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University of Montana President Seth Bodnar sent a tweet this week that unleashed a flurry of sass on social media.

"Excited to spend time (and even play a duet) today with Barbara Ballas, who beautifully plays Main Hall’s Carillon bells every day at noon. What a treasure — note the inscription on the bell ... we know at our university for whom the bell tolls — our students!" Bodnar said in the post.

The president often, er, kills it on Twitter, but in this case, readers assailed the gaffe. Some of the most famous lines from metaphysical poet John Donne's 17th century meditation include the phrase "for whom the bell tolls," and Ernest Hemingway used that reference — to funeral bells — as the title of his novel about the Spanish Civil War.

UM has been making cuts to fix its budget problem, a result of declining enrollment, and the tweet opened the door to a bit of cheekiness.

"I'm sure one of the excellent professors in the UM English Literature department would be more than happy to help with this reference," said @paige_cohn; Paige Cohn is listed as having made the UM Dean's List in 2016 and contributed to a UM literary publication.

"True story. New president of UM is excited to signal the death of the students … either that or he slept through his lit survey classes," said Lisa Simon, former UM faculty member in English, on Facebook. She described the tweet as just a gaffe, but an ironic one from a president "who says he values the arts (even as he guts them)."

Said @nkcsullivan, Natasha Sullivan, of Missoula: "I do not think this reference means what you think it means. Try taking an English class at UM — unless you cut them all first!"

Joseph Thiebes (@thiebes), pursuing a doctorate at Montana State University in Bozeman, first questioned the tweet, but then figured the president's interpretation might be apropos: "That's exactly right, with all the cuts to humanities, and money pouring into athletics, the bell does indeed toll for the students."

The president's tweet was curated with pictures, including one of a bell inscribed with the words "sound for the student/spirit and tradition" visible on one side. In response, another observer recoiled, "Ouch, Man! Ouch!" and added, "there's a reason the inscription reads the 'bell sounds' for the students."

Thursday, a couple of days after his original comment ignited the punchy replies, President Bodnar responded in a rather, well, presidential fashion. In a more muted tone than the chipper post about playing a duet, the former General Electric executive also made a quick pivot that allowed him to stay on message despite the hiccup.

"Interesting discussion thread regarding my use of the phrase 'for whom the bell tolls.' For me, Donne's meditation is about the unity of humankind: 'no man is an island' … all are woven into the fabric of humanity. (1/2)

"We all — students, faculty, and staff — make up 'a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' This is what I appreciate about our campus bells. They ring for all of us and are a daily reminder of our shared effort to improve lives through education. (2/2)."

As of Thursday evening, the Twitterverse had opted against any retort.

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University of Montana, higher education