Charting a Course to a Bright Future

March 8, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As we near the spring semester's mid-point, I write with an update on the important role of our academic planning work in shaping UM's future.

Last month, Provost Humphrey shared an update on our academic leadership team's planning efforts. The primary goal of this process does not differ from the goal that should always drive our decisions as a public institution: to align our resources, academic structure and curricula to best meet the needs of our students and society. While we certainly face pandemic-related financial challenges, our academic planning is not just a simple budget exercise but rather a key stewardship responsibility to allocate resources to support the type of institution society needs and our students deserve.

As such, I'd like to remind us all of the context for this work. In January, I shared in an open letter to the UM family a vision - informed by the work of the University Design Team - for our University's future, which includes a sustained commitment to our highly successful research and creative scholarship activities, as well as an expanded effort to serve a much broader range of learners across their entire lifetimes. Part of this vision, of course, also focuses on the undergraduate experience, which I want to highlight as a vital consideration in the current academic planning efforts.

Specifically, I believe we have an opportunity to differentiate our undergraduate experience as one that offers a vibrant, residential experience that uniquely marries:

  • the benefits of a liberal arts education that intentionally builds in our students the foundational competencies necessary to succeed as thoughtful, engaged citizens;

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  • the assurance that every student has access to work-based and experiential learning opportunities that provide the specific skills and experiences to succeed on Day One in their first job out of college.

Boiled down to its essence, our mission is to help people achieve a better life, foster inclusive prosperity for our community and advance the reaches of knowledge. Given the ever-changing demands our students will face after graduation, we must ensure they are both broadly educated and specifically skilled. Our task is not to debate what matters more: a strong liberal arts foundation or professional skills. Rather, our job is to provide our students with both. (I recently spoke about this imperative in a podcast with Brandon Busteed.)

Later this month, Provost Humphrey and the deans will share a draft academic plan with faculty and staff leaders. Together, they will gather further input - including that of the University Design Team - make refinements and present recommendations to me. This process will necessitate reduced resources in some areas and increased resources in others. We will be clear-eyed about the potential impact of these decisions on the future of our University. Our stewardship, even when it comes in the form of reallocations, will be strategic and future conscious.

I want to acknowledge that these academic planning efforts understandably create concern as individuals wonder if and how their areas will be impacted. As a leader, I care about all of our colleagues across campus, and this process is especially challenging because our obligation to allocate resources to best meet student needs may at times come into conflict with our care for one another. I commit that throughout these planning efforts, we will seek to fully understand the potential impacts on our colleagues and friends, and as we wrestle with difficult decisions, we will do so with both compassion and care for the entire UM family.

We face tough but crucial trade-offs as we thoughtfully evolve while preserving a healthy liberal arts core. We will pursue new structures and approaches, not just as a way to responsibly use our resources, but also as a way to continue fulfilling our mission in a changing world.

I confidently believe in the University of Montana and its very bright future. Thank you for your ongoing commitment.

Seth