“Please make a decision. The student body cannot do this any longer. We are demoralized and it hurts a lot.” These were the words of Braden Fitzgerald, president of the Associated Students of University of Montana, as he addressed the Faculty Senate on May 3.
Braden, current students and soon-to-be graduates, we hear you. We stand in solidarity, ready to do the hard work of moving our university forward.
Right now, UM is bustling with energetic conversations about the future. Although many of those conversations reveal heated differences, there is one thing almost everyone has agreed on for some time: we need a new plan.
For five years, prior administrations took an incremental approach to chronic imbalances between student demand and faculty resources. There is blame to go around for declining enrollment. The reality is that the University of Montana’s student headcount and its related revenues will not return to their one-time peak in the near future. Across-the-board budget cuts have decimated programs without regard to the number of students served, and starved disciplines that are poised for growth.
Inaction is no longer an option. Failing to act in this critical moment hurts all of us.
UM President Seth Bodnar’s Strategy for Distinction is a good faith plan to get us moving in the right direction. It is not perfect, but it is a practical step towards a stronger, more sustainable University of Montana. We can and must continue to strive to do our best — teach, research and work together to develop innovative solutions to the challenges of our time. Hardship and introspection can breed innovation and resourcefulness. Far from an assault on our traditional strengths, the Strategy for Distinction will allow the campus to focus on quality, not quantity.
As public servants for the great state of Montana, we need to do better — now.
Maria Mangold, Staff Senate president, implored faculty to act at the recent Faculty Senate meeting: “As you fight to save your faculty colleagues, please be aware that your delay in making decisions will likely result in more staff cuts.” Without decisive action, we risk losing our best and brightest employees. More importantly, our students will lose faith that the University of Montana values their education above all else.
The process of change is difficult, especially when it involves examining the contributions of individuals to our community of learning. But it is time for this faculty to bravely renew its institutional imagination and endorse a decisive path forward that best meets the needs of our present and future students.
We’re grateful for the Strategy for Distinction because we believe that it will help build a sustainable, invigorated future for UM. We call on our colleagues to participate in this strategy with concrete steps so we can collectively create a university that will offer students the rich, distinguished education they deserve for generations to come.