In a recent Missoulian interview, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom called on the university and the Missoula community to move forward and leave behind several agonizing years of embarrassing publicity, governmental investigations, dramatic decline in enrollment, and significant cuts to the academic offerings at UM.
While it is understandable that any beleaguered leader would wish to leave behind a discomforting record, one can legitimately ask the questions: How do you intend to move forward? And, move forward toward what?
If the guest opinion column by associate provost for global century education Arlene Walker-Andrews (Missoulian, July 23) is any indication of where the UM administration is heading and how it intends to approach the present crisis at the university, we need to pause and wonder whether the problem all along has not been a fundamental lack of vision by a leadership long on adding high-paying administrative positions and adopting a mouthful of commercial jargon and titles (Global Century, Integrated Communication, Thrive, etc.) but short on analytical foresight and genuine commitment to discuss publicly and openly the future direction of the university.
Among all the problematic arguments raised by Walker-Andrews, perhaps the most alarming is the attempt by the university administration to justify blending UM’s four-year curriculum with that of Missoula College and its two-year programs. To expect a truly workable synergy to emerge from this “pre-arranged marriage” is, to say the least, disingenuous.
Although, it may sound administratively convenient, the proposed “blending” of the Missoula College and UM is demeaning to the missions of both. To juxtapose two radically different institutions, with the hope that their merging will somehow benefit all, is destructively naïve and simplistic. Osmosis always implies a dilution of both systems and their missions.
Four-year universities and two-year community colleges have separate missions, constituencies and objectives. Four-year research universities offer students a holistic liberal arts education, focusing on the development of critical and creative thinking. This process has a fundamentally separate purpose and a longer time frame than what is desired by many Missoula College students. Those Missoula College students who do wish to pursue a four-year degree can transfer and complete their education at UM.
UM and Missoula College are separate, but not because schools such as Missoula College lack arts/sciences courses. As a comprehensive two-year institution, the Missoula College offers arts and sciences courses for not only transfer students, but also for students in applied and occupational fields. Missoula College students in occupational programs do not need to attend UM arts and sciences classes not because they are less intelligent or talented, but because they pursue a different set of professional and employment objectives than UM students who start at university-level.
Schools such as Missoula College are better prepared than four-year universities to train students in an occupational program or to develop their academic potential so that they can transfer and finish a four-year degree elsewhere. Accordingly, Missoula College faculty members are required to have only a masters of arts to teach arts and sciences subjects. Missoula College’s role and mission, although clear to many, seems confusing and overwhelming to a UM administration that is determined to impose an untested and malformed model on UM and Missoula College.
The academic and curricular merger between the University of Montana and the Missoula College hides a reactionary political agenda behind an egalitarian façade. While claiming to diminish differences between UM and Missoula College through integrating the two institutions, it will, in fact, erode the very intellectual foundation and academic mission of a genuine four-year, as well as a strong two-year, education.
UM faces continuing decline in enrollment and a gloomy budgetary forecast, which might involve additional cuts in academic programs and classes. At such a time, blending UM and Missoula College might seem to offer an easy and quick solution, one that would increase UM’s enrollment figures and boost revenues. However, like all momentarily easy and simple solutions, the long-term impacts of such a move might in future prove irreparable.
This opinion is signed by Christopher Anderson, Evelina Badéry, Kevin Boileau, Hélène Bourdon, Damien Bourdon, James Byrnes, Maria Bustos, Peggy Cain, Margaret Caraway, Charles Clark, Linda Frey, Clare Bourdon-Higbee, Biodun Iginla (New York), Mehrdad Kia, Mladen Kozul, Ian Lange, L. Jack Lyons, Kim Lockhart (Minneapolis), Renee Mitchell, Ethel Mac Donald, Alan Quillan, Todd Mowbray, Joseph Scalia III, Lewis Schneller, Michel Valentin and David Werner.