University of Montana staff, students push for decisions | Local

Abigail Belcher, a student senator at the University of Montana, said she’s tired of hearing about programs that may get cut at the flagship.

The sophomore hears about cuts, but the cuts don’t come, and she believes the waiting and wondering is harmful for students.

“It’s a very stressful situation when I’m trying to learn,” Belcher said.

Braden Fitzgerald, outgoing president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, said he recently showed his little sister the campus. He tried to recruit her to UM, but a small part of him didn’t want to champion the university because it has been in limbo for so long and he doesn’t see an end in sight.

“Please make a decision. The student body cannot do this any longer,” Fitzgerald said. “We are demoralized, and it hurts a lot.”

The student leaders made their remarks Thursday at a meeting of the Faculty Senate, and Staff Senate President Maria Mangold echoed the sentiment that it’s time to act. Mangold said staff empathize with proposed faculty cuts and have experienced reductions in their own ranks, but she asked faculty to not take too much time mulling every data point.

“As you fight to save your faculty colleagues, please be aware that your delay in making decisions will likely result in more staff cuts,” Mangold said.

At the meeting, faculty members voted to adopt a formal response to the Strategy for Distinction, and administrators shared more details about a timeline for implementation. The strategy outlines preliminary recommendations for cutting some 50 faculty positions in response to an enrollment drop and budget crunch. It also proposes some structural changes that aim to position UM to capitalize on its strengths.

President Seth Bodnar, who gave opening remarks at the meeting and took some questions, said the strategy will be revised over the summer, and the Faculty Senate will have another opportunity to review it in the fall. He said after considering attrition in the fall, the administration will determine the need for curtailment, which results in the loss of tenured faculty.

He also asked for feedback: “I want your good ideas. I want your input. I want your partnership in moving this university forward.”

Interim Provost Paul Kirgis said the timeline for faculty review in the fall will be compressed because the university needs to be able to give adequate notice to faculty. He also said curtailment, to the extent it will take place, will go into effect in the spring under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

“Our priority is to get this right and to be strategic about it,” Kirgis said.

At the meeting, Faculty Senators approved a response to the preliminary recommendations, albeit with questions about the methodology and some comments about adjusting the tone in the draft to reflect a more collaborative spirit. One recommendation is that a revised mission statement explicitly states UM’s commitment to “the humanities, liberal arts, sciences, and graduate education.”

A couple of faculty leaders urged their peers to speak their minds as UM moves forward. Paul Haber, president of the University Faculty Association, said if people have ideas that are different than ones in the president’s proposal, they should be specific and not wait until fall to share them.

Faculty Senate Chair Mary-Ann Bowman said the final outcome might not satisfy everyone, but she firmly believes the administration is listening to feedback, and the resulting plan would have integrity. She said faculty should not be afraid to voice disagreements or argue strongly for curriculum.

“Tenured faculty have the rare privilege to be able to speak truth to power,” Bowman said. “We cannot be shamed into giving that up.”