The University of Montana campus

The University of Montana campus in Missoula is pictured in this file photo.

As the University of Montana drives a cost-saving restructure and responds to leadership turnover, changes to some academic dean positions may be in the offing.

Deans are academic leaders who oversee colleges and schools with groups of faculty in similar disciplines. They earn some of the highest salaries at the flagship outside top executives in Main Hall.

At the high end, the dean of the College of Business is paid $250,000 and at the bottom, the interim dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences earns $110,000, according to Human Resource Services.

As UM undergoes a reorganization, Provost Jon Harbor said it aims to be agile and won't exclude deans from its examination of the best structure to serve students.

In a proposal last semester, UM President Seth Bodnar recommended changes to the School of Journalism and coordination between the School of Extended and Lifelong Learning and Missoula College, all units with deans.

Other dean changes will come as the result of academic leaders moving into other roles.

The restructure will include faculty cuts and save $5 million of the $10 million gap between revenue and expenses. The provost said discussions are underway in response to reorganization recommendations, but no decisions have been made.


Dean Larry Abramson leads the School of Journalism and did not respond last week to requests for comment. However, two other deans said talks are taking place about how the School of Journalism might be placed elsewhere in UM's academic structure, although discussions are still in early stages.

The president's proposal recommended integrating journalism with communication studies in the English Department, both part of the College of Humanities and Sciences. In an email, interim Dean Jenny McNulty said faculty from communications and journalism are discussing how they might collaborate.

"At this point these discussions are very preliminary. Moving forward we will look at plans that make sense for pedagogical and scholarly reasons," McNulty said.

At the same time, Dean Stephen Kalm said talks are also taking place — and again in early stages — about placing journalism with the College of Visual and Performing Arts. In particular, he said journalism and media arts share storytelling characteristics.

"We're involved a lot with the issues of the day and with truth. We just do it a little differently," Kalm said.

School of Journalism faculty teach students who consistently win top awards, and Harbor said he'll evaluate any proposal that respects that tradition of excellence. He also said he wants to know that plans excite faculty.

"We have a fantastic School of Journalism, and I want to maintain its strength and identity," Harbor said.

Nationally, he said many different models exist for the dean of a school under another umbrella. For instance, he said deans report to other deans in some cases, and in other cases, schools are led instead by chairs, or rotating administrative appointments. 

The provost said deans provide immediate and high-quality service to students, but they're also a part of how the campus works across disciplines in interesting ways.

"Deans are a critically important aspect of the way in which academia runs itself," Harbor said.


Last year, the dean of Missoula College took a buyout, and Dean Roger Maclean of the School of Extended and Lifelong Learning is also serving as interim dean of Missoula College.

Maclean could not be reached last week for comment, but the provost said it makes sense to discuss whether the current setup should become permanent. He said appropriate workload would be part of the conversation.

"It certainly makes sense to look at coordination and collaboration between SELL and Missoula College," Harbor said.

Earlier this year, Brock Tessman left his post as dean of the Davidson Honors College for a position with the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. UM appointed an interim director instead of an interim dean, but Harbor said the campus will certainly recruit for a dean because a thriving Honors College is critical for the flagship.

"Nationally, these are very important positions. They are focusing on the needs and opportunities of honors studies," Harbor said.

A dean of libraries leads the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, and the library at UM has been a model in using technology to support faculty and students.

Last year, however, a report from the library noted the unit had lost 30 percent of its workforce since the 2016 fiscal year. Although the staff numbers are smaller, the provost said a dean for the library remains important for an institution focused on research and scholarship.

"We are so heavily dependent upon data, knowledge, literature, how it's created, how it's managed, how it's used," Harbor said. "So library faculty, they're not putting books on shelves."

Rather, he said library faculty have deep knowledge of data sources, and they are helping students understand them and directly supporting the rest of the research enterprise.

Last week, the provost said he didn't anticipate changes to dean positions in addition to ones noted in earlier recommendations. Those academic leaders not only enable the success of students, he said, they serve the community, state and alumni.

"It is an important role, and we really appreciate the amazing contribution of our deans," Harbor said.

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