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An administrator watches Friday morning as a group of about 20 people, mainly students, gather on the steps of Main Hall at the University of Montana to demonstrate against cuts to the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Ryan Garnsey was offered a presidential scholarship to attend Montana State University, but he chose to pay more to attend the University of Montana.

"They didn't have a humanities department I felt was strong enough in Bozeman," said Garnsey, who is from Bozeman.

Friday, the history and philosophy student joined some 20 people on the steps of Main Hall to protest the cuts to the College of Humanities and Sciences. UM has experienced an enrollment decline that led to budget trouble, and the administration plans to reduce the College of Humanities and Sciences by some 20 percent to save $3.9 million.

"That's a radical cut," said Garnsey, a junior. "I don't think the best strategy is cutting the lifeblood of the university."

The demonstration Friday wasn't the first time students, faculty and other members of the campus community have come together at UM to protest cuts to the humanities and liberal arts. But the demonstration looked different this time.

It was small, with roughly a couple dozen people at most in its first hour. Also, the event brought President Seth Bodnar out of his office to talk directly with students on the same steps where he would later be inaugurated.

"We believe, just like they do, that the humanities are critically important," Bodnar said.

In fact, he said the budget plan reflects that value. The president said UM should have set a goal to cut $9 million in instruction based on student-to-faculty ratios in past years if counted by credit hours.

Instead, UM is cutting $5 million in instructional staffing. President Bodnar said 60 percent of the $4 million UM decided against cutting is going to the College of Humanities and Sciences. A budget document from UM shows that college accounted for roughly 50 percent of the flagship's total budget for academic instruction.

Additionally, the president said UM is spending 19 percent more per College of Humanities and Sciences student under the current plan than it did from 2009 to 2013.

Bodnar is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a liberal arts institution. He said the leaders of West Point know they can't predict the wars of the future, so they need graduates who not only receive military training, but can adapt to future challenges with critical thinking skills and the ability to innovate and communicate.

"The value of a liberal arts education is, I believe, more important today than ever," Bodnar said.

Yet some students at UM already are seeing their educational paths change because of cuts. Joshua Hall, in Central and West Asian Studies, should soon be taking Arabic III, but he said it is no longer offered at UM.

Hall is from Missoula and wants to study at the flagship, and although he could fulfill his program requirements with Chinese or Russian, he's committed to Arabic.

"If I can't fulfill what I planned to do here, I'll have to go," said Hall, a freshman.

Jane Borish, a fellow student of Arabic, said she believes administrators are overpaid and UM should pay faculty more if it's serious about education. She's a part-time student who has seen course offerings decline, and she said she does not believe the administration has been transparent about decisions to cut.

"It just seems like we're going to have a football college and memories," Borish said. "This place unfortunately is going to go down."

The administration is racing against the enrollment drop and attempting to stem the decline of more than 30 percent since 2010. In recent budget meetings, finance vice president Rosi Keller repeatedly has attributed budget woes at UM directly to the enrollment drop.

The steepest drops since 2010 have been in social and behavioral sciences at 40 percent and in arts and humanities at 38 percent, according to the most recent data posted on the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education site.

Friday was the deadline for deans to submit their proposals to meet the provost's budget targets to save $5 million overall by 2021. In both dollars and percent, the largest cut among the standalone schools and colleges goes to the College of Humanities and Sciences. It is targeted to reduce 20 percent of its $19.7 million budget.

David Diacon, studying philosophy, questioned how UM could boost enrollment even as it reduced its offerings, and he called on the Commissioner's Office to offer more support to the flagship. In the public eye, he said the strength of programs would be diminished by the cuts.

"If you're cutting your programs, how are you going to draw students in? How are you going to draw faculty that can bring that cutting-edge discourse?" asked Diacon, also a pre-law student.

At the demonstration, students said they were recently encouraged to wear Griz gear to help recruit students, but they want administrators to do the recruitment. In recent years, UM officials have said enrollment is everyone's job, but students resisted the idea it's their responsibility.

"It shouldn't be our job to talk up the school. We're here to learn at school, not to promote it," said Frederick Cantarine, a media arts major who may declare a philosophy major as well.

Ronan Kennedy, studying history and German, said he can certainly tell friends to come to UM, but it isn't his obligation to solve UM's recruitment and budget trouble. In fact, he said UM hires professionals whose job is to recruit, and he wants them to do their jobs.

Kennedy also wants administrators to explain their budget decisions. Humanities students have been told they're not a strategic investment, a "demeaning" judgment, he said, and he wants UM leaders to be open about their rationale.

"The humanities students who are going to suffer the most under the budget cuts are entitled to have their questions answered in regard," Kennedy said.

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University of Montana, higher education