MISSOULA -- A move to examine the leadership of President Royce Engstrom and his Cabinet failed Thursday in the Faculty Senate meeting at the University of Montana.
In a discussion that got fiery at least once, though, senators questioned Engstrom about his proposal to fix budget problems at UM, and a vice president pushed back against one faculty member and detractor of the administration, describing his actions as "hypocritical."
Michel Valentin, an outspoken critic of leadership at UM, said the president has not supported the humanities and has not proposed structural changes that could help the university. He identified himself only after being pressed to do so in a testy exchange with chairman Bill Borrie.
"Why do you propose just cuts? Anybody can cut," said Valentin, who initially argued people in the room knew him well enough he didn't need to say his name.
In response, vice president of finance Mike Reid took the floor, and he prefaced his anecdote by saying he had a habit of saying things he shouldn't. On his first day at UM, he said, the school had to deal with budget issues, and Valentin picketed against some of the very measures Engstrom is now trying to establish.
"To stand here and say, 'why in the world did these changes not happen years ago' from the very man standing there saying don't do it, I find a little hypocritical," Reid said.
Last month, in the face of dropping enrollment and unsuccessful recruitment efforts, the president announced UM needed to cut 201 positions, including 52 faculty positions. Later, the vice president of finance said the university would need to make up a shortfall estimated between $10 million and $12 million in its 2017 fiscal year budget.
At Thursday's meeting of the Faculty Senate, senators pressed Engstrom on the need for a clear vision for UM, questioned some of his decisions so far, and criticized the lack of attention to recruitment in the midst of an enrollment decline.
Engstrom, in turn, defended the need to make major changes, and he also said he believed the faculty cuts could be made without touching tenure or tenure-track faculty. He said he could not promise it, but he estimated all the faculty cuts could be made by eliminating open positions, adjuncts and other temporary faculty.
The president said he heard the message from faculty that preserving core intellectual capital is important, and he is committed to it. He also said UM must adapt, or it will not survive.
"I believe we will emerge as one of the finest institutions in this country. I believe we're already one of the finest," Engstrom said.
Faculty Senate member Abhishek Chatterjee, in political science, said he and others in his department were not satisfied with the level of transparency from the administration. The president had named specific programs for cuts, but in response to requests for detailed data that corroborated the need to cut in those areas, the administration had presented only aggregate numbers.
"Sometimes, the devil is in the details, and I want to see the devil," Chatterjee said.
"You're looking at him, apparently," Engstrom quipped, to some laughs.
The president also invited him to get more details from finance officials, and he said up until now, UM has not had a guiding principle on the number of faculty it should have. He based the 18-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio on comparable institutions.
Senate member John Hunt, in the English department, said the president harmed the programs he named for cuts because students would be less interested in them. He also said the president was calling on others to provide ideas to manage the shortfall even as he made a top-down decision to name specific programs.
"I'm concerned that even if not a single penny is cut, we have suffered lasting damage for years to our reputation," Hunt said.
In response, Engstrom said UM had reached a point where specifics were important, and the situation was critical. He also said it's hard to make collective decisions.
"We are at a point where that kind of ... leadership on my part was required, so I exercised it," Engstrom said.
Senate member Eijiro Uchimoto seconded David Schuldberg's motion to continue the discussion about whether the president and his Cabinet are fit to lead. Since it wasn't on the agenda, the motion required approval of two-thirds of the present members; it failed on a voice vote.
Lack of vision
Uchimoto, though, directly asked the president if he had enough confidence in himself and in his Cabinet to steer UM through the crisis.
"I'm most concerned about a perceived lack of a clear vision from the Main Hall," said Uchimoto, in physics and astronomy.
The president said he did, and he reiterated his belief UM has the faculty and staff to be one of the finest institutions in the country.
Senate member Neyooxet Greymorning, in anthropology, questioned the recruitment efforts of UM. One of his students told him a local Missoula high school student, maybe her cousin, was a straight-A student whose top university of choice was UM.
The A student had applied to UM along with other schools, he said. He said she heard from other schools immediately, and she still has heard nothing from UM, including any acknowledgement she had applied.
"If we are concerned about enrollment numbers, how is this possible?" Greymorning said.
The president acknowledged recruitment and admissions efforts need to improve, and he also requested Greymorning pass on the student's name to him or the admissions office.
He said he plans to make enrollment a primary focus of the new vice president, who will take the place of retiring vice president for student affairs Teresa Branch. The new title will be vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.
In his report to the Faculty Senate, Cody Meixner said the budget crisis is affecting students. Meixner, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, said some faculty members are instilling confusion and panic among students because of their own anger.
He said he appreciated faculty members who are answering students' questions, and the vast majority are. However, Meixner also said some students are hearing they won't get their degrees or their programs will disappear, and he urged faculty against misinformation to students.
"What I certainly don't appreciate are those of your colleagues who bring vague or essentially inaccurate information to your students," Meixner said.