A steady stream of Montana Tech students, faculty, staff and alumni rose to speak at a Tuesday forum about a recently released draft plan to cut four programs, about 13 faculty positions and about 10 staff positions at the university — and all of them voiced wide-ranging objections to the proposal.
Keith Bocian, a student in the Data Science and Statistics department, called the draft plan’s recommendation that the department be eliminated “shortsighted” and questioned the plan’s methodology for determining where to make cuts.
“I want to be sure we include relevant metrics,” Bocian said.
Ryan Bossard, a student in another program slated for elimination, Professional and Technical Communication, said, “My concern is, why are we cutting and not recruiting?”
Christopher Smith, a student in Geophysical Engineering, which would be merged with Geological Engineering and downsized under the draft plan, said his program suffered from a lack of “advertising and informing” by the university.
Jon Wick, who has a master’s degree from the PTC program and now runs Butte’s 5518 Designs, said his business is a “direct result” of his experience in the program, which he asked administrators to spare.
Rosanna Hengst, a student in the Health Care Informatics program, which is also set to be cut, said the program’s loss would harm not only her but also the university and the state by eliminating a vital pipeline of new health professionals.
Pat Munday, a professor in the PTC department, said the university’s “incredibly fast-moving process” risked discouraging students from joining the programs slated for elimination and creating a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that those programs are not in demand.
Jessica Jones, a Data Science and Statistics student, said the program has a relatively large percentage of female students and that getting rid of it would exacerbate the gender imbalance that is already a “big issue across the entire school.”
Chad Okrusch, the head of the PTC department, made the case that the department is “aligned directly” with Tech’s core mission and vowed to “dramatically reduce cost” and commit to student recruitment if the department could be saved.
“We can do better than we have,” Okrusch said.
Rayelynn Brandl, program director for the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, which partners with Tech, said the draft plan was “myopic” and said the programs on the chopping block are key to issues central to the “future of our world,” such as big data and communications.
Brandl’s comments received applause from the audience.
As she and many others spoke in Student Union Building’s Copper Lounge, members of the university Program Prioritization Committee and Montana Tech Chancellor Don Blackketter sat in the front and listened. But Blackketter left about halfway through the forum, due to a doctor’s appointment, he said.
While the members of the PPC will have an opportunity to vote to endorse or not endorse the final Montana Technological University Alignment Plan, as the report will be known, only a small subcommittee comprised of the university’s deans have been involved in drafting it. And the final say on what programs and positions are cut will ultimately fall to Blackketter, who will retire at the end of June.
At the start of Tuesday’s forum, Blackketter emphasized the fact that the roots of the of the draft alignment plan released Friday can be traced to the Montana University System’s Board of Regents’ decision to designated Tech a special focus university in May 2017.
Since that time, he said, the university’s Work Group for Institutional Realignment (WIRE) and the PPC have been gathering, processing and disseminating data related to how the university can hone in on its self-determined science and engineering special focus and reorient itself to pursue that focus.
“A large part of the recommendations (in the draft alignment plan) have come from that data-driven approach,” Blackketter said.
And he said the impetus for the planned cuts is less about money and more about the university’s future as a special focus institution: “In some ways, financials don’t drive this as much as mission and context.”
Blackketter also emphasized that the draft plan is “a starting place.”
“We will listen,” Blackketter said. “We are listening.”
What he and other administrators hear this week will be incorporated into a second draft of the plan that will be released this Friday. The university will then hold a second public forum at noon on Monday, Dec. 10, also in the Copper Lounge. The final alignment plan is set to be released five days later, on Friday, Dec. 14.
In the meantime, Chris Danielson, president of the faculty union, which is known as the Montana Tech Faculty Association, said the best thing people on campus can do is “make their voices heard.”
And Doug Abbott, the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs and the chair of the PPC, agreed.
“It’s important for the committee to hear comments like we heard today,” Abbott said.