University of Montana

Main Hall sits in the center of the University of Montana campus in Missoula.

The University of Montana wants to "reassert and rebrand" its liberal philosophy of education.

The flagship campus wants to pay staff "a living wage at a minimum."

UM also wants to "establish a Chief Diversity Officer" under the Office of the President.

And it wants to assess student services from beginning to end.

Those goals are outlined in UM's strategic plan released Thursday in an email to the campus community from UM President Sheila Stearns. Called "UM Strategic Vision: Creating Change Together," version 1.0. notes more than 1,000 people on campus, in the city of Missoula, and across the state gave input into the document.

"Our campus community has engaged in a yearlong inclusive, transparent, and data-driven process with broad participation from faculty, staff, students, and external friends of our university," Stearns said in the email. "Collectively, you have co-authored a promising, distinctive future for the University of Montana."

The email notes members of the Strategic Planning Coordinating Council will take questions about the plan at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, April 14, in Gilkey 105.

Stearns is serving as interim president, and she noted the plan will help inform the search for a permanent president.

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Dean Brock Tessman said the idea to update UM's strategic plan came from former President Royce Engstrom last April.

UM had experienced leadership change even before Engstrom departed in December 2016 at the request of the commissioner of higher education. Plus, it was struggling with enrollment and budget challenges, and it had been five years since the last plan had been written for UM, Tessman said.

The landscape for higher education continues to shift as well.

"I think that this plan is really about changing the culture that we have on campus in some really positive ways," Tessman said. "The first strategic opportunity that we mention is investing in our people."

Anytime an organization faces challenges, it must support its students, staff, faculty, and administrators, even as it asks employees to sometimes do more with less, he said.

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The goal to "rebrand" came about because UM doesn't want to get caught up in other people's terminology, he said. He said the core skills UM develops in students include communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and a sense of ethical responsibility.

"Those skills and values cut across our entire curriculum," Tessman said.

They're unique to UM, and it will broadcast them as such. According to the plan, UM will "tout this model of education as one that best prepares all students, regardless of major, to be flexible leaders in a rapidly changing world."

Undergraduate education and research excellence also are key, the chair said.

"That's the path forward for the University of Montana," Tessman said. "We are exactly the perfect kind of university for a student to come and receive individualized attention, to feel a sense of community, to work closely with professors, but also to work with world-class faculty on the cutting edge of their field."

Some of the ideas in the plan will cost money, but Tessman said the vision isn't one that's meant to be realized in the next three months or even in the next year. However, he said it's important to have a guide in place that can serve as a compass for other planning efforts underway.

"It's more important than ever right now to be thinking strategically and have some kind of logical consistency as we work through a challenging time and plot the path forward," Tessman said.

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Reporter for the Missoulian