University of Montana President Royce Engstrom announced major cuts last week tied to a decline of some 3,000 students since 2010.

A group called Missoula Advocates for the University of Montana launched a petition calling on Gov. Steve Bullock to "take a closer look into the situation unfolding" at UM.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the appeal had 83 signers of its 1,000 goal, including many anonymous ones.

Titled "Dr. Royce Engstrom's Leadership," the petition discussed "the deteriorating situation" at UM. Last month, President Engstrom announced UM will need to cut 201 faculty and staff positions to shore up its 2017 fiscal year budget.

"We have lost several thousand students and tens of millions of dollars in revenue," read the petition.

A group with at least some crossover members called Advocates for Missoula's Future has made similar criticisms of the university in the past. The current letter does not offer alternatives to the president's proposal, but it does denounce leaders at UM.

"As many in Missoula would tell you, the Engstrom administration has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster," said the group in the letter.

In an email, UM vice president for integrated communications Peggy Kuhr said Engstrom and the administration respect free speech. However, she said the president is making changes needed at UM.

"The president's focus is on moving the university forward, through careful planning, responding to the current need for realignment while keeping a strong academic portfolio and a strong student-to-faculty ratio," Kuhr said.

Associated Students of the University of Montana President Cody Meixner said student senators will discuss Engstrom's budget forum at this week's meeting. Already, though, he is pleased with the way the president has handled the budget problem on campus, keeping students' needs at the fore.

"I've been impressed with President Engstrom and his Cabinet's commitment to making sure it affects students in the least detrimental way possible so far," Meixner said.

One conspicuous name among the signers is Robin Pflugrad. When reached to confirm his signature, though, former head Grizzlies football coach Pflugrad said he had not seen or signed the petition, nor would he sign such a document.

"That's really sad and disappointing," Pflugrad said. "I would question the validity of a petition like that."

Engstrom fired Pflugrad in 2012, while the university was under federal scrutiny for its poor handling of rape and favoritism to football players; many incidents were dated before Engstrom took the helm at UM.

Pflugrad said he was told UM wanted a change in leadership but did not hear specific reasons he was let go.

In an email, the governor's spokesman said Bullock will review the petition as he does other correspondence.

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