University of Montana

Main Hall at the University of Montana

Cheating prevention.

Credentials for an interim dean.

And financial cuts that affect programs at the University of Montana.

Thursday, the executive committee of the Faculty Senate hit on those items in their discussion before the full senate meeting Jan. 31.

Provost Jon Harbor wants UM to offer more online education, and the campus is in the process of seeking companies that can help. At their meeting, senators discussed the possibility of forming a committee to oversee online learning partly to ensure high standards.

Senator Tim Manuel said integrity is critical in online education and noted a finance professor knows some students are cheating but can't stop them.

"That kills you in the long run if you put out students who aren't qualified," said Manuel, a professor in the College of Business.

Robert Squires, with the Online Program Management committee at UM, said solutions exist, such as online proctoring. And Senator Mark Pershouse said faculty will be closely evaluating all proposed contracts and subcontracts.

"There's a lot of work on that committee to protect faculty interest," Pershouse said.

At the meeting, Chair Matthew Semanoff also asked for feedback about how to handle financial decisions that affect curriculum. For example, he said there's a plan to cut a lecturer in Chinese from 1.0 full time equivalent to 0.75 and later to 0.5, a plan that affects the Chinese minor, Japanese major and East Asian Studies major.

"There's concern that by reducing his appointment, it will eliminate the Chinese minor and will have a pretty drastic need for curricular changes" in the majors, Semanoff said.

UM has made deep cuts to help dig out of a deficit. Administrators have pledged the campus will honor its commitment to students and "teach out" programs it will eliminate as part of planned curricular changes. But what about financial decisions that also end up affecting curriculum?

Senator Anthony Johnstone said the Faculty Senate should be presented with a proposal in those cases — even if the writing is on the wall for the program — for the sake of transparency and predictability for students. He also said faculty should stay ahead of those issues.

"What are we supposed to do? Wait until students start complaining? No," Johnstone said.

At the meeting, Semanoff also offered the committee an update on the search for an interim library dean. Dean Shali Zhang will depart UM, but the provost's call for an interim dean did not require a background in library science, he said.

Members of the University Library Committee requested a revision, and the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate supported it.

"Our call as a committee to attend to the professionalism and quality of our library staff and faculty makes it clear that an interim dean assignment needs to have a level of expertise and command of the library profession," read the memo to Harbor.

In his note from the executive committee to the provost, Semanoff said the position "requires specialized expertise." After the meeting, he said the provost had hoped to attract applicants who might have significant leadership experience but not necessarily direct experience in library science.

Semanoff said the explanation is satisfactory if the interim appointment will be shorter. "If it's six months, that's different than if it's two years," he said.

The provost could not be immediately reached in an email after business hours about the timeline for the appointment or permanent hire and qualifications.

At the meeting, the senators also discussed standing by UM affiliates who have been delayed in receiving pay because of the federal shutdown. The group had learned about one post doctoral employee funded through a National Science Foundation grant.

"She is officially employed but hasn't been paid," said Senator Nancy Hinman. 

Johnstone said the Faculty Senate shouldn't try to solve every instance that arises, but it should confirm the administration will be responsive.

"We're standing with these people and hope you will address it," Johnstone said as the appropriate message.

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