepare our students for the challenge before them of restoring the social capital essential to the viability and vitality of our society.

As I believe everyone knows, we will undergo institutional reaccreditation during the coming year. Some ten committees have worked hard on the self study required by the process. However, we have not yet completed the study. Please help as you can, and provide the information needed in a timely manner. We must do all we can to assure reaccreditation because of what it means to the faculty, students, alumni, and the State.

In general, I think we begin the year with good prospects of doing quite well, even if we must remain prudent. My optimistic outlook rests solidly on the willingness of people to respond to the challenges. In the nine years I have served this group of people, I have never found them wanting in that regard.

I wish to all of you a wonderful year. Thank you and good morning.