University of Montana President Royce Engstrom is hosting a VIP brunch this Saturday before the Grizzlies meet the North Dakota State Bison.
The Office of the President sent invitations to 135 people, who each could bring one guest, and it is hosting 125 people in the Prescott House Pavilion, according to UM. The brunch is one of numerous events the president hosts during the school year, including other pregame festivities.
UM officials laud the functions as a way to showcase noteworthy members of the campus community, such as the marching band and alumni volunteers, and to let the president thank people who support the university.
"These events allow us to build relationships and to serve as gracious hosts to presidents of other universities when their teams come to campus," Engstrom said in a statement provided by the UM communications vice president.
The state fund of the Office of the President will pay $2,700 for food at the Saturday event, according to UM. The annual amount the Office of the President spends on those events was not available Monday.
However, some recipients of the brunch invitation do not believe UM should be spending taxpayer dollars on parties.
Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, views the brunch as a "junket." Hertz sees value in the event, but he believes money for those functions should come from a different source, such as the alumni association.
"They need to spend some time making sure all their expenses are appropriate, and I just don't think this is an appropriate way to use taxpayer money," Hertz said.
Peggy Kuhr, vice president for integrated communications at UM, said the brunch Saturday is one of a wide array of events the president hosts. Others include a staff lunch and a pizza night for the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
The football games are unique because they bring 26,000 people to campus, she said.
"Part of the president's role is to be a host, and these are major events where we can make a major impact on a lot of people," Kuhr said.
The occasion allows the president to celebrate a number of other accomplishments and activities at UM, Kuhr said.
For instance, students from the College of Visual and Performing Arts may provide entertainment, and UM uses the opportunity to honor alumni who win awards for donating volunteer time across Montana.
Kuhr said the president's office generally hosts a pregame event before every home football game besides Homecoming.
This year, the president will hold an evening barbecue Sept. 5 with some 750 people invited, Kuhr said. Participants include new faculty, promoted faculty, department chairs, local business owners, and board members of groups such as the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce and the Missoula Economic Partnership.
Usually, the large gathering takes place before the first home game, she said.
"Given the limited number of tickets available for the NDSU game, we decided to host this before our second game," Kuhr said.
In a statement provided by Kuhr, Engstrom said the events are typical for a college campus.
"It's very common practice among universities to be good hosts to visitors, to our alumni and supporters, to policymakers and the greater Missoula community," Engstrom said. "The pregame events provide a vehicle for our friends and alums to engage with us and one another around the excitement of the game."
Football is the largest draw, but it isn't the only reason the president invites people together, Kuhr said. Soon, for instance, Engstrom will honor the presidential leadership scholars.
Rep. Hertz won't be attending the brunch. He plans to go to the football game, but he bought his own ticket.
"I know they dole out a lot of tickets to legislators," he said.
A note at the bottom of the invitation says this: "Because the game is sold out, we regret that we are unable to provide football tickets."
"If the game is not sold out, they have tickets they can give away, but still, legislators could probably afford to buy a ticket to a football game or a basketball game," Hertz said.
UM comes to the Montana Legislature asking for money so it can hold tuition costs steady, he said. He agrees with the tuition freeze, but he wants UM to examine its spending as well.
"We've lost students at UM, yet their budget went up," Hertz said.
According to UM, the brunch menu includes pastries, quiches, bacon, yogurt, granola and berries, lox and more.
The UM Foundation pays for the beer, wine, mimosas and Bloody Marys. Kuhr said state money does not pay for alcohol, and Engstrom has cut back on events that serve alcohol on campus.
The amount of money the foundation spends on alcohol was not available Monday.
Fran Albrecht, a Board of Regents member, said she believes UM's decision to spend state money on the events is both strategic and well-founded. Albrecht also is a longtime nonprofit leader based in Missoula.
"There is in fact a return on investment when you host something like this because it helps to further engage people, key donors, who want to continue to invest and support the University of Montana," Albrecht said.
Susan Hay Patrick, the chief executive officer of United Way of Missoula County, has been on the hosting end and on the receiving end of those events. At United Way, outside sponsors or donor companies foot the bill for appreciation functions.
In general, nonprofit organizations are always thinking about donor stewardship, she said, and nice events are a good way for an organization to show it cares about its supporters and stakeholders.
"I went to a really nice appreciation lunch at Homeword not long ago, and it was paid for by somebody else, which is the ideal. But that's not always possible for everybody," Hay Patrick said.