State officials question petitions from critics of Missoula College

2013-02-01T06:10:00Z 2014-10-03T14:28:21Z State officials question petitions from critics of Missoula College

State officials are questioning the language used by a local group to collect signatures opposing the state’s plan to build Missoula College on the University of Montana’s South Campus.

The group, Advocates for Missoula’s Future, denied its members misled citizens who signed the petition, calling accusations stating otherwise “hearsay.”

Kevin McRae, associate commissioner with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, said the Montana University System and the Board of Regents believe the group misled signees by giving them false information about the construction project’s impact on tuition, sporting events and open space.

“We’ve been told by students that they were told they could keep tuition from rising if they signed the petition,” McRae said. “In reality, of course, tuition isn’t connected to the building (Missoula College).”

Parents and students who attended a local cross-country meet reported that signature gatherers said they could continue visiting Missoula for future races while saving Girl Scout activities and wildlife, among other things, if they signed the petition.

Regents learned that the group also may have told visitors at one Earth Day event that green space would be preserved if they signed the petition. By green space, the group was referring to the University Golf Course, near which Missoula College would be placed.

Officials have repeatedly said the golf course would be preserved for the foreseeable future, even after Missoula College was built.

“Cross-country meets aren’t connected to the (Missoula College) building,” McRae said. “Missoula’s green space will not only endure, it will be enhanced by the walking trails and landscaping of the South Campus.”

Lewis Schneller, a member of the Advocates group, said he received a $40 check from Jack Lyon, the group’s treasurer, to pay for a booth at the University Center on campus, where volunteers set up a table to collect student signatures.

Schneller said they gathered 700 student signatures in three days during the first week of fall semester. While students were told that tuition would increase if Missoula College were built on the South Campus, Schneller said, it wasn’t the main issue of the petition drive.

“I’ve heard discussions that there’s a potential for increased tuition and fees for those particular students at Missoula College, who would be under the umbrella of the university and would be taking classes on the main campus,” Schneller said. “I heard people talking about that, but it was never a promotional effort of ours.”

Peggy Kuhr, president of integrated communications at UM, said that’s not true. More than 500 students at Missoula College already attend classes on the main university campus.

It would be misleading, Kuhr said, to suggest that tuition would increase for those students, or any other student, if Missoula College were developed on the South Campus.

“There’s no connection between what tuition would be and the development of the South Campus,” Kuhr said. “Tuition comes from the Board of Regents. Connecting a new Missoula College or any other building with tuition – there’s just no connection.”


State officials also believe the wording used by Advocates for Missoula’s Future on at least one petition used to collect roughly 800 signatures was misleading.

The petition’s language suggests that signees could save “girl scouts, cross-country skiers, youth sledding and local wildlife” by joining the group’s push to stop the construction of Missoula College.

“Those are not true statements,” said Bill Johnston, director of Alumni Relations. “Who wouldn’t sign a petition to save motherhood, apple pie and baseball? They (the group) certainly didn’t explain to them (the signees) that all these things will continue.”

Advocates member Cindy Reimers said group members have been truthful in their efforts to block construction of Missoula College on the South Campus.

“If someone signed it (the petition) and then afterward became persuaded they shouldn’t have, it is not our fault,” Reimers wrote. “I am certain no one in our group has used lies to obtain a signature. Ridiculous notion.”

The Montana Board of Regents and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education has named Missoula College its top funding priority this legislative session.

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce also has teamed up with other chambers across the state in support of the project, calling it essential for workforce development and business growth.

But core members of the opposition group have threatened to sue the state if it approves funding to build Missoula College, using a 91-year-old pledge by a defunct organization as its basis.

Members also have threatened to withdraw donations from the UM Foundation, which funds student scholarships, if construction is approved.

“I’ve heard people in the group stand and talk about retribution against the university, such as withholding funding,” said Board of Regents member Pat Williams. “Retribution that affects students isn’t appropriate, in my mind.”


Over the past few months, group members have said they’ve collected 7,000 signatures, and have used the figure to suggest they’ve mustered significant local opposition to the state’s plans for Missoula College.

Members have mentioned the figure in at least seven letters printed in the Missoulian and Billings Gazette. They also presented the number to the Board of Regents in November, and told legislators the same at a subcommittee hearing Monday in Helena.

The Missoulian has asked the group several times to share its petitions in hopes of verifying the signatures. The group’s core members have refused each time, saying it would violate the privacy of those who signed the list.

However, there is no expectation of privacy when signing a petition used in public testimony, or when it’s submitted to the state for review.

“My personal view is that you have a lot of nerve to think compiling the signatures for your review is something we should be happy to do,” group member Jack Lyon responded in one email.

A review of the signatures by the Missoulian State Bureau Thursday in Helena – where the petitions are now on record – counted roughly 5,279 signatures on two separately worded petitions. The state places the number of signatures at roughly 4,600.

A state employee said the individual petitions will be archived in the public record.

Questions about the integrity of the group’s campaign also have turned toward an alleged donor who, according to the group’s own discussions, might contribute $23 million to build Missoula College.

When asked who the mysterious donor was, group members suggested it was only a “rumor.” They couldn’t identify the source of the rumor or who the donor was, though one member was eager to tell the story publicly.

“There’s a rumor going around that a wealthy donor has offered $23 million to help build Missoula College,” Lyon wrote in a letter printed in the Missoulian. “This is a wonderful development ...”

The Montana University System said it has never heard of any such donor.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or @martinkidston.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. David1
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    David1 - February 03, 2013 9:19 am
    As a UM alum with 2 degrees, I agree w/ you that UM is a benefit to this community and state. But, everything that administration decides to do is not necessarily a benefit. In the case of Missoula College, this is so.

    Missoula College and UM serve entirely two different constituencies, a fact that has governed 2-year colleges in this country for over 100 years. Another fact: UM's handling of MC is unique in that 100-year history, if not bizarre.

    The trend in 2-year colleges is not what UM has done and is doing. In fact, the best that could be said of UM combining UM and MC students and programs is that it is an experiment, a gross one, at that.

    Look at all the other 2-year institutions in this country and in this state. With the exception of Gallatin College at MSU (another deformity), no other 2-year college in this state has forced 2-year college students to attend classes on the 4-year campus.

    All 3 local community colleges have their own campuses; the state 2-year colleges at Great Falls, Butte, Billings, and Helena do not force their students to take classes from a 4-year school. All of these institutions thrive, as all other 2-year colleges have thrived over 100 years.

    You're worried about the sustainability of UM; that's UM's problem, not MC's. MC should have no part in that, and for you to worry more about UM than the need for MC to be at its West Campus to serve the Missoula Valley better, reflects the real motive behind UM's desire to have MC on its own South Campus, rather than MC's West Campus, where it belongs.

  2. griznationbaby
    Report Abuse
    griznationbaby - February 02, 2013 8:01 pm
    David1 if a student gets an AA degree, but then wants to pursue a Bachelors, then they will most likely need to attend a 4-year institution. UM not only has administrative control, they pay the bills dude. Without the University of Montana we wouldn't have the Missoula College. Unless you could cover the charges that UM pays for the MC, put up or shut up...
  3. griznationbaby
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    griznationbaby - February 02, 2013 7:57 pm
    I am so frustrated with people who seem to be anti-UM these days. If it were not for the University System this entire valley would not have any culture within it. UM helps bring more diversity to Montana, and the South Campus project's purpose is to help with the sustainability of this University's future. I might disagree with Engstrom's decisions regarding athletics, but I do agree with his academic ideas for the most part.
  4. onetwopunch
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    onetwopunch - February 01, 2013 4:59 pm
    They should be fixing the incompetence of the staff n faculty which students have to deal with semester long instead of wasting money on another place where students take a back seat to the wishes of relatively few. Build or not I don't care, its a matter of professionalism that needs addressed at this school.and NOW.
  5. David1
    Report Abuse
    David1 - February 01, 2013 12:33 pm
    urmom, my sentiments, exactly. If some MC students want to take classes at the main campus, they can do so. But MC students should not be required to take classes at the main campus. MC is its own institution and should be completely separated from UM.
    I don't golf, btw.
  6. David1
    Report Abuse
    David1 - February 01, 2013 12:30 pm
    John, please get over that just because UM has administrative control, it somehow should require MC students to take classes on the main campus. UM also has administrative control over the colleges at Helena and Butte, as well as Missoula. Neither of those colleges need attendance on a 4-year campus.

    No 2-year college needs a 4-year college. The UM/MC relationship is illicit. Take off your maroon-colored glasses.
  7. Matthew Koehler
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    Matthew Koehler - February 01, 2013 12:25 pm
    So, if these thousands of people who signed the petition against the UM building their south campus over the UM golf course were tricked (as basically the Missoulian article is claiming), how about the results of the Missoulian's on-line poll about this very topic?

    Check out the Missoulian's own poll:

    Q: Should UM locate its new Missoula College building on the South Campus, where the University Golf Course now sits?

    Results: Approximately 500 people voted NO. Approximately 340 people voted YES.

  8. urmom
    Report Abuse
    urmom - February 01, 2013 10:20 am
    I take it that the Missoulian poll a few days ago regarding building the Missoula College on the South Campus ended up as a resounding NO, so the tactic now is to disparage the petitions that also indicate community sentiment? If that's all you've got, it's pretty weak.

    Build the Missoula College at the West Campus. There is already a plan. There is more space for traffic, more space for additional parking, for additional private sector development of rental housing, shopping, and recreation opportunities.

    Can we serve both the Main Campus and West Campus by shuttle bus? Of course we can. The University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) has large locations on both the east and west bank of the Mississippi, and in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, served by bike routes and shuttle buses. And lest you forget, UMN has more world class programs that UMT has programs....
  9. monterrapin
    Report Abuse
    monterrapin - February 01, 2013 9:38 am
    I love that little course with it's old growth trees and beautiful view up on the 3rd tee box! I don't live in Missoula anymore but play the course whenever I visit. It will be a sad day indeed if they close it in favor of the South Campus.
  10. John P Weber
    Report Abuse
    John P Weber - February 01, 2013 7:50 am
    Why not bring the south campus closer to the main campus? South campus is already part of UM, as all the state Colleges of technology have been for years under either UM or MSU. Havin attended Montana Tech in butte at both the main campus and the south campus, i never saw higher tuiton while attending classes on the main campus. nAnd if anything is true that the signaturee gathers turns out to be true the nboth petitions should be thrown out. This group is just a bunch of disgruntled people who are able to dictate policy to Um and the state. Such a bunch of sore losers. A new Missoula college though would be better suited on the old dornblazer field.
  11. Still Here
    Report Abuse
    Still Here - February 01, 2013 7:35 am
    Seems to me that no one is opposed to the Montana College. People are opposed to the Proposed Location. Who is pushing the South Campus location other than the Administration? Where are all the supporters for the South Campus location? I guess I must have missed something. Myself, there is a lot of unused, undeveloped land at Fort Missoula. To me it is easy to access. More room for parking and expansion. With the industrial core of offerings, the Fort Missoula is a clear choice. Welding, Metal Fabrication, Carpentry, etc.
  12. Janice
    Report Abuse
    Janice - February 01, 2013 7:03 am
    Let's assume they did everything they are being accused of in misleading people to sign a petition.

    Doesn't sound much different than any other political campain, now does it? But they get away with it. Half truths, edited promises, all in a day's work for our elected officials.
  13. David1
    Report Abuse
    David1 - February 01, 2013 12:05 am
    One question Mr. Kidston should have asked those who signed the petition and who said they were told re: tuition increases, etc., is, "Would you have signed the petition had the gatherer not told you re: tuition increase, etc.?" Mr. Kidston implies tuition increase, etc., was the only reason those persons signed. It is possible they would have signed anyway.

    The Missoulian has been in bed with the university re: this project from the beginning, just like the mayor, city council, chamber of commerce, etc. From the beginning, it's been a "done deal" with the Missoulian, and now it hopes it has torpedoed the Advocates' efforts by this biased reporting.

    Mr. Kidston also has falsely stated the Chamber's position re: Missoula College. Chamber President, Kim Latrielle, stated in a Missoulian story that the Chamber is not concerned about the location. They just want Missoula College built, which is the Advocates' position, as well, but advocate the location be at MC's West Campus.

    This is what the Missoulian and Mr. Kidston blindly and willfully overlook: that a MC at its West Campus will serve the Missoula Valley people far better than its location on the South Campus. In doing so, the Missoulian does a great disservice to this community with its gross partiality to UM and what UM wants, regardless of how the greater Missoula community will be affected.

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