The University of Montana on Tuesday announced the finalists for president - except, there's only one.
And he doesn't have to travel far.
After a national search, UM announced that Provost Royce Engstrom is the only finalist to replace President George Dennison, who announced his retirement last January after 20 years at the helm of his alma mater.
The UM presidential search committee intended to name three finalists, but two withdrew their names from consideration. One took another job and the other withdrew recently, but gave no real indication why other than to say the job "was not in his best interest,"
"It certainly had its interesting twist," said Clayton Christian, state Board of Regents chairman and head of the presidential search committee. "It's peculiar to only have one."
However, that doesn't mean Engstrom automatically gets the job.
UM plans to host an on-campus interview just as it would have done for any finalist. Students, faculty and staff will have an opportunity to ask Engstrom questions. He will also travel to UM's affiliated campuses in Dillon, Butte and Helena.
"Ask the tough questions," Christian said. "Find out who he is. He's never been on campus seeking to be the president, and that's the completion of the process. And that's an important piece."
The search committee will make a recommendation to Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns based on feedback it receives during the on-campus visit. Stearns in turn will make a recommendation to the entire Montana Board of Regents.
"If the campus community and the public decide he isn't the right fit, they can express that to the commissioner and the board," Christian said.
The committee could then decide to reopen the national search.
The names of the two other would-be finalists will not be released because they were never officially named as finalists, Christian said.
All six semifinalists interviewed for the job were qualified and capable individuals, Christian said. But the three people identified by the committee as potential finalists seemed like the best fit at UM.
"I think to just haphazardly dig back into the pool is the wrong approach," he said. "It's difficult for us at the final stages to jump back in and see who might accept our invitation."
Engstrom was hired in 2007 to serve as UM's provost and vice president for academic affairs after the university conducted a national search. Before that, he held a similar position at the University of South Dakota.
It's likely the on-campus finalist "visit" will occur during the middle of September. The next regents meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22-23 in Butte. Christian hopes the full board can vote on the finalist at that time.
Should the regents elect to hire Engstrom, UM then faces another challenge: The university would be without a provost. In that case, finding his own replacement would be one of Engstrom's first tasks, Christian said.
"I think Royce is an excellent candidate," Christian said. "I really do think he deserves an opportunity to go to all four campuses and be interviewed in the light of a presidential candidate."
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.