Speaking of the University of Montana, oh what a year it was; highs and lows, big steps forward, breakthroughs in scholarships and research, historic milestones, national rankings, and a few predictable setbacks.
Tim O’Leary and Michelle Cardinal kicked off the year in January, committing $1.25 million to the School of Business Administration and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Later that month, UM hired Michael Reid as its new vice president of finance and administration – a job that would place him at the center of a budgetary debate that’s still playing out.
The year was off to a fast start. By February, as UM reported a 2 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from various energy upgrades, a group of UM football fans launched a petition to remove Pat Williams from the Montana Board of Regents due to comments he made about a handful of poorly behaved athletes.
He called them “thugs.”
That month, newly elected Gov. Steve Bullock also conducted a walk-through of Missoula College before placing the weight of his office behind the school’s need for a new facility. Where they’d build the college was a debate to come.
Over on the main campus, UM Law School graduate Lucy France was named the university’s new legal counsel, and Capt. Andrew Person – a law student – was awarded the Distinguished Patriot’s Medal for his service to veterans across Montana.
By March, the “Griz Breakfast Burrito” topped Ohio State University’s “Buckeye Donuts” in the “Best College Eats” contest hosted by the Cooking Channel.
While students chowed down on sausage and eggs topped off with hot sauce, the College of Forestry and Conservation prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary – a nod to the program’s storied past. Over in Helena, the House Appropriations Committee also passed a bill to fund construction of a new Missoula College.
That funding had been six years coming. Sighs of relief were heard across Missoula.
March also saw a new UM-sponsored medical program fill 10 openings with young practitioners. They began their residency training at the Family Medical Residency of Montana in Missoula.
The achievement promised to end the spring semester on a high note, a mark punctuated by UM junior Rebecca Boslough who, in April, became the state’s 13th Truman Scholar.
Later that month, with Native Americans listening intently, the Montana Supreme Court also heard legal arguments on campus regarding the right of tribes to keep wild bison on reservation land.
After 130 years, one lawyer argued, the Assiniboine and Sioux people – and the bison – had finally been reunited on ancestral lands.
But the highs would again give way to controversy when, that month, Williams was voted off the Board of Regents on 26-23 party-line vote. It was a rough ride, but Williams proved resilient and vowed to find something else to do.
With an enrollment drop of 700 students, UM administrators also began preparing for a potential $16 million budget gap. They asked department heads to identify cuts between 2 percent and 8 percent.
By the next month, administrators readjusted that budget gap, reducing it to just $8 million. A handful of faculty members rallied on the Oval to express their frustration, demanding that school officials “stop cutting at the bottom of the ladder.”
The lines had been drawn but other news would surface. The University of College Cork recognized U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy’s work as a jurist. It’s not very often you see a district judge grin, and that made the news.
As Molloy set off for Ireland, UM began looking at East Broadway as a potential site for Missoula College. May would also see the U.S. Department of Justice end its investigation into UM and its handling of past sexual assault cases.
Bringing the long investigation to a close, UM quietly signed a resolution agreement with the feds. By June, the news went national and not everyone was pleased.
Opinions on the subject appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. The agreement also caught the attention of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seeking information on the settlement.
In July, as Pablo Picasso’s “Tete de femme” went on display at UM, the NCAA concluded its own 18-month investigation into the university’s football program, slapping it with three years of probation.
The Griz were forced to vacate a number of wins and remove any banners proclaiming them co-champions of the Big Sky Conference in 2011, along with their appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinal game against Sam Houston State.
With school out for the summer and the two investigations closed (more sighs of relief), August marked a new beginning for UM. At his state of the university address, UM President Royce Engstrom called the new academic year a “time of optimism and a time of energy.”
Per its agreement with the DOJ, the university hired a new campus assault prevention coordinator. It also landed a $350,000 grant from the Montana Board of Research and Commercialization Technology.
The Montana Museum of Art and Culture prepared for the “The Art of the State: 120 Artworks for 120 Years,” a book showcasing the best pieces held in the museum’s permanent collection.
As September rolled around, the Grizzlies football program got back on track, defeating Appalachian State at its home opener. The founding members the Black Studies Program – launched at UM in 1968 – also gathered for a reunion, and to award the first ever Ulysses S. Doss Scholarship.
But later that month, the past surfaced again when several faculty members voiced concern over UM’s agreement with the DOJ, in particular, a clause that required the school to provide the names of those who failed to take a tutorial on the school’s new sexual assault and harassment policies.
A group opposed to placing Missoula College on the UM’s South Campus also renewed its threat of litigation. Amid the controversy, the governor appointed Fran Maronick Albrecht to the Board of Regents, filling the vacancy left by Williams earlier in the year.
By October, East Broadway would emerge as the preferred site for Missoula College, ending a long debate in that arena. But the celebration was quickly trumped when UM’s larger budgetary issues resurfaced, and school officials sought to make temporary cuts permanent.
As they did in the spring, several faculty members voiced their concerns, saying the cuts would unfairly target the liberal arts program. Program leaders argued otherwise, and the disagreement promises to play out this year.
And as it does, the UM Foundation will continue pushing forward, looking to raise $30 million for student scholarships – up from $17.5 million the year before. By November, the foundation was off to a strong start with nearly $10 million already in the bank.
The Associated Students of UM ended the winter semester with an exclamation point by passing a controversial resolution – fitting for 2013.
Their point was clear to all who read it: Damaging statements made by some faculty members toward the larger university were hurting the campus environment and the school’s reputation.
Stay tuned in 2014. It promises to be an interesting year, and some big stories are already bubbling to the surface.