About 47 percent of the University of Montana's programs are under consideration for reorganization, curtailment, or measures to make them more cost-efficient, members of UM's Faculty Senate executive committee were told Thursday.
UM deans received an email at 3 p.m. Thursday with a spreadsheet showing how their program stacks up to others in terms of cost, demand from students and other metrics. However, details of those spreadsheets have not been released to the faculty at large.
“There’s going to have to be a hard strategic look,” Tim Manuel told the intimate meeting among UM President Seth Bodnar, new provost Jon Harbor and seven faculty members.
UM is struggling financially, largely because of an enrollment drop of some 28.5 percent since 2010.
Manuel, who helped assemble the data sent to the deans, nonetheless said “you can’t just go on the data. I mean I won’t mention specifics but I know there’s some (programs) that there’s no way you can cut. So someone will have to make those decisions.” Manuel represents accounting and finance on the committee.
Bodnar said the deans are that “strategic look,” as they’re charged with reviewing the data while using a rubric that assesses how well a program fits with the university’s mission and reorganization moving forward.
“A program that is high cost and low demand doesn’t necessarily mean it gets completely cut,” Bodnar said. “It means maybe we need to rethink how we deliver that. Maybe we don’t need a major in this, but we need a minor. It makes for a hard multivariate analysis, but I promise you, the UPC (University Planning Committee) in particular has worked really hard on this.”
The deans will meet Saturday to discuss their analysis, and on April 16, Bodnar will deliver a paper to the campus community with a list of the recommendations.
“Some of them will be recommendations that deans and others made as part of APASP,” Bodnar said of UM's months-long Academic Program and Administrative Services Prioritization process. “Others will be new recommendations to curtail, discontinue, or reorganize certain programs.”
Following that presentation, there will be a two-week period for feedback, and then a final set of recommendations will be presented to the Board of Regents.
“And then, if there are programs to be discontinued, there’s a process laid out in the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that we will work together with the union to go through," Bodnar said.
Faculty Senate Chair Mary-Ann Bowman asked Bodnar about the plan for improving enrollment now that Vice President for Enrollment and Student Affairs Tom Crady is not continuing in his position. She said she learned in a budget meeting earlier Thursday that two indicators for fall enrollment — the number of admits and the number of housing deposits — are down.
“Where was the plan for enrollment when Tom got his letter (informing him his contract wouldn't be renewed) in January? Where do we have the expertise that’s going to help? Because otherwise it’s going to be down even more," said Bowman.
Bodnar said people on campus are working hard on recruitment right now, but some challenges may be skewing the indicators for fall. Financial aid award letters were six weeks late in getting delivered, and were just sent in March. Bodnar said he’s hopeful that there will be more commits coming in once those letters are delivered.
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He also said the university needs to focus on retention as much as recruitment, because about 20 percent of students don’t come back after their first year at UM.
Stacey Gordon Sterling, the faculty representative from the law school, asked what will be done to support faculty as they try to recover from this process. Bodnar said the clarity that will come with the final recommendations in May should help to deal with the sense of limbo and uncertainty that has plagued faculty for several years now.
“I think that will definitely go a long way to helping,” Gordon Sterling said. “I’m also, I feel like there’s this sense of trauma. And I don’t know how we’re gonna get past that.”
Anne Delaney, from health professions, agreed: “It sounds like grief counseling. I wish we didn’t have to say it that way, but things have died. We’ve lost things that we used to hold dear, you know?”
Bowman said grief is her specialty, and it’s always more difficult to deal with grief when it feels like it was someone else’s fault. She said she feels there’s a sense of that on campus.
“In the budget meeting, somebody made the comment that there’s too many faculty,” Bowman said. “Well, there wasn’t too many faculty until there was too few students — whose fault is too few students? So I think you’re absolutely right, there is this sense of trauma, that we have all these losses, we have all these changes that we didn’t ask for and that feel a bit undeserved and that I do think makes it feel harder. How do we get past that?”
The problem with that grief, Bowman said, is that she and the other faculty understand why the cuts must be made. But it isn’t easy to accept.
“And at the same time, we get it, we understand.”
Harbor, the new provost, whose contract will officially begin in August, said he’s been watching UM’s dropping enrollment and consequent budget challenges for several years, and the question now should be: “How do we move forward?”
Now that the hard work of ranking programs and making recommendations is nearly complete, faculty, senate and staff can begin to think ahead while building the programs that have been identified as key areas for growth, he said.
“You’ve got a process that has involved a lot of different people, you’ll come up with a set of decisions, and part of my role coming in is to make sure that those get implemented,” Harbor said. “And we take a deep breath and say now we have the space to look forward.”
Bowman said she agrees with Harbor, but she is also thinking about those who won’t have the opportunity to move forward as part of UM’s new plan.
“I tend to be optimistic and look ahead, but what about the people whose hearts are broken, and how do we acknowledge that at their pace as well?” she asked. “So I think yes, and also I think, 'Boy, it’s not always as easy as lets link arms and move forward.' Some people’s losses are going to be a career. Their children’s schools, all of that.”