HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer called University of Montana President Royce Engstrom last month to complain about study done by a law professor under contract for Cablevison/Bresnan that criticized how the state how the state values certain types of business property.
Engstrom, in turn, said that law Professor Kristen Juras had “apparently” violated some aspects of UM policies and apologized to Schweitzer.
Juras’ written study contained no disclosure saying her conclusions were her own and not the university’s views, nor did she seek prior consent from her dean to use the university name in working as a consultant, Engstrom said.
Juras was hired by the cable company to do the study, and she presented it to a legislative committee in July. While she indicated in her oral presentation that her conclusions were her own, not the university’s, she failed to do so in the written report.
Cablevision/Bresnan and some other centrally assessed industries are mounting an effort to convince the 2013 Legislature to change how the state Revenue Department values their property in attempt to lower their taxes.
Schweitzer has been highly critical of the idea, saying it will amount to a large shift of their taxes onto homeowners and owners of small businesses.
“I asked him (Engstrom) if it was the policy of the University of Montana to shift $100 million in taxes from a dozen out-of-state corporations to 45 Montana businesses and 350,000 homes,” Schweitzer said in an interview Friday.
Engstrom said he didn’t know what Schweitzer was talking about, the governor said, so he told the UM president: “You have a person who represents herself as a UM professor. You assume that someone who represents the law school represents the University of Montana.”
In an Aug. 27 letter to Schweitzer, Engstrom concluded that Juras “did apparently violate” some UM policies and apologized for her failure to fully comply with UM policy. Schweitzer released the letter Friday.
“I’m sorry that one of our faculty members engaged in an activity that did not fully comply with existing policy,” Engstrom said. “Her activity may have created the impression that the university has a position on the specific matter of property taxation. It does not.
“Clearly, as a university, we are interested in policies and practices that permit optimal investment in higher education. To the extent that Professor Juras was making recommendations that decrease resources available to the state, she was not speaking for the university.”
UM’s policy prohibits both a faculty member’s and a consulting sponsor’s use of the university’s name in connection with a private company that suggests any university involvement, Engstrom said. In addition, campus policy doesn’t allow UM’s name to be used in connection with consulting activity without express prior consent by the faculty member’s dean, he said.
In an interview, Juras said in hindsight she regrets that she didn’t put a footnote in her report that indicated that it contained her views, not those of the university. She said she did make that clear when she spoke to members of Legislature’s Revenue and Transpiration Interim Committee in July. They already knew from committee discussions and debates earlier this year, she said.
“He (Schweitzer) didn’t attack my legal analysis,” she said. “He has never spoken to me. I presented a report that was critical in some aspects, but certainly not all aspects, of the Department of Revenue’s procedures, and the governor’s upset.”
She added, “If he (Schweitzer) wants to shut down professors that prepare reports that are contrary to his views, I believe that interferes with academic freedom. I believe professors ought to be able to criticize the government.”
Although Juras did the most of the work through her private practice, after the academic year had ended, and mostly from her home in Great Falls, Engstrom said she did make some photocopies and phone calls from the UM Law School. Engstrom ordered her to reimburse the university, and Juras said she already has done so.
Juras had not seen Engstrom’s letter until the Missoulian State Bureau provided her with a copy from Schweitzer.
She defended her tax study as “a scholastic piece of work,” adding: “The recommendations were my own, not directed by Bresnan.”
While she provided the company with ongoing drafts of her study, she said officials made “no substantive efforts” to change her study.