University of Montana campus, Missoula

The University of Montana's Main Hall in Missoula.

The talk of Missoula for the last few days has been Seth Bodnar’s acceptance of the position of University of Montana president. As a senior studying English literature and philosophy at the university, and a regent for the Montana University System, I am the only student of the seven people who decided to extend this offer. As such, I can lend both a campus and a regent’s perspective on our new president.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Seth Bodnar was the only non-traditional finalist, as he lacks higher education administration experience. As a prospective PhD student, I can understand the worry and frustrations of other traditional academics. In times like the these, it is easy to despair, and every decision can seem like the wrong one.

I am also deeply attached to this university. When I first visited Montana, I knew instantly that I was home. What I didn’t realize that first visit was that my home was in Missoula, right under Mount Sentinel. When I discovered that as a freshman, I decided to work as hard as I could to earn the privilege of spending my life in service to this beautiful and inspiring university.

We are in the worst shape in our history, and we need a true leader — a visionary with the guts to do what is right despite the immense pressures we face — and I firmly believe that we have found that leader in Seth Bodnar.

Very few non-traditional candidates could pull me away from my roots, but I can unequivocally say that I am ready to believe in Seth Bodnar. Ready for a new chapter in our legacy. Ready to thrive.

My mother once taught me that we always have three choices in difficult situations: we can accept the situation; we can remove ourselves from it; or we can try to change it. I think that her lesson rings true, but choosing to change our situation — while often the most desirable option, is difficult to get right.

Disappointed individuals could spend their time trying to change the reality that Seth Bodnar will become our 18th president. But such wasteful action will only sink our already waterlogged ship much faster.

We face incredible challenges: a 25 percent enrollment drop, state cuts as large as $12 million (this year alone) and tuition increases. The only way we solve them is together, and I truly believe that our new leader is the right one to lead us onward.

Seth Bodnar can handle these great challenges, and can create positive, tangible change for our university. But he will only truly be successful if there is a strong, vibrant and prepared community behind him.

I challenge all of us, as one Missoula, to do what I know we are capable of doing: welcoming this brilliant, diligent and committed new leader to our community. Missoula did it for me four years ago, and gave me every tool to be successful here. That is exactly what we need to do today for Seth Bodnar.

Let’s collaborate and share our different perspectives, and united we can bring about a new era of growth, stability and happiness for our beloved university. It is well past time that we set aside our quibbles and start tackling our problems as a community.

When Seth Bodnar arrives in the near future to begin his work on our campus, I am certain that I will be right there beside him — doing everything I can to provide the resources and knowledge he needs to lead successfully. Only one question remains in my mind: will you be there with us?

Chase Greenfield is a student at the University of Montana and a regent for the Montana University System. 

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