Rocky Mountain Front

Geographer Rick Graetz is a rare bird, for more than one reason. He's a bundle of energy, for sure.

In winter 2017, I went to Polebridge with a University of Montana class led by Graetz, and it was an incredible experience to listen to all the experts he convened talk about the geography of the North Fork of the Flathead River.

At the time, I heard his philosophy about the place UM holds in Montana, and he recently reminded me of it again when we talked about the "This is Montana" column and website he and UM students produce.

Graetz takes seriously the public status of the institution and its responsibility to be of service, not just in Missoula, but across the state. When he speaks to people in little communities far from the Garden City, he tells them they are taxpayers, and UM belongs to them.

"We're in Missoula," Graetz said of UM. "But you know what? Our home is also Fairview and Plentywood and Jordan and Ashland."

The featured image of the Rocky Mountain Front and one below of the Badlands of North Jordan are courtesy of Rick and Susie Graetz. 

Badlands of North Jordan from "This is Montana"

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with Dean of Students Matt Caires at Montana State University and he, too, expressed a deep commitment to the people of Montana. He mentioned the term "constituents," and I wondered how he defined it. In response, Caires said he has a map of Montana in his office that measures 4 feet by 5 feet.

"When I took this job, I went out and bought the biggest map that would fit on my wall," Caires said. That way, students who visit his office can point on the map to their hometowns.

"Every day that I work for the state of Montana, I have a responsibility to the ranchers in eastern Montana and the loggers in western Montana and everyone in between to spend money wisely and to do what I can in my job to create the safest college campus in Bozeman that we can possibly create."

Caires also said part of his job is to talk to reporters who call with questions in order to tell the state what the institution is doing.

It's good to hear those philosophies from UM's Graetz and MSU's Caires, right?

As for service, UM announced a really cool collaboration between a marketing faculty member in the College of Business and a faculty member in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Their work is going to help clean the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the largest on the Atlantic Coast.

Alex Metcalf, assistant professor of human dimensions in the College of Forestry and Conservation, said the project represents a burgeoning collaboration between his college and the College of Business. Justin Angle, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business, shared one reason the work is valuable.

"Instead of merely selling people things, we're using modern marketing tools to inspire people to make better choices and move the needle on conservation outcomes," Angle said in the news release.

Since we're in the feel-good zone this week, be sure to check out reporter David Erickson's story about the work of the Headwaters Foundation. UM will receive $5.2 million for the foundation's Zero to Five toddlers' health initiative. CEO Brenda Solorzano said she's pleased her board of directors "understands that the impacts of its assistance might not be tangible for a long time."

“A lot of people are parents and they understand what it’s like to have young children and what they need,” Solarzano said in the story. “Investing in young children will, we believe, have a high return on investment. It’s a lower cost to provide these services compared to what the state has to spend on more expensive things like high rates of suicide and behavioral health issues and high rates of foster care placement.”

Also, a couple of leadership questions popped up in my mind today. My email box is (frustratingly) nearly at capacity, so while I was going through messages to delete them, I saw the kind note I received from Andy Feinstein a long time ago. Remember him? He was one of the finalists for UM president, also one of the favorites like Bodnar, and I wondered if he had landed as a president somewhere.

Indeed, he has, at the helm of the University of Northern Colorado.

Guess what? Feinstein is working to fix a $10 million budget deficit and increase transparency at UNC. Sounds familiar, right? I wonder if he and Bodnar have swapped ideas.

Advancing UNC will demand the best of all of us,” Feinstein said in the story.

Another leadership matter? In February 2019, Fran Albrecht's term on the Montana Board of Regents expires. She's the current board chair and she's from Missoula.

I'm wondering who the next regent is going to be, if the person will definitely be from Missoula like Albrecht, and if the person will be the type of leader who raises important questions about public higher education in Montana. For example, Regent Casey Lozar has spoken up about the importance of supporting vulnerable and underserved students, and Regent Martha Sheehy is vocal about ensuring processes that protect public involvement. Here's the current roster.

ICYMI, here's a column written by UM student and Associated Students of the University of Montana Sen. Eli Brown and signed by other supporters. Several faculty members signed onto the piece.

"Since 2013, three UM administrations have claimed that they have not cut active programs (because they haven’t touched tenured faculty positions), but in fact, the policy of imposing a freeze on new hires actively reduces the size of departments."

On another note, I shared last week reporter Eve Byron's coverage of the issue of ridiculously expensive sidewalks in Missoula, and if you're following that topic, the Missoulian's editorial from the weekend has some good history along with a call to find a more reasonable solution. (This problem isn't new. It's come up before. More than once. Like, every six years. Good grief.)

Straight from UM:

Thank you for reading. 

— Keila Szpaller

Stay current on the University of Montana and other higher education news in Montana with the Missoulian's weekly email, Under the M. This newsletter will land in your email box on Tuesdays. Got a news tip? Want to hear more about something at UM? Missoula College? The Commissioner's Office? Shoot a note to keila.szpaller@missoulian.com. Thank you for reading, and please sign up here if you'd like to subscribe. 

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