missoulian.com - Underthem

Under the M: 'I'm sorry about your football program'

KEILA SZPALLER keila.szpaller@missoulian.com​ ​ ​Updated

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar had a quick comeback for Rep. Tom Woods at a hearing of the education appropriations subcommittee last week.

In a discussion about enrollment and state support, Woods said the success of the Missoula campus won't come at the expense of Montana State University, where he has worked. Rather, the Democrat from Bozeman said everyone was "in this together."

But he offered a little jab in an area the campuses really aren't in it together.

"I'm sorry about your football program not doing quite as well," Woods said.

Reporter Frank Gogola offered this recap about the season and noted Montana finished the season 6-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play:

The season included the Grizzlies' first three-game losing streak since 1992, their first time losing three consecutive home games in the same season since 1983, their first three-game losing streak to the Cats since 1983-85 and their largest margin of defeat at home since 1985.

Bodnar sidestepped a direct question about enrollment from Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, who chairs the committee, but he had a direct answer for Woods. The president agreed the flagships must collaborate, but he also pointed out another ranking to Woods and others at the meeting.

Last semester, the Grizzlies posted the highest GPA in the history of the football program, the UM president told legislators.

"Obviously, we want them to win on the field, but I want them to win in life," Bodnar said.

In a column, reporter Bill Speltz noted the grade point average hit an average 3.07 in the fall for 102 members of the football team: "By golly, maybe (Coach Bobby) Hauck and his staff deserve a salute on this one."

Last week, legislators in that subcommittee discussed funding for the Montana University System in Gov. Steve Bullock's proposed budget, and higher education officials shared information with lawmakers.

Reporter Gail Schontzler of the Bozeman Chronicle had this overview of the week with quotes from MSU President Waded Cruzado:

This is the fifth legislative session in a row that MSU will try to win state money to renovate Romney, a nearly century-old, former gym building. MSU wants to make it earthquake safe and handicapped accessible, create classrooms with seats for 1,000 students and space for student support services like the Veterans Center, math and writing centers.

“It’s important. We’ll go to bat again,” Cruzado said. “We need the classrooms. We have almost 17,000 students.” The support services that would be housed in Romney, she added, “help students stay in school, graduate on time and with less debt.”

One issue that came up at the meetings — the hearings are broadcast live so you can watch or listen from home or the newsroom or probably even Waterworks — is the research that takes place at the campuses and the contributions to society at large.

In that vein, this story about MSU Billings professor Joy Honea is a good read. Honea, a professor of sociology, is looking at how Finland cut its high suicide rate nearly in half in a decade given the similarities between the Northern European country and Montana. She heads to Finland on a Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant.

It’s still pretty high for the Nordic region, but it used to be as high as Montana’s rate,” said Honea, who this year is also acting associate dean for the College of Allied Health Professions and the College of Business at MSUB.

I was recently forwarded a couple of interesting stories about higher education relevant to the landscape in Montana. This story from the Seattle Times offers an insightful although troubling report on the way the push for STEM education and steep slide in humanities is affecting the University of Washington and its students.

The story notes one outcome I hadn't read about before, an effect of the decrease in humanities enrollment and increase in the number of college credits high school students get before enrolling at a university. Montana also is pushing high school students to get college credit.

It means the broad general education we want for all of our students is increasingly done at the high-school level,” said Robert Stacey, dean of the UW’s College of Arts & Sciences. “And with all due respect to a high-school history course, it’s not the same as a college history course.”

Also, if you missed this story from the New York Times, "Students in Rural America Ask, What is a University Without a History Major?" take a read. The debate reflects the one that has been taking place in Montana, and the words higher education leaders use are the same too.

Be "relevant." "Reinvent." "Consolidate." (In the story, the consolidation is campuses, and around here, it's more services and staff at this point.) Watch out for a "death spiral."

The story notes campuses with large endowments are somewhat buffered from the storm. One hopeful thing at the Montana Legislature for students this year is that the foundations supporting MUS campuses believe they can bring in new donors, and therefore, new money, through a matching dollars program in the governor's budget directed at need-based aid.

We'll see where that proposal lands. I'm wondering, too, if lawmakers will take up the private programs for troubled teenagers in Montana, operations Missoulian reporters Cameron Evans and Seaborn Larson are writing about in this series. The stories document unlicensed, ill-trained staff — and handsomely-paid owners; serious consequences, including death and alleged sexual abuse, for students; "fox guards henhouse" oversight; and toothless regulations. Former Missoulian reporter Lucy Tompkins launched the investigation.

Straight from UM:

Thank you for reading, and feel free to shoot a note or give a call if you have questions or ideas.

— Keila Szpaller

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