Dear Montana Board of Regents,
Following the recent decision to build the Missoula College on an East Broadway site, the University of Montana administration has continued to predict that long-term expansion of UM will occur on the historic athletic fields now hosting the University Golf Course. This prediction ignores reality. Currently, the number of UM students has declined below 15,000 despite the addition of the Missoula College enrollment to university totals. Nationally it is predicted that all four-year colleges will decline in enrollment as online learning increases. Any reasonable projection based on past growth rates will not predict a UM student body greater than 20,000 for at least 25 years, and there is little evidence that the university will ever need an expanded campus.
Simultaneously, the administration continues apparent denial of a Montana law that protects the land purchased by university alumni for the express purpose of providing athletic fields. This purpose is repeatedly confirmed in documents describing the history of the Alumni Challenge Athletic Field Corporation, 1922-1947 (Mansfield Library Archives and elsewhere). The documents are important because Montana Code 20-25-301(7) expressly prohibits the Board of Regents from using gifted land for purposes other than those specified by the donor.
That the Board of Regents approved the South Campus Master Plan in 2007 was clearly illegal. It is difficult to condemn the Board of Regents, however, because the South Campus Master Plan was very carefully written to mislead the members of the board into the decision. At the Board of Regents regular Meeting, Nov. 15-16, 2007: “Rosi Keller, UM, gave a presentation on the public process used to reach this point in the plan.” Participants involved in writing the plan have since confirmed that while all meetings were open to the public, there was actually no public process. Meeting agendas were strictly prescribed and minutes of the South Campus Master Plan meetings reveal no allowance for actual public input. Moreover, written content of the South Campus Master Plan provides adequate confirmation the Board of Regents was purposely deceived:
1. In the Introduction (page 2), the Alumni-Challenge Athletic Field Corporation is described as an alumni group organized to “raise money for minor improvements” to “fund minor maintenance needs.” At best, this is an outrageous fabrication to describe an organization that issued bonds to fund the continuing purchases of land, and managed complete ownership of 210 acres, a football stadium and a golf course in 25 years. This holding was sold to the state of Montana in 1947 as a single unit “for the use and benefit of Montana State University, with the understanding that the President of the University will make a commitment to use the property thus acquired for intramural sports and athletic program“ (Central Board Minutes, Jan. 7, 1947).
2. On page 7 of the South Campus Master Plan, each of the land purchases is listed individually, and each purchase is shown to be “For the use and benefit (convenience) of Montana State University.” This statement is provably a lie intended to divert the Board of Regents. The individual lots were purchased by the Alumni Challenge Corporation over a period of years and this statement is not included in the individual purchases. The accumulated acreage was acquired by the state of Montana as a single unit in 1947.
At that time, the “use and benefit“ statement was taken out of context and separated from the caveat requiring continued use of the property for athletic purposes.
3. Finally, the approval process did not include the environmental assessment. The minutes of the regents’ meeting at which approval was granted promise an environmental assessment in process but not yet available. When the environmental assessment became available, it was apparent that nearly 50 percent of the comments were negative. Regents, had they known this, would have been required to recommend an environmental impact study.
In summary, the process by which the South Campus Master Plan was approved was designed to deceive the Board of Regents into accepting a commitment they would have avoided had they known the true situation. The current Board of Regents can re-examine the process and acknowledge previous mistakes by canceling the South Campus Master Plan. We request that you give consideration to a proposal for cancellation.
L. Jack Lyon, president,
Lewis Schneller, CEO,
Advocates for Missoula’s Future