Blending UM, Missoula College demeans missions of both

2013-09-03T08:30:00Z 2013-09-03T09:22:17Z Blending UM, Missoula College demeans missions of bothGuest column by MICHEL VALENTIN and 24 CO-SIGNERS missoulian.com

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.

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(8) Comments

  1. Maria Bustos-Fernandez
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    Maria Bustos-Fernandez - September 06, 2013 9:50 am
    Right on!! I read the letter and co-signed it but my name came in too late. Missoula College and UM should and cannot blend. There are strong academic reasons for this that are well outlined in the letter; academic arguments are the ones that have to prevail even when economic reasons bend decisions somewhere else. We, faculty, both at MC and UM, are the obvious guardians of this mission, because it is what we do every single day. Let's not forget the academic priorities and our "razon de ser".
    Maria J. Bustos-Fernandez
  2. Luce
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    Luce - September 04, 2013 10:47 am
    I agree with these comments. The fiscal and academic merger between UM and the VoTech(!) was problematic from its very inception. These two institutions are apples and oranges when it comes to their missions. I so agree about the thousands of technical jobs going unfulfilled . . . and students banging down the doors to get into technical schools only to land on waitlists for many programs! Missoula College could expand in so many ways and serve so many more students. Especially in the health professions where the demand is there and happens to coincide with the predicted explosion of jobs in the health care industry. Missoula College offers a beautiful array of programs. In only two years, students are prepared for the job market and often in careers that pay living wages. The only problem is UM is so fearful of Missoula College siphoning off enrollments and revenue, it would never let any sort of expansion happen. It sees Missoula College as the remedial arm of the University. A place to park students for two years who aren't academically ready for a four-year institution.

    This is tough to watch, especially from someone who benefitted from a two-year education at a community college. When graduated with an A.S. degree, I was immediately employed in a good job, paying good wages and offering good benefits. Some years later, I went back to school and got a bachelor's. But it was the two-year degree, that gave me the leg up in life. It's also worth mentioning, when I attended that school, there was no tuition. Then Reagan was elected . . . .
  3. TILLMAN
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    TILLMAN - September 04, 2013 7:51 am
    WHEN FUHER/FATCAT ENGSTROM URGES ALL TO, "PUT BEHIND" ALL THE CRIMINAL AND FINANCIAL WRONGDOING WHICH HAS TAKEN/IS TAKING PLACE DURING HIS WATCH; IT REMINDS ME OF THOSE FAMOUS WORDS FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ-------------"PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN".
  4. BR
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    BR - September 03, 2013 11:59 pm
    While this letter CAN be taken as falling into the 'elitism' language of anti-educationists, the argument is fundamental to the organization of advanced education. Underneath it all is the practical experience of centuries that you cannot do in two years what you need to do in four, and trying to squeeze four year curriculum units into a two year program does violence to traditional expectations of four year graduates and a disservice to the two year graduate whose education is spotty.
  5. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - September 03, 2013 5:31 pm
    Very good article. I support the philosophy it represents. I don't know the current Administration, so can't judge them. However, my experience there gave me the impression that the purpose of the University was to provide employment for faculty, and everything else was subordinate thereto.

    The mantra for the past 40+ yrs has been: "15 students; one faculty member"-that was literally said to me by a V.P.. The enrollment census was everything. Students who would have been served better elsewhere were encouraged to stay; students who "flunked out" were readmitted without question; sometimes multiple times.

    The campaign to improve retention is a false god without there being competent assessment of the individuals in question-who could benefit by staying and who would be better served elsewhere. The University should be committed to serving individual students; not student bodies being used to serve the University(I don't mean just UM).

    There are many thousands of technical jobs going unfilled in this Country; jobs that pay very well, and which this Country needs, while young people are being recruited to 4 yr institutions in general studies, propaganda majors and Mickey Mouse programs, so that the 4 yr institutions can retain faculty. I don't want faculty members harmed; but I don't want students used, either.
  6. Crumb
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    Crumb - September 03, 2013 5:13 pm
    In order to fully understand what is going on in academia and especially at UM, it helps to read two documents: I) the book by Bill Reading, "The University in Ruins" which masterfully shows how and why, postmodern capitalism is destroying the liberal arts core of universities (via a certain use of postmodern sciences and technology to harass and progressively reduce the humanities--an example is the misleading and strongly biased article of Steven Pinker--Harvard psychologist, in the last "New Republic"), and, 2) to examine the four discourses by Jacques Lacan and especially the discourse of the university.
    Brother Lehcim Nitnelav (alias--easy to decipher via a literal re-arrangement)
  7. Crumb
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    Crumb - September 03, 2013 5:03 pm
    What is truly amazing is the silence of the majority of the UM faculty. Where are the voices of the faculty senate and the faculty union? Where are the voices of women and minorities? Where are the voices of the employees? Are they indifferent to the issues affecting their institution? Do they all agree with the choices the present Higher-Ups have selected for the institution where they work? The campus has been declared tobacco free and hate free. It has also become voice free, except for the "Politically Correct" monolingual voice.
    Dr. Rex Lapidus--A concerned retired professor (University of Minnesota)
  8. Nikki's Niece
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    Nikki's Niece - September 03, 2013 10:53 am
    Excellent article by a group of courageous UM faculty and community members who are fully aware that questioning the UM administration has its own costs. The problem remains, however, that despite this article and other efforts, we have a UM leadership that refuses to listen. Leaders who don’t listen are typically insecure individuals who do not have a vision of their own and dislike those who do. I hope there will come a day soon at UM when those who have displayed passion and commitment to the institution will play a central role in determining the future of the university, and those “empty suits” who pretend they know will take a back seat and listen for a change to the voice of reason and commitment.
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