The University of Montana's current crisis has numerous causes, many traceable to Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Clayton Christian. Christian’s dangerous lack of judgment has critically damaged UM, and it’s high time we as a community — the university, the city of Missoula and the state of Montana — turn toward recovery.
Under Christian’s leadership, UM entered "Academic Program and Administrative Services Prioritization" (APASP). Based on Robert Dickeson’s 2010 book, “Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services,” this process appears to be a sound idea: prioritize limited resources in times of tight budgets.
In reality, APASP constitutes a colossal waste of time and is emblematic of Christian’s incompetence.
Stretching back several months, the university’s work force has been elbow-deep in an exercise to produce 412 reports, each totaling about 5,000 words. Ostensibly, these reports will inform a decision process, leading to budget reductions and program elimination. However, it’s difficult to imagine how the reports could be objectively read, compared and analyzed. No one could possibly assimilate all that information in the weeks allotted to APASP’s reading phase. We’re talking about a stack thicker than those huge dictionaries you might recall from your college library.
Obviously, the totality of reports will not be read by the decision-makers. This isn’t a crystal ball prediction — it’s simply not possible to study an eight-inch stack of paper with any kind of objectivity. Instead, an assembled team of 30-40 readers will provide a wholly inadequate summary to the decision-makers, who will cherry-pick evidence to support the decisions they’ve already made, independent of any APASP reports.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of APASP lies in its egregious redundancy. The process adds yet another layer of self-reflection on an institution already amply engaged in assessment.
It makes sense for an institution of UM’s mission and complexity to self-reflect and make adjustments to stay on course. That’s why we have individual performance records, program reviews and accreditation. But the current APASP exercise duplicates these already existing processes by asking the campus to provide the same information, polished up and freshly formatted. And by golly, throw it all together in the first few weeks of the academic year.
If this charade of shared governance is not preposterous enough, the reports are produced by the very people they purport to study. With careers hinging on painting one’s academic or administrative unit in the best possible light, how can the process possibly be unbiased or enjoy even a modicum of objectivity? It’s asking all units to sharpen their swords and defend their turf with their professional lives.
This sort of leadership has killed campus morale.
In launching APASP, Christian has proven himself a frivolous waster of the vast human capital comprising UM. This institution hosts world-class educators, scholars, and innovators across its broad interdisciplinary spectrum. Picture the productivity of its faculty — a multitude of intrinsically motivated specialists — had they not been APASP-saddled. What a shame to have frittered away so much time and energy better invested in UM’s mission. In the face of Montana’s fiscal challenges, the taxpayer cost of that wasted time is appalling to consider and should make folks on both sides of the political aisle seethe with anger.
It’s said that the Chinese character for “crisis” combines the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” The danger here lies in prolonging Clayton Christian’s failed MUS leadership. The opportunity? Tap UM’s extant human capital to renew the university as a flourishing academic institution. That’s not happening on Christian’s watch.
Let us seize the opportunity to bring an imperative change to the Montana University System. Commissioner Christian and Gov. Steve Bullock: are you listening?