Update on Academic Planning Process

Dear colleagues,

One of my core responsibilities as the University of Montana’s chief academic officer is ensuring our academic portfolio is vibrant, relevant, and aligned with our historical values and commitments as Montana’s flagship institution. UM’s academic portfolio must meet our students’ academic needs, attract prospective students, entice the best and brightest faculty to choose UM as their intellectual home, and further UM's reputation for teaching, learning, and research excellence.

Central to this responsibility is a commitment to sustainability—stewarding UM’s resources to best meet students’ and society’s needs. UM’s financial resources come from many sources, namely Montana taxpayers via the state Legislature’s appropriation to the University system, student tuition, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and extramural funding. Responsibly allocating these resources requires vigilance and care.

Academic Planning, spring 2021

I have asked deans to create plans to reallocate college resources in the coming years. They are using inputs that evaluate student interests, demographics, career prospects and national enrollment trends, as well as budget projections, to make these plans.

This is an admittedly difficult task, one the deans and I do not approach lightly.  We are committed to a process which engages the support and insight of our academic unit colleagues and fiscal managers, and that works with faculty and staff governance structures. Ultimately, our responsibility is to ensure that UM achieves its academic mission while operating within our means, and that we lay the groundwork for a successful future in a rapidly evolving higher education landscape.

We can meet our objectives by redistributing funds that are, for the most part, already in Academic Affairs. This means some units will see budget reductions while others may experience increases. 

Our planning is:

  • Data-informed. Our decisions are informed by careful analysis of national trends, including market research and labor projections.
  • Selective and strategic. We will balance considerations like program cost and student demand. This may lead to the curtailment of some offerings and investment in others. We recognize the value of UM’s signature academic offerings and will do our very best to ensure the historical appreciation of UM’s mission.
  • Collaborative. We will forge a shared vision for academics at UM, one that matches our students’ needs, our long-term enrollment strategy, and the vision for UM’s future that the University Design Team is crafting, as an important element that aligns with our collective considerations.

Roles and Responsibilities; Timeline and Process

We know that processes work best when administration and faculty responsibilities are clearly delineated, when opportunities for input are included in our processes, and when there is meaningful participation and engagement by the faculty in the agreed-upon process. CBAs sections 7.100 offer guidance on roles and responsibilities of the faculty unions and the Faculty Senate. We will include Faculty Senate in the academic planning process as follows:

  • By mid-February: deans draft plans for each school/college;
  • By mid-March: deans and executive leaders collaborate on a single draft plan for Academic Affairs;
  • Between mid-March and mid-April: Select deans, members of the Executive Committee of the [Faculty] Senate (ECOS), and I constitute the Academic Planning Group to review the draft plan and solicit input, inviting a broad range of perspectives;
  • By mid-April, the Academic Planning Group refines the plan, submits it to President Bodnar, and shares it with the campus community;
  • Summer and fall 2021: Upon President Bodnar’s approval of the plan, the deans and I implement curricular and personnel changes;
  • By July 2022: Academic Affairs meets projected budget targets.

I’d like to thank the deans for their genuine collaboration on this challenging task, as well as recognize the colleagues who are supporting this work: the Office of Institutional Effectiveness (the Data Office) provided numerous data resources for the deans; Paul Lasiter and Stacey Eve in Operations and Finance as well as the University Budget Committee have offered fiscal guidance; Mary Kreta, AVP for Enrollment Management, has offered a longer-term undergraduate recruitment perspective; and Scott Whittenburg has weighed in both as VP for Research and Creative Scholarship and Dean of the Graduate School. The Academic Affairs plan will reflect the work of the University Design Team as we make real our collective ambitions for UM as a Flagship for the Future.

Will we change, restructure, terminate, or create new academic programs at UM? Probably all of the above. As we re-align our resources to meet the needs of our students, will there be academic units where involuntary departures are necessary? Likely in certain departments or programs with lower enrollments, though we commit to a strategic approach and are exploring incentivization opportunities. In all cases, we will abide by the processes stipulated in the CBAs.

I’d like to highlight the fact that resource reallocation will help increase funding for staff and basic operating budgets in the colleges. This will reduce some of the work faculty members in under-staffed units have taken on over the years where reductions have been more opportunistic than strategic.

The Bigger Picture

We have a window of opportunity to set the course for Academic Affairs at UM—confirming our strengths and identity. Our academic leaders are committed to this process, as is the Faculty Senate. In joining with the University Design Team’s efforts, our academic planning efforts will be integrated into an annual Strategic Operating Rhythm described in President Bodnar’s communication of Friday, Jan. 29. UM’s administrative, academic, and accreditation processes are coming together.

I commit to sharing regular updates on the academic planning process. If you are a faculty member, please look for opportunities to provide feedback to the Academic Planning Group in March. You can schedule time with me during my office hours, or email me at officeoftheprovost@umontana.edu.

Thank you for your collective and individual contributions to UM, and importantly, your collaboration and support as we create a relevant and sustainable future for Academic Affairs at UM.

Sincerely,

Reed Humphrey, Acting Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

 

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