HELENA – Members of the Board of Regents said Thursday they want plenty of faculty involvement in developing performance standards by which the university system will be evaluated to determine if it gets part of its proposed budget increase in fiscal 2015.
The standards could include such measurements as college completion rates.
Gov. Steve Bullock, Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian and the chairman of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education signed a document agreeing that the university system will establish performance measures in the fiscal year that begins July 1 to take effect the following year.
Half of the system’s “present law adjustment” budget increase in 2015, estimated by legislators last month at $7.5 million, will depend on the meeting the standards.
Bullock and Christian also have signed an agreement that the regents will freeze tuition for Montana students for the next two years, if the Legislature provides a certain level of funding increase in the university system’s budget, plus enough money to cover pay raises for employees.
Christian said the request for accountability is a good one.
“It’s not a party issue,” Christian said. “I’ve heard about accountability from both sides of the aisle and the governor’s office the past eight years (under former Gov. Brian Schweitzer) and this governor (Bullock).”
Sens. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, and Llew Jones, R-Conrad, were leaders of the legislative effort, the commissioner said.
Tyler Trevor, associate commissioner for planning and analysis, said the commissioner’s office and a consulting firm will hold initial conversations at Montana State University and the University of Montana in April on developing performance funding standards.
“We will use nationally recognized best practices,” he said. “There is a wealth of information out there. This process has to be inclusive.”
Regent Todd Buchanan of Billings called it an exciting development and one he’s been pushing for.
“I don’t consider it a penalty approach,” he said. “It’s an incentivizing approach.”
Jeff Renz, chief of the Montana University System’s faculty association and a UM law professor, told the regents that faculty members aren’t opposed to the idea.
However, he said the university system “is in a negative position as for human resources.” Faculty pay at UM and MSU is the lowest in the country and lower than it is in Puerto Rico, he said.
At MSU, which graduates engineers and architects, the math department has a faculty vacancy rate of 25 percent to 30 percent. Likewise, the history department at UM has a 25 percent faculty vacancy rate. The UM Law School can’t fill vacancies in fields such as tax law.
“Until we can fill these slots, we’ll have a difficulty meeting performance standards,” Renz said.
In response, Board Chair Angela McLean of Anaconda said, “I don’t think it can be understated or underscored how much this board ranks recruitment and retention.”
She said she believes the regents will be able to do something across the system to address the pay issue.
McLean said none of the performance standards will succeed without buy-in from the faculties and staff on campuses.
UM President Royce Engstrom said on behalf of UM-affiliated campuses, “we want to be enthusiastic participants in this discussion. It is clearly a national trend.”
MSU President Waded Cruzado said the same holds true for MSU campuses.
“All of our campuses are very energized,” she said.
Regent Pat Williams of Missoula agreed with McLean about the importance of “faculty engagement” in what he called a promising effort.
“But I would remind the board, if we want the faculty onboard in the landing, we’ve got to have them onboard at the takeoff. They need to guide the flight.”