Update from Provost Harbor – Academic excellence and innovation and budget models (11/8/19)

Dear colleagues,

Many have asked for more regular updates on key initiatives from the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. This is the second update in a series, and today I want to discuss two of my priorities: fostering academic excellence and innovation at UM, and beginning development of activity-based budget models.

Academic excellence and innovation

This is an exciting time of innovation at UM. I feel a sense of renewed energy around our community’s desire to distinguish itself on a number of fronts:

  • The official grand opening of the Innovation Factory begins at 3:30 p.m. today, followed by 30 days of Innovation for the UM and Missoula communities;
  • All six of our Communities of Excellence (CoEx) have held at least one public event for interested stakeholders. CoEx are driving new transdisciplinary research and outreach efforts that will help attract new students, faculty, staff, and opportunities to UM;
  • UMSummer is launching a series of summer institutes for high school students next summer, modeled on the successful Schwanke Institute hosted by the Davidson Honors College;
  • Our Faculty Senate is currently reviewing many curriculum proposals that feature concepts like stacked credentials, innovative certificates, and revised degree programs designed to provide a set of rigorous and engaging experiences for students; and
  • New pathway programs are being developed with our affiliated campuses, as well as tribal colleges and other partners, to open up additional opportunities for new students to benefit from UM programs.

Budget models

To achieve our mission, we must have a budget model that ensures we are fiscally sustainable. A subcommittee of the University Budget Committee has started the process of developing a draft new budget model for the University. You may have heard me talk about developing a new budget model for Academic Affairs, but we cannot disconnect the Academic Affairs budget from the rest of the University’s budget. Academic Affairs and Student Success comprise the largest sector at UM, but our activities are interconnected with those of all other University sectors.

The new model should empower revenue-generating areas of the University to choose activities they will pursue in order to increase their resources (new curricular offerings, external funding, etc.) Such activity should generate an overhead margin that will support operating costs and subsidize areas that UM values highly, but that do not generate sufficient revenue on their own to be sustained. Information about the work of this subcommittee is posted on the University Budget Committee meeting summaries webpage.

In short, the model must ensure we generate enough revenue to cover our costs – and start saving again to build a contingency fund for strategic and unanticipated needs. The new budget model is a long-term plan for UM. It is separate from the funds made available by our debt restructuring that are for immediate, strategic investments in our campus infrastructure and equipment.

As I have visited departments in recent weeks, I have also been engaging in discussions about the new summer budget model for summer 2020. Summer at UM is an enormous opportunity for growth that should be positive for all academic units in the long run. Next summer’s budget model gives academic units the opportunity to strategically develop a variety of course offerings and is designed to allow academic units to generate the extra revenue they need to support their priorities during the summer and academic year. I hear and understand the concerns some have expressed about the potential impact of next summer’s budget model on courses with very low enrollments. This new approach invites department chairs and deans to think strategically and creatively about curricular offerings to meet student needs in a sustainable way.

In my next update, I’ll share the guidelines for college-wide faculty workload strategies that I asked the deans to develop, as well as reflections on Indian Education for All in Montana and building awareness on how we can bolster our support for American Indian students, as well as students from other underrepresented groups.

As always, I am open to your ideas and feedback. Please join me for informal networking at Coffee with the Provost (this happens one Friday each month in the Branch Center, and is announced in UMToday), schedule an appointment during my office hours, or email me at provost@umontana.edu. You can also now follow me on Instagram.


Jon Harbor, Provost


This message was sent by the Office of the Provost to all University of Montana faculty, staff, administrators, and affiliates.