The University of Montana campus

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

In case you missed it, people are picking up on UM's enrollment woes. Two weeks ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the University of Montana had lost more undergraduates — in both raw numbers and percentage-wise — than any other flagship state institution in the country. A distinction that dubious warranted another enrollment story. But Montana's top higher education official, Clay Christian, told me he's keeping the faith in UM, and its unconventional president, Seth Bodnar. Enrollment may be down again this year, but "we're confident it's a position we can grow from," he said.

On Monday, I wrote about another declining population: North American birds. A study published last month in the Journal Science estimated that the continent has 3 billion fewer birds now than in 1970. That's a "pretty large" decline, UM ornithologist Bret Tobalske told me, but longtime Montana birdwatchers think our state is in relatively good shape. They and Bret came up with a few not-too-surprising solutions: more research, more habitat within cities, and more habitat protections outside them — including through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

That last measure might not sit well with the subjects of a two-season podcast by Leah Sottile, this semester's visiting T. Anthony Pollner professor in the journalism program. "Bundyville" examines the motives and significance of the Bundy family, who led armed standoffs against federal land managers in Oregon and Nevada — and who drew hundreds to events in Paradise and Whitefish last year. "It's that image of the good cowboys trying to work the land," Sottile told my colleague Dave Erickson. "It just shows how powerful that is, the symbol of the American cowboy. The Bundys were unique in Western extremism."

Dave also covered more mainstream politics. The Big Sky Poll released Monday by UM's Department of Public Administration and Policy shows, among other things, that only 39 percent of Montanans support impeaching President Trump. Take these numbers with a grain of salt, warns UM's Lee Banville. "It's more of an impressionist painting than a super bright line," he said.

These are grim and weighty topics, but there's good news out there too. UM academic adviser Ben Hamman represented Missoula, and sported an impressive beard, on Jeopardy Monday night. He didn't win, but told Kim Briggeman that just the experience was a dream-come-true, bucket-list kind of thing." Meanwhile, the Montana Museum of Art and Culture is $5 million closer to its own long-held dream of having its own building, and UM's psychology program is $1 million closer to expending its clinical psychology center after receiving a donation that large. How long it will take to get the rest of the money, director Raurie Birch told me, is "the million-dollar question, no pun intended."

Straight from UM:

— Patrick Reilly

Stay current on the University of Montana and other higher education news in Montana with the Missoulian's weekly email, Under the M. This newsletter will land in your email box mostly on Tuesdays. Got a news tip? Want to hear more about something at UM? Missoula College? The Commissioner's Office? Shoot a note to patrick.reilly@missoulian.com. Thank you for reading, and please sign up here if you'd like to subscribe. 

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