Ramona Grey has taken calls from a donor, parents and other faculty at the University of Montana.
Grey, chair of the political science department, said Tuesday she is reassuring people who are concerned about UM that the College of Humanities and Sciences will remain strong. In a recent letter to students, parents and Montanans, the deans, directors and chairs of the largest college on campus pledged commitment to the vitality of the college, "the heart and soul of UM."
"Humanities and Sciences programs ... are central to the mission of the University of Montana," said the letter. "They provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged citizens and community leaders as well as highly valued workers.
"Our college is where students learn to think critically, speak clearly and write effectively – and apply these skills to their lives and careers."
Dean Chris Comer said faculty in the college teach 80 percent of all the general education courses on campus, and the college counts five times the faculty of any other college at UM. Faculty teach everything from molecular genetics to Shakespeare, and they are determined to come out on the other end of cuts, he said.
"People here are so deeply committed to what we can do for the state of Montana," Comer said.
He said the college is cutting positions that are already vacant so as not to hurt people.
Leaders in the college wanted to send a message to the community because President Royce Engstrom named a few departments in Humanities and Sciences in his recent budget forum, Comer said. He said departments will make adjustments, but the college will not eliminate programs.
"If you look carefully at it, the president never said any of these programs should go away," Comer said.
Last month, Engstrom announced UM needs to cut 201 positions in its 2017 fiscal year budget. The anticipated shortfall is some $10 million to $12 million compared to a general fund budget last spring of $156 million.
The heads of the college also wanted to send a message because members of the campus community are deeply concerned for UM, and understandably so, he said. The public should know the college will make cuts as creatively and responsibly as it can, and its students will get degrees.
"We're still here and open for business," Comer said.
Grey said the public also should know faculty are in the midst of working on solutions.
"We are trying to be responsible and take actions that will help, to use the president's term, right the ship, and try to address where we can be more efficient and effective as well in delivering our program to students," Grey said.
She also said the college will weather the storm, and the rest of the university relies on its programs for general education courses.
"We provide a service to the non-majors as well as our own majors," Grey said.
The enrollment challenge cannot be denied, she said, but employees in the College of Humanities and Sciences are working collaboratively to steer a path through the crisis.
"We wish to reassure the community that we are committed to having strong and efficient programs in the College, each of which is essential to the well-rounded, 21st century education of all UM students.
"The College of Humanities and Sciences is the heart and soul of UM."