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University of Montana campus, Missoula

University of Montana campus

"The Power of And" has been University of Montana President Seth Bodnar's slogan to describe the university since the beginning of this year; it is a direct reference to the importance of a liberal arts education here at the University of Montana.

This made the recent release of the budget targets for 2021 all the more shocking to the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) because, despite the rich tradition of liberal arts here in Missoula, CHS will be receiving a 20 percent cut to their budget by 2021.

I invite you to join us on the steps of Main Hall this Friday, Oct. 26, at 8:30 a.m. to express Missoula’s commitment to the humanities. Grab a free coffee, have a seat and make your voice heard, if you are convinced.

Humanities contribute to the very function of UM, specifically in regards to "general education." Out of the over 350 courses offered with a general education distinction, over 75 percent of them are taught by professors from CHS. Also, if one instead examines the Montana University System Transfer Core, half of the categories (history, mathematics, communication) directly correlate to a CHS program, and one of the groups is literally called "humanities." Aside from this glaring argument, it is simultaneously important to note that the humanities offer at least a strong plurality of all majors available at UM. This means that CHS not only accounts for the largest share of tuition, but also has the largest potential for recruitment, two factors that will be crucial in its revitalization.

There are three factors which contribute to our identity; namely, our history, our students, and the administration currently tasked with setting our course for the future. In regards to our history, there is no denying that UM is the traditional liberal arts school in Montana. A majority of graduates are former students of CHS, and the humanities and arts have always been two of the strongest drivers of strategy. Though, logically, it would then follow that the administration is responsible for driving UM in a different direction, the president’s website currently reads: “We integrate the liberal arts and sciences into undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies to shape global citizens.”

Since the arrival of the new administration, and more specifically the provost, there has been a marked decline in the effect students have been allowed to have on their education. Perhaps the most egregious efforts to stymie student participation have come with the proposal of the Instructional Staffing Budget Targets 2021. A group of four administrators, including the acting provost, made the final decisions regarding the budget in a series of closed meetings over the summer.

Since the release of the targets, students, faculty and the community have all requested further explanation of the criteria considered in allocation, the method used in weighing those criteria, and the process used in choosing administrators who would make the final decision. In response, we received a copy of the same document presented before, with some letters on the side. Faculty continued to push back; their efforts were rewarded with a single memo in which none of the questions mentioned above were answered. However, the most disheartening comments came in a "feedback session" last week with CHS in which the provost took no questions, told the faculty he would no longer be discussing numbers and advised them to “wear more Griz gear and recruit better students.”

In decisions that will affect the education of students, livelihoods of faculty, and the future of this community, a response like the provost’s is blatantly unacceptable and downright rude. We too can utilize the power of "and"; students and faculty and the community must come together to focus this institution once again on its purpose. Let us embrace “the power of and”; it is now all we can do.

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Eli Brown is a student at the University of Montana who, in researching a similar topic for the Associated Students of Montana, has done extensive research on the process taken in setting UM’s budget targets for 2021.

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