The May 16 Missoulian ran a feature article reviewing my two decades of service with the University of Montana. I want to commend Chelsi Moy, the reporter, for making sense of a relatively large amount of information she had to sort and interpret.
She certainly exhibited the skills and insights she developed while a student at the university and then honed as she worked professionally. In my own view, she remained true to her sources and left people to draw their own conclusions about any issues that emerged.
On the other hand, I cannot resist the impulse to comment about two of my alleged failings as reported to Moy by others. I make the comments not because of any claim to infallibility; I understand quite well that every human being will err. However, I see a critical difference between occasional errors and deliberate missteps repeated over time. Let me explain.
Moy quoted one of her interviewees about an alleged "Achilles heel" - "he sometimes loses perspective when it comes to money versus important academic ethical issues." I simply and vehemently disagree. I do not believe anyone can provide evidence to demonstrate that I have ever violated the ethical guides that I myself worked hard to have adopted by the University of Montana community.
Those who raised questions about the expenditure of federal funds under a NASA contract typically fail to mention the prior approvals for and the clean federal audit of all expenditures under that contract. Within this context, a passing mention of my service on the Plum Creek board of directors for five years, with no hint of any wrongdoing at any time, strikes me as assigning guilt simply by association, although what I allegedly violated through association remains for readers to imagine.
Similarly, to mention the university contract with the Coca-Cola Co., awarded after a public request for proposals with no questions about the validity of the procedures, and without taking note of the development and implementation of a vendor code of conduct for the university to assure that vendors respect worker rights, seems to me to allege much more than a review of the evidence reveals.
More importantly, I have never ignored but willingly complied with all requests or demands for explanations of my actions. People have every right to disagree with my decisions and actions, but disagreement does not prove lapses of ethical conduct. As a person and a professional, I value my integrity and will always act to guard and defend it.
Moy also quotes another interviewee about the desire for "more energy toward academic concerns." I find the comment less than informative. Academic concerns have always claimed the majority of my time and effort. The issues and efforts over the years have focused on support for and defense of academic freedom and academic integrity, of programs and people.
The university has developed and implemented programs in response to needs within the society, and has sustained and enhanced its reputation for providing programs of quality. If the lack of energy toward academic concerns hints that the academic profile of entering or graduating students declined, or that the quality of the faculty declined, or that the rigor of instruction declined, or some other such degradation, I will insist upon seeing the data to prove the speculation.
I concede without argument that salaries for all employee groups remain low by national standards, but I will state without fear of denial that together we have made significant improvements, even as we need more. I can demonstrate beyond dispute that the effort to provide appropriate facilities for students and faculty did not result in any lack of attention to academic concerns; or that controlled support for and careful monitoring of athletics programs did not lead to lack of attention to academic concerns. Once again, that some people disagreed with my decisions and actions does not prove lack of energy or attention to academic concerns.
While I feel the need to comment, I want everyone to understand that I do not expect, and have never expected, everyone to agree with me. I do, however, expect the same respect and consideration that I have always sought to accord to others.
George M. Dennison is president of the University of Montana.