Academic Planning 2021-2022

This document summarizes academic planning efforts in AY20-21 and puts forth recommendations for continued academic planning in AY 21-22. These efforts support President Bodnar’s vision of the University of Montana (UM) as a flagship for the future, communicated in his memo dated November 23, 2020, which states that achieving his vision “…will require [UM] to adapt and change in three main ways. We must:

  • adapt our curricular and academic approach to more intentionally and explicitly build in our students’ foundational competencies such as problem-solving, critical thinking, information and data literacy, teamwork, leadership, creativity, and innovation;
  • integrate significant experiential and work-based learning opportunities throughout every student’s experience, ensuring all students have skills necessary for success in a competitive, dynamic job market;
  • develop the necessary institutional capabilities and flexible offerings to serve a much broader range of learners across their careers and lifetimes.”

UM’s deans embraced the first two imperatives as they collaborated on The University of Montana’s Academic Future: A guiding document for Academic Affairs (Appendix A) in fall 2020. This statement of the deans’ commitment to shaping UM’s academic future provides an important lens as we move the academic enterprise forward. The third imperative is emerging as UM’s New Learner Initiative, an exciting collaboration in entrepreneurship and innovation spanning UM’s colleges, UMOnline, Accelerate MT, the Innovation Factory, and other partners.

Further commitment to our vision of UM as a flagship for the future is evidenced in the work of the University Design Team and the institutional goals, strategies and actions expressed in UM’s Priorities for Action. The strategies that support Priority for Action 2: Drive Excellence and Innovation in Teaching, Research, and Learning, dovetail with our academic planning efforts. The Office of the Provost supports UM’s institutional goals and it is the Provost’s responsibility to ensure that colleges and other Academic Affairs units identify and execute actions supporting them.

Last year, Acting Provost Humphrey worked with the deans to envision the optimal student experience at UM and to ensure the relevance and sustainability of our academic portfolio. The Office of the Provost team facilitated academic planning focused on meeting the needs of UM’s current and future students while operating within projected budget estimates for FY23. We approached this task in collaboration with the Vice President for Operations & Finance, who is implementing a budget model that aligns college resources with student credit hours, majors, and research and creative scholarship activity. Our intent is to preserve signature programs vital to UM’s identity and reputation.

This work was informed by academic unit data; market research by Art & Science, EAB, and Ruffalo Noel Levitz; nation-wide labor projections; the work of the University Design Team and concepts put forth in A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education, by Professor Dilly Fung of the London School of Economics. We took care to ensure administration and faculty roles and responsibilities were clearly delineated throughout the process. Deans developed college-level status updates and drafted early versions of The University of Montana’s Academic Future: A guiding document for Academic Affairs (Appendix A). The Academic Planning Group (APG), composed of administrators, the Staff Senate Chair, and the members of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, solicited input from campus stakeholders on these documents and provided recommendations on incorporating the input received. The APG’s recommendations, dated May 2021, highlight important themes that will be included in the initiatives Academic Affairs will undertake in the coming year.

Academic Affairs initiatives for 2021-2022

Based on the process described above and the Academic Planning Group (APG)’s recommendations, in the coming academic year the Office of the Provost will seek to:

  • clarify our vision for academics at UM at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including in professional programs;
  • support interdisciplinary and experiential education; and
  • foster diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The APG’s recommendations highlight structural impediments and challenges to each of the above, and steps are being taken to address them. For example, in summer 2021, a small work group was asked to identify improvements that could be made to the administration and operationalization of undergraduate interdisciplinary efforts. In addition, Academic Affairs as a whole is collaborating on the implementation of UM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan.

In the coming year, the Office of the Provost will:

Enhance synergy within and between academic units

Last year, we focused on evaluating the structure of H&S, UM’s largest college, especially in light of proposals by some H&S units to move to other colleges.

In addition, this year we will examine the role of the Mansfield Library as a support unit for the colleges and as a hub for the development of digital and information literacies is critically important. The Mansfield Library supports undergraduates and graduate students as well as faculty, ensuring all understand how to successfully access, critically evaluate, and ethically use scholarship and other forms of information while becoming familiar with evolving technologies in the area of information science.

Finally, Bitterroot College is another UM academic unit in transition, and the Office of the Provost must continue facilitating the important and ongoing conversation about its future.

Recommendations:

For H&S: Maintain H&S as a stand-alone, single college. The three Associate Deans are ensuring operational efficiency and proactive leadership. The next permanent dean of H&S will have the latitude to further assess and make decisions regarding the college’s organizational structure and administration.

For the Mansfield Library: Develop a vision for the future role of the Mansfield Library.

For Bitterroot College: Continue to facilitate a transition plan for the Bitterroot College, with timeline dependent on the evolution of the Bitterroot College’s initiative to become an independent community college.

Action Steps:

For H&S: Support the H&S Associate Deans as they provide administrative oversight of the College. Initiate a search for a new, permanent dean during fall semester 2021.

Timeline: The Office of the Provost will launch the search for a permanent dean by October 15, 2021.

For the Mansfield Library: The Interim Dean or his designee will draft a set of recommendations based on best practices and innovations at libraries at peer universities on how the Mansfield Library can support UM as a Flagship for the Future.

Timeline: The Interim Dean or his designee will submit a draft set of recommendations to the Office of the Provost for review by November 15, 2021.

For Bitterroot College: Working with the Bitterroot College Taskforce, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will outline key operational needs and questions that require attention in a possible transition to Bitterroot Valley Community College.

Timeline: The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will submit a document to the Office of the Provost for review by November 15, 2021.

Academic unit organization within colleges should create operational efficiency; ensure collaboration; increase enrollment; and foster research, service and educational opportunities. As academic programs evolve in response to societal needs and shifting disciplinary boundaries, an academic unit may benefit from moving from one college to another. Programs recently moved from the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education to the College of Health, and from H&S to the W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, so there is precedent, and procedures exist to guide these types of changes. In other instances, there is opportunity for enhanced synergies between units without formal moves.

As we consider the current proposed moves to other colleges (Computer Science from H&S to the College of Business, and Communication Studies from H&S to the College of the Arts and Media), we must be thoughtful about the potential benefits and unintended consequences of these moves. In addition, we must explore options in instances where academic units in adjacent or closely evolving disciplines would benefit from closer collaboration.  

Recommendation: On a case-by-case basis, consider the benefits and challenges of academic unit moves, and if approved, ensure the moves take place according to policy and procedures. The Office of the Provost will provide guidance and facilitate conversation between selected academic units that could possibly benefit from integration and collaboration between colleges.

Action Steps:

  1. The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will make recommendations about the moves proposed by Computer Science and Communication Studies, taking into consideration past practice, feedback, and existing Faculty Senate procedures.

Timeline: The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs reviewed these move requests and submitted them to Faculty Senate for review. The items will be reviewed by the appropriate Faculty Senate committees. We anticipate learning the outcome of this review at the November or December Faculty Senate meeting. If Faculty Senate approves the moves, implementation can begin immediately as this type of change does not require Board of Regents review/approval.

  1. The deans, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, and others will study synergies between current programs on climate, earth science, and the environment, identifying opportunities for synergy and elimination of duplication. These efforts will be based upon work that has already been put forth by faculty in various academic units. It will be informed by market research provided by Hanover Research and rolled into the SEP process.

Timeline: The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will oversee the development of recommendations into curriculum proposals for the spring curriculum deadline, spring 2022.

Address Instructional Staffing

Discussions about instructional unit staffing levels inevitably generate anxiety and inconsistent messaging across and within academic units. This has been exacerbated at UM given prior efforts to address the disparity introduced by a decline in undergraduate enrollment that is disproportionate across academic units. Undergraduate enrollment declines have occurred in specific curricular areas, which would, on the surface, dictate commensurate major or discipline-specific faculty reductions. This is complicated, of course, by tenure commitments and contractual obligations, as well as research and graduate program priorities, which may align differently. When we consider reductions, we should bear in mind their unintended effects on curricular obligations and the quality of our students’ degree completion experience. Staffing reductions may also limit our ability to modify curriculum in efforts to make our degree programs more attractive to prospective students.  The SEP process is critical to the future of the academic landscape at UM; it will enable us to reinvigorate our offerings and identify new opportunities worthy of investment.

The foregoing serves to emphasize two points; 1) achieving a balance between instructional staffing and undergraduate student enrollment is vital to the health of the academic enterprise, and 2) this is a complex matter. We need adequate resources to sustain current programs as well as the core academic disciplines that define a quality education. We need to remain committed to our research and creative scholarship enterprise, and be equally invested in maintaining strong graduate programs, which have been an area of strength and growth in recent years. The budget model provides targets for colleges, based on metrics associated with student credit hour production, majors, and research and creative scholarship activity. The model provides fiscal anchors that inform deans and other decision-makers; it also intersects with ongoing analyses of curricular innovation and projected personnel costs. The perception that colleges experiencing declining enrollment have not reduced spending over time is false; between 2015-2021, the College of Humanities & Sciences reduced its spending by 25%, the College of Arts & Media by 13%, and Missoula College by 15%. While not unsubstantial, they were also non-strategic, comprised largely of voluntary, non-tenure track faculty and staff reductions. Moreover, the decline in undergraduate enrollment over the same period is disproportionately steeper. When taken as a whole, strategic alignment, including further reductions where there is a maldistribution of faculty relative to enrollment, remains fundamental to invest in growing programs or staff new program opportunities that should emerge through SEP.

The Office of the Provost is working with UM’s deans and especially with the leaders of our largest college, H&S, where both the greatest challenges – but also the greatest opportunities – lie, to align instructional staffing with academic program demand. This work began in the spring of 2021 and continues at the time of this submission. We expect staffing recommendations to be finalized by mid-November 2021 and implemented consistent with established procedures and existing contractual obligations. Staffing recommendations may include specific departmental FTE changes, degree program termination, or curricular consolidation to create new efficiencies or opportunities, both within and across colleges. Enrollment patterns, student credit hour production and historical trends are especially important variables in the set of forthcoming set of recommendations. College leaders have a variety of data sources and methodologies at their disposal to assist in the development of recommendations. Further voluntary retirements may help offset the need for deeper reductions in some academic units. At the time of this submission, terms of a voluntary retirement incentive are being developed, but we cannot predict how many individuals will choose to accept. It is important to note that SEP, which will begin this fall, is focused on growth of new academic opportunity, and not designed to address instructional staffing planning.

Recommendation: Develop staffing plans to align with budget targets for FY23. The goal remains to allocate available resources as effectively as possible, while preserving the core mission of our largest college, H&S, which we recognize as the heart and soul of the University.

Action Steps: UM’s academic leaders will develop staffing recommendations based on FY23 budget targets.

Timeline: Deans will submit final staffing plan recommendations to the Office of the Provost for review by November 15, 2021.

Engage in Strategic Enrollment Planning and Curricular Innovation

The Office of the Provost will approach academic planning more strategically and rigorously this academic year and in the future. Deans will actively participate in Strategic Enrollment Planning, led by the Associate Vice President of Enrollment, in collaboration with faculty and staff. In addition, we are revising the Office of the Provost’s approach to curriculum proposal evaluation to be systematic and collaborative. These efforts should produce a more strategic approach to the development and review of curricular proposals, promote stronger interdisciplinary proposals, and result in a portfolio that aligns with enrollment trends that best serve student needs.

SEP is a continuous and data informed process that fosters long-term enrollment and fiscal health. It:  

  • Provides realistic, quantifiable goals, 
  • Uses a return-on-investment and action item approach, 
  • Aligns UM mission, current state and changing environment, and 
  • Integrates academic and co-curricular planning with marketing, recruitment, retention and financial aid strategies.  

As we embark on the SEP, the first task is to produce situational analyses on each area of enrollment (both recruitment and retention), including the undergraduate and graduate academic programs. These will be used as context for developing potential enrollment strategies.   

Recommendation: Faculty and administrators have been evaluating new programs in light of our present academic portfolio, using existing data and assessing the national landscape in higher education. This must and will continue at an accelerated pace as part of SEP compares current offerings to new opportunities. 

Action Steps: Deans developed College Outlook documents using enrollment trends for the past five years and a broad outlook of each college to highlight enrollment opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These opportunities can take the form of

  • Program expansions
  • New programs
  • Interdisciplinary programs (within your college and in collaboration with other colleges)
  • Curricular updates

Timeline: Deans submitted their College Outlook documents to me in early September 2021. These will serve as the basis for conversations between the deans and the SEP work groups. The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will work with the Associate Vice President of Enrollment to ensure the SEP timeline is smoothly integrated into already existing timelines for curriculum proposal review and approval (Faculty Senate, Office of the Provost, and OCHE timelines).

Preparing students to address grand challenges

The University Design Team put forth a strategic initiative called “Grand Challenges” and described it as follows: “Why wait until the end of your degree to change the world? Students participating in the Grand Challenges initiative will build their UM education around the issues most urgently relevant to them, such as social justice, sustainability, or public health – areas that lie at the heart of UM’s research and teaching strengths.” Our campus recognizes and embraces the value of giving students opportunities to learn about and apply their knowledge to broad themes of global relevance. The Franke Global Leadership Initiative’s Global Themes and Challenges offer a salient example of this type of focus for UM students; the Communities of Excellence are another example.

A focus on grand challenges can be loosely defined as teaching, learning, and research that addresses the most pressing challenges we face – locally and globally. Rather than seeking to create a new set of grand challenge topics or categories, we could emphasize UM’s strengths in addressing broad themes of global relevance that are interdisciplinary in nature, through which students can apply their learning in experiential settings. These themes can be local and global, dynamic and pervasive; identifying specific topics and developing curricula to address them are best left to the creativity to UM’s faculty. It is the role of the Office of the Provost and other executive leaders to create an environment in which teaching, learning, and research related to grand challenges is valued, recognized, and supported. UM has an opportunity to integrate broad themes of global relevance into the curriculum via the General Education reform efforts described below.

On a related note, the Office of the Provost plans to improve administrative and operational supports for interdisciplinarity and experiential learning in the coming year. Supporting interdisciplinarity and experiential learning is an opportunity to match UM’s strengths with the needs and interests of prospective students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  

Interdisciplinarity

UM values interdisciplinarity, as is patent in The University of Montana’s Academic Future: A guiding document for Academic Affairs (Appendix A). Our academic and research communities need to have a shared definition of what the term means and how the institution recognizes and rewards participation in interdisciplinary work (to include academic programs, degree offerings, research efforts, etc.)

Earlier this summer, a working group was charged to identify real and perceived barriers to interdisciplinary work at UM; to identify improvements to the administration and operationalization of current interdisciplinary efforts, and; to propose ways to incentivize and expand meaningful, valuable undergraduate interdisciplinary experiences for UM students (considering those at the graduate level).

Recommendations: The working group’s recommendations include items for immediate action and items for further exploration. The Office of the Provost will determine an order of priority for executing these recommendations.

Action Steps

  • Prioritize and assign items for immediate action and further exploration to appropriate administrators.
  • Develop a fiscal strategy designed to incentivize and support interdisciplinary efforts at UM.
  • Consult with Enrollment and Marketing and Communications on the value of promoting stories demonstrating the impact of interdisciplinary offerings at UM and to internal and external audiences.

Timeline: The Office of the Provost will consult with appropriate stakeholders and implement prioritized actions associated with the recommendations over the course of AY21-22 as appropriate.

Experiential Learning

UM has a long history of providing excellent experiential learning opportunities to its students in the form of clinical/practicum experiences, internships, service learning, field experience, independent study, study abroad, and undergraduate research opportunities. Our campus has been working on shared definitions of high impact practices, but we need to improve the ways experiential learning opportunities are tracked, supported and integrated into the undergraduate experience of all UM students.

Recommendations: Recent conversations have shown the need for better coordination between the Academic Affairs and Student Success that offer and administer experiential learning to students as well as Faculty Senate.

Action Steps

  • The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs will coordinate experiential learning efforts and serve as the liaison between the Office, the colleges, Faculty Senate, and Student Success, specifically Experiential Learning and Career Services (ELCS). This individual will identify where there are barriers and initiate discussions about how to address them. Examples of current issues that are being addressed include:
    • Developing a clear, consistent way to compensate faculty who offer experiential learning opportunities to students during the summer.
    • Collaborating to code experiential learning opportunities in BANNER, per the categories in the Faculty Senate procedure, so we can track and gather data on experiential learning in a consistent, reliable manner.
  • The Vice Provost for Academic Affairs may also be charged with:
    • Consulting with Enrollment and Marketing and Communications on the value of promoting stories demonstrating the impact of experiential learning opportunities at UM and to internal and external audiences.
    • Helping develop fundraising proposals in support of experiential learning opportunities at UM.

    Timeline: These efforts are ongoing. Certain conversations like those mentioned above may result in small projects requiring deadlines, but overall this is part of the Office of the Provost role in supporting a key feature of the student experience at UM.

    General Education

    The Office of the Provost endorses and supports the ongoing efforts of the General Education Ad Hoc Committee (GEAHC), and have initiated regular discussions between this group and the Academic Officers this fall.

    As part of the GEAHC’s outreach to campus last spring, the chair of the GEAHC met with the deans. All agreed that more frequent communication and conversation between the committee and deans would be beneficial as general education reform plays out.

    Recommendation: The Office of the Provost will work with the GEAHC to ensure frequent communication among faculty leadership, Academic Officers, and the GEAHC. This communication will focus on both the general education models the GEAHC is exploring and the potential for integrating Grand Challenges (see above) into every UM student’s experience, possibly using the Franke Global Leadership Initiative as a model.

    Expanding the conversation from the deans’ group to the entire AO group will include stakeholders such as the Registrar, members of the Office of the Provost leadership team, and the Associate Vice President of Enrollment, who serves as an ex-officio Academic Officer and can provide valuable input on prospective students’ perceptions of the general education experience. The timing of this important dialogue is pertinent given the SEP process UM in embarking on this year.

    By creating opportunities for exchange between AOs and committee members, we will demonstrate Academic Affairs’ support for the important work of this committee. We anticipate these conversations may highlight operational issues related to funding and administering General Education that are the Provost’s responsibility to address. Ultimately, this collaboration will create the buy-in and enthusiasm needed to successfully implement the proposed model for General Education the ad hoc committee presents to Faculty Senate.

    Action Steps and Timeline: Facilitate GEAHC discussions with AOs throughout AY 21-22 and by way of regular visits from GEAHC to the AO meeting.

Help Launch the New Learner Initiative

The Office of the Provost is a key partner in the New Learner Initiative (NLI), focused on expanding UM’s academic and experiential offerings to learners beyond the traditional academic enterprise. The NLI aims to increase UM’s share in a growing market of new types of learners:

  1. Distance learners wishing to earn a traditional degree from the University of Montana via UMOnline,
  2. Learners seeking specific, bundled content in the form of certificates or credentials, and
  3. Professional development opportunities for the Montana workforce.

Examples of NLI efforts already underway include:

  • UM’s partnership with Wiley, which aims to increase the number of fully online degrees UM offers, geared toward learners described in # 1 above.
  • Short-term micro-credential and/or certificate or credential programs for non-degree seeking learners focused on trades/"new collar" work opportunities and on re-skilling or enhancing their higher education experiences. A recently proposed micro-credential in Marketing and Public Relations is an example of this type of effort.
  • Accelerate MT, Missoula College, UM Health & Medicine, the Innovation Factory, and others will offer professional development for the Montana workforce. UMOnline will provide the platform and support required for this effort. A current example is UM’s partnership with the Glacier Country Regional Tourism Commission to provide free training for Montana tourism and hospitality industry employees in customer service essentials.

Recommendation: The Vice President for Research and Creative Scholarship, Director of Accelerate Montana, Acting Provost, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice Provost for Innovation and Online Learning will clarify roles and responsibilities in leadership and operationalization of the New Learner Initiative, with the newly created Associate Vice Provost for Innovation and Online Learning position to serve as a key leader in the NLI.

Action Steps: Establish an organizational structure, budget plan, and operational plan for the NLI.  

Timeline: The NLI group will update an operational plan addressing the 3 areas of focus described in the bullets above and submit it to President Bodnar by November 1, 2021.