High enrollment around the turn of the decade was an anomaly, not a new standard, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom said in his State of the University address Friday.
Engstrom gave the address in the Montana Theatre after a host of new faculty and staff were introduced by UM Provost Perry Brown and deans of individual colleges.
Enrollment was a particular focus, both in Engstrom’s look at the previous five years of his tenure as president and in his look forward to the next five years.
“Our enrollment trends have resembled a roller coaster this past decade. ... The painful part of this trend is that we quickly convinced ourselves that the peak enrollments of 2011 were the ‘new normal,’ and we have viewed the subsequent decrease in a most negative light,” Engstrom said.
Current enrollment numbers match up more to pre-recession counts, Engstrom said before outlining the university’s plan to even out its budget and faculty to match that time.
The Academic Alignment and Innovation Program, ordered by Engstrom last fall, examined and identified programs that are ready for growth, others that are challenged and possible additions. The final report will be discussed at the Faculty Senate meeting in September.
Engstrom also ordered an internal budget and employee assessment, aimed at bringing the university closer to the national student-faculty ratio of 18-to-1 and the faculty to non-faculty ratio of 4-to-1. Before the recession, the student-faculty ratio was about 21-to-1, and now it's about 17-to-1. Minor adjustments will be made to keep those ratios level.
Most importantly, though, will be selling UM to potential students as the best learning environment for them.
Admitting that UM can’t compete with Montana State University in engineering programs, which are especially popular right now, Engstrom emphasized UM’s own, unparalleled programs.
“From a quality point of view, we must continue to demonstrate and communicate that in those areas where significant choices exist within the state and region, the University of Montana is the place to study the health professions, business, education, the arts and certainly the liberal arts and sciences,” Engstrom said.
Another portion of Engstrom’s goals for the next five years focused on expanding women’s roles at the university.
He introduced the new Women’s Leadership Initiative, the centerpiece of which will consist of 12 female staff, faculty and administrators who will engage in networking and capacity development. Deena Mansour, associate director of the Mansfield Center, will coordinate the initiative, which is now accepting applications on the initiative’s website.
“We need more women on our leadership team,” Engstrom said, gesturing to the faculty on stage with him, of which only three were women. “... to build a culture even more supportive of women’s advancement, retention and recruitment.”
Among the successes of Engstrom cited from the past five years was the UM Veteran’s Education and Transition Services Office. Engstrom said the office was audited this summer and, for the second year in a row, examiners said the office was among the best operations they’d seen.
UM currently serves about 700 veterans and last winter was designated as a Purple Heart University.
Looking to move forward from several sexual assault cases in recent years, Engstrom briefly mentioned the UM Police Department’s full implementation of its agreement with the Department of Justice.
In 2012, the Department of Justice began investigating the UM Police Department, the Missoula Police Department and the Missoula County Attorney's Office, alleging they demonstrated a gender bias in sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
In May 2013, the police departments entered into agreements with the DOJ, pledging to improve sexual assault investigations. Both have fully complied.
After a two-year standoff with the DOJ that ended in 2014, the County Attorney's Office has yet to fully implement the conditions of its agreement.
“We have accomplished a great deal in the area of campus safety and sexual assault prevention and response,” Engstrom said. “This was an accomplishment borne out of challenge, but I am here to say we rose to that challenge.”
The address finished with the announcement of four alumni who will be honored during Homecoming this fall.
John Grotzinger, a 1981 UM graduate, is currently the mission leader and project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission at the California Institute of Technology.
Jennifer F. Isern graduated from UM in 1981 and is a senior manager for the World Bank and the International Finance Corp.
Sheila M. Stearns, a Missoula native, graduated from UM three times and served as the commissioner of higher education for Montana from 2003 to 2012.
Sidney R. Thomas graduated from UM in 1978 and is chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in San Francisco.