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032710 um work week
Ann Guiditta, who works for Human Resource Services at the University of Montana, talks during a public forum on a proposal to shorten UM’s work week to four days. Few in attendance at the Friday forum spoke in favor of the proposal. Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Faculty, students and staff members expressed concerns Friday during a public forum on a proposal to shorten the University of Montana school week, with many in the audience questioning whether the hassle of switching to a four-day work week would be worth the financial savings.

And Chris Comer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, made it clear that the potential savings is unknown. Comer is the co-chair of a task force charged with studying the proposal and making a recommendation to top university administrators.

An early analysis suggested the shortened school week could reduce UM’s budget by $450,000, mostly through utility cost savings.

However, Comer said Friday that the committee is reworking the savings estimates. In fact, the task force is diving into the matter with no preconceived notions, looking at classroom space, asking departments whether it’s academically feasible, weighing costs and benefits, and soliciting feedback from other universities – some of which have switched to a four-day school week and others that considered the option but chose not to move forward.

Very few of the hundred or so people in attendance at the University Center Theater favored the shortened work week, and no one who spoke identified themselves only as a student. However, many UM employees spoke on behalf of students, concerned that loading school work into four days would be difficult to manage academically, especially for those who hold one or more jobs.

Donna Farmer is a single mother, part-time UM student, employee of the UM Financial Aid Office and holds a second job in the community. As it is, she’s on campus at 6:30 a.m. daily and doesn’t get home until 6:30 p.m.

If UM implemented a shortened work week, she’s not sure she could continue juggling everything.

“I don’t know if I would still be able to go to school,” she said.

Many of the concerns – child care, commuting, employee productivity, the ability to work multiple jobs – were ones Comer and committee co-chair Rosi Keller, associate vice president of administration and finance, had heard before. The task force has a Web site and e-mail address where the campus community can comment. Prior to Friday’s forum, they had received about 150 to 200 comments, primarily from faculty and staff.

Comer and Keller plan to host a similar open forum for Missoula residents to voice their concerns as well, since the shortened work week would affect delivery trucks and small businesses who employ students.

Sarah Halvorson, chair of the department of geography, spoke on behalf of student athletes and small business owners.

Halvorson is involved with the UM triathlon and cycling teams and is concerned that longer school days would affect the training of athletes who compete and perform at national levels.

They’re not intercollegiate sports, but these teams’ reputations have attracted students to UM, she said. These athletes train between 15 and 25 hours a week, she said, “and it can’t all happen in one day. It’s a daily engagement. You need the rest and sleep.”

Halvorson also owns Missoula Bicycle Works with her husband, Alex Gallego. Some of the best employees at the store have been UM students, she said, and the business operates seven days a week.

“We can’t just schedule our students one day a week,” she said.

The original idea behind a shortened work week was that it would run Tuesday to Friday, to accommodate the many sporting and cultural activities that occur on Fridays. However, Keller reaffirmed that all ideas and suggestions are still on the table.

The task force began studying the notion in February and expects to deliver a recommendation to top administrators for consideration early in May.

Two additional public forums are scheduled for Thursday, April 8, from 2-3 p.m. at the University Center Theater and on Friday, April 9, from noon to 1 p.m. at the UM-Missoula College of Technology.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

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