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University of Montana campus, Missoula

The University of Montana's Main Hall in Missoula.

I would like to comment on the excellent Oct. 11 Missoulian article by Keila Szpaller concerning the University of Montana's future reduction of sabbaticals.

I taught at UM for almost 30 years, and I had 13 years' experience as a program and department administrator when I retired in 2000. I was also a member of the first collective bargaining team in 1977 when UM acquired its first union teachers contract. This gave me good experience in observing how UM was treated by the regents in Helena. UM was initially the state’s first university for the liberal arts and sciences, and it was assumed that the responsibility of the regents was to uphold our academic mission.

During my tenure (1971-2000) at UM, it seemed that this was not the case. On an average of about every three or four years, UM has had to cut faculty and academic programs and now again draconian reductions are taking place. Since I retired, nothing seemed to change and the cuts have been drawn out so long that no one seems to notice; like a bureaucratic form of slow death.

What are the reasons for the dismantling of UM? I don’t know for sure but they seem to be a combination of the state having too many colleges for our population, years of college and university program duplication throughout Montana, and past hostility toward our school because of the '60s and '70s student and faculty demonstrations against the Vietnam War. If anyone thought that the immense popularity of the Grizzlies might save UM, it has not done so. The academic cuts continue more deeply than ever.

And who bears the burden of these reductions? The victims are the faculty and the students for whom the university supposedly exists. It is estimated that three quarters of university faculty in the U.S. are adjunct professors, who often have little or no contractual protection, no medical insurance, no pensions, and can be dismissed without warning at the end of each term. In the Sept. 28 issue of the Guardian, it was reported that a 2014 survey found that the median salary for adjunct professors was $22,041 a year, and that some adjunct faculty are now homeless and enrolled in public assistance programs. After graduation, students are now so heavily indebted that it takes years for them to repay their debts, and some have to live with their parents or grandparents.

Despite continuous retrenchment, UM has endured, so when I read Szpaller’s article, I was thrilled to learn that according to the Academic Ranking of Wold Universities, UM ranks among the top 500 universities in the world!

The University of Montana is an academic jewel that deserves better than it is getting.

James G. Todd Jr. is an emeritus professor of Art and Humanities at the University of Montana.

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