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University of Montana Dean Stephen Kalm confirmed Monday he will step out of his leadership role at the College of Visual and Performing Arts and return to teaching music full time.

"This is a good time for me to pursue other interests in higher education," Kalm said. "I came here to be a teacher and performer, and I've been lucky to be able to always teach and perform no matter what I've been doing."

Kalm started at UM as a faculty member in 1994 and led the opera program, and he served as chair of the then-Department of Music for six years starting in 2002. UM appointed him as interim dean in 2008, and he accepted the permanent post in 2009 after a national search.

He leaves the dean post Dec. 31.

Last month, Kalm was instrumental in raising public outcry against "a dramatic budget cut" that ostensibly placed at risk accredited degree programs in music and would diminish or terminate the arts.

In a widely distributed letter, School of Music Director Maxine Ramey issued an "urgent plea" for arts and music supporters to contact UM President Seth Bodnar and Provost Jon Harbor about the cuts. She said in the letter her call to defend the arts came "at the request of Dean Stephen Kalm."

In an unusual move, UM distributed a news release two days later on Sept. 24 titled "Dean Retracts Warning About Deep Cuts to UMArts (College of Visual and Performing Arts)." In his prepared statement, Kalm said his earlier fears about reductions were unfounded and the budget targets were "more closely aligned with the plan that I presented last spring."

"The plan allows us to maintain accreditation and the continuation of UMArts," Kalm said in the statement.

Monday, Provost Harbor said Kalm had indicated his interest to step down as dean in the future when the pair met in August as Harbor took on the role of provost. Harbor addressed a question as to whether he suggested Kalm put in motion his plan to resign as dean after he helped rally community outcry. 

"After that weekend, we obviously had a discussion around his actions, and I understood his rationale, and he understood why I was perturbed by his actions," Harbor said. "But he's made his own decision about when he wanted to step down and has conveyed that, and that's what we are conveying."

Harbor said he is pleased with the way Kalm is managing the transition.

Last Friday, deans submitted budget plans to the provost to show how they would meet targets for budget cuts to instructional staffing. Harbor said Kalm chose to depart after UM will have completed its "instructional planning process" and after all the paperwork is submitted for potentially moving the School of Journalism into the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

"He is taking care of those key things, and the college is doing well," Harbor said.

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On Oct. 10, Kalm sent a letter to the provost about his position, and he signed an official form Friday. Monday, he said several factors contributed to his decision to step down, including the outpouring of support from the community for music and the arts in response to the "emergency" letter from Ramey last month. 

"Quite frankly, the show of support for the arts that happened last month was inspiring to me," Kalm said. "It just told me that we were in a good place in the sense that the administration is very aware of how important the arts are in this community and on this campus. And I think it was a great show of advocacy."

Kalm said his tenure as the longest serving dean "by quite a few years" also played a role in his decision. In August, former College of Humanities and Sciences Dean Chris Comer returned to faculty after being hired as dean in 2009, the same year Kalm stepped into the permanent dean post in his college. 

Over the last several years, UM has been working to shore up a budget shortfall that has led to repeated cuts and an ongoing reorganization. In the most recent round of reductions, the provost called for a 13 percent cut of $447,482 for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and Kalm said he has laid the groundwork to meet that target over the next three years.

"I'm so proud of my faculty and staff because I think we've made intelligent cuts to our programs that haven't really affected the quality of instruction," Kalm said. "And I think that's been a real positive, but it has been stressful."

The budget cuts are the result of an enrollment decline of some 30 percent across UM since 2010, but Kalm said the College of Visual and Performing Arts bucked that trend this year. He said the college experienced "pretty dramatic enrollment increases" in every unit.

He said fundraising for the college has been strong as well.

Even as dean, Kalm said he continued to teach one or two students, and he's anticipating his return to a faculty position with more teaching and performance.

"I'm really excited to have a studio again and also to perform more. I performed this last week on campus. It was a lot of fun," Kalm said.

Provost Harbor said he will be appointing an interim dean after asking members of the college to send letters of interest.

Once Kalm leaves his dean post, UM will count five interim academic officers who lead standalone schools or colleges, four deans and one director. Six deans, including the dean of the library, are serving in permanent roles.

"A good interim is extremely powerful and extremely valuable to a college. Having said that, of course I'm working already on launching a set of searches for long-term deans," Harbor said.

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