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University of Montana Campus

University Hall on the campus of the University of Montana in Missoula.

The University of Montana has drawn 123 percent more applications from prospective students this year than it did last year at the same time, according to a UM vice president.

Cathy Cole, vice president for enrollment management and strategic communications, also said the number of acceptances has grown 333 percent this year compared to last year.

"That's a lot," Cole said Thursday.

The vice president shared the data at a meeting of the Faculty Senate, where senators heard more about Cole's efforts in recruitment. They also heard from President Seth Bodnar and Provost Jon Harbor about their work to close a $10 million budget hole, a student who raised concerns about cuts to the humanities and a member of the public and faculty leader about a draft open meeting policy.

In recruitment, Cole said she discovered UM's computer system for tracking prospective students was broken. Before she took the job, she had signed up her dog as a prospective student at UM to see the type of material the flagship provided, but the campus didn't send information. Once she started the job, she saw the computer wrongly noted it had sent a set of messages.

"We had a fairly enthusiastic phone call with the owner of the company," Cole said. "I may have said my favorite word a number of times."

Since then, she said the computer system has been correctly tracking sent messages.

UM is redirecting money to recruitment, and although Cole said she cannot afford to send a lot of snail mail to students, students live on their screens, and she is reaching them digitally.

In public comment, humanities student Eli Brown noted President Bodnar and Provost Harbor state a commitment to the humanities. But he said all but two of the programs being cut more than 20 percent are in the humanities. He feared the university was making a "covert return to professional education."

He said he understood the fiscal needs of the campus, but he urged a close evaluation of the processes administrators used to inform budget decisions. Brown said the president talked about the "power of the 'and,'" meaning UM offers not just liberal arts, but liberal arts and sciences.

Brown asked the administration to be more transparent, and he requested students and faculty to also "embrace the power of the 'and,'" but a different "and'' — faculty and students.

"We can hold the administration accountable to their words, but only if we act together," Brown said.

In response, Harbor noted UM is reinvesting money into programs, and he said the largest dollar investments are going to the arts, human sciences and business. He also said the administration's approach to fixing the budget is coming from the campus community itself, whose members have commented on both the process and an earlier proposal for cuts.

Both Harbor and Bodnar noted the challenge of closing the $10 million gap. Harbor said UM is down some 4,000 students for a 30 percent budget reduction, but it isn't reducing instructional staffing that amount.

Plus, cuts aren't the only solution, Bodnar said. He said UM not only launched its most ambitious capital campaign ever to raise at least $400 million, it plans to also recruit and retain more students.

One faculty member wanted to know if UM would scrutinize administrators and athletics as closely as it did academic programs, and Bodnar said "absolutely." He noted the budget for faculty is down just 3 percent or 4 percent, while the budget for administration is down 20 percent the last four years, which he said has resulted in some of UM's current challenges.

"We're looking for efficiencies every single day," Bodnar said.

Professor Dave Beck noted faculty numbers are down closer to 8 percent to 15 percent, and he wanted to know if administrators used data programs in order to make their budget decisions.

Bodnar said he didn't have the exact numbers in front of him so could not be precise on the percent of faculty reductions, but he said UM is spending 14 percent more on instructional staffing than it did a decade ago. And the provost said data and narratives all were used in making decisions.

In his remarks, Bodnar also thanked faculty for their work with students, and he noted the business community is supporting UM. He said every student at UM spends some $10,000 a year in Missoula, including money spent by their family.

UM is getting help from the community to "jump start this machine and get it humming again,"  he said. "It is of the utmost urgency that we fix this.''

The Faculty Senate also briefly reviewed a draft "open meeting policy" but did not take action on it.

However, UM student and citizen activist Ross Best said the policy still needs work to comply with Montana law. He said UM officials have been trying to go around their constitutional obligations by curating cabinet meetings and describing other gatherings as "huddles" instead of official meetings.

"The university is systematically playing word games to keep things secret," said Best, who has pushed the Montana University System to adopt coordinated rules of public participation.

Faculty Senate chair-elect Mark Pershouse encouraged senators to comment on the policy and said a forum with legal scholars might be held on the topic.

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University of Montana, higher education