Here's the scoop:
It's hard to stay up to date on UM's ongoing struggle to solve its budget crisis. Academic programs are on the line, faculty and staff are being cut, and the clock is ticking for UM to find a way out of the dark.
Check in here for near daily updates on the the University Planning Committee as it works toward figuring out what to cut, what to keep, and who we are as the University of Montana.
Click through the pages of our reporter's notebook, take a look at our introduction to the UPC here, or check out our news section devoted to UM's enrollment and budget crisis here for more in-depth coverage.
The data subgroup pushed back on President Seth Bodnar’s charge to use program trend data and the other subgroup's work to draw up a clear list of what programs should be cut. Some members pushed back on the work of the mission/identity subgroup, and some expressed what seemed like frustration with the administration.
Tim Manuel, a faculty senate executive and business professor, said he was concerned the UPC was losing sight of the strategy that should be guiding it, and worried the other subgroup wasn’t upholding its share of the duties.
“This is becoming an exercise in cataloging what we do, and dropping off some [programs] from the bottom end based on historical data if we don’t put it through a strategic lens of how we want to move forward. So I’m a little concerned that’s getting a little lost,” Manuel said.
“I’m not really comfortable with some of the things the other side is coming up with. I don’t think it really fits into the strategic planning framework. It’s more of a catalog of ‘this is what we’ve been doing and we don’t really want to change that.’”
Steve Schwarze, a communications professor who also served on APASP, said he saw the UPC starting to fail in the same ways APASP did.
“APASP failed because it didn’t have concrete recommendations [on what to cut]. Now we’re stepping back, too. And I don’t necessarily have a problem with that,” Schwarze said.
As the data group nears completion of its method of ranking programs, it seems like it will only be making very broad recommendations — handing Bodnar a list of 40 to 50 programs, a number estimated by Paul Kirgis, co-chair and law school dean, which data analysis identified as struggling or out of line with UM’s identity.
The Faculty Senate will have an opportunity to weigh in on the programs recommended for reduction, but they hold little power besides a review.
Megan Stark, subgroup co-chair, library faculty member and faculty union vice president, said the group could only do so much on a short timeline, and called on the administration to be the decision makers and take ownership of cuts.
“The president uses [our broad recommendations], and management steps up and manages. And I’m sorry, but at some point we have to say we’re not going to find a better process on this timeline.”
The mission/identity subgroup decided to largely disregard a central part of President Seth Bodnar’s charge on Monday, which it saw as an unreasonable task — defining which fields of study are at risk of cuts and which aren’t.
After the Friday, March 9, meeting of the whole UPC, many subgroup members expressed frustration with the blowback from the rest of the committee. At the Friday meeting, committee members not on the mission subgroup said the draft “areas of excellence” were too broad, and wouldn’t help in deciding which programs no longer fit in at UM.
Nadia White, subgroup member and journalism professor said, “What I heard on Friday was, “How does this tell us what we’re going to get rid of?””
Reed Humphrey, subgroup co-chair and health and medicine dean, said he didn’t feel the subgroup should be creating the method of determining what gets cut.
“To be quite clear I was trying to divorce us from that element of the charge,” Humphrey said at the Monday meeting. “I just think if the work that we do has to be framed around what we get rid of, that kills the charge, which is supposed to be finding strength and opportunity, not weakness.”
College of Humanities and Sciences Dean Chris Comer agreed, saying he doubted the efficacy of the charge from the start.
“I never really figured that this group could create a set of distinct finite terms that actually shows you who’s in and who’s out. I think it is more about where we want to go in the next decade.”
After an hour of debating how to follow Bodnar’s instructions, the subgroup broke out into two groups to write a mission statement and solidify another draft of the “areas of excellence.”
The draft mission statement and areas of excellence the group came up with can be found in full here.
Full UPC meeting
The full University Planning Committee tried to work out a timeline for its work and discussed the two subcommittees’ work of the past week.
There are still a few significant hurdles the UPC faces before early May, when UM must present its plan to stabilize the budget to the Board of Regents.
The Faculty Senate is required to review academic program changes, so the UPC plans to give a list of “programs for further consideration” (read: programs at risk of being cut or significantly altered) on April 12.
President Bodnar led a discussion to come up with a draft timeline, which would give at-risk departments a week to respond to the UPC’s initial findings on what may be cut. Departments would have to know if one or more of its programs are at-risk by April 5 at the latest, in order to allow a week to respond before the Faculty Senate receives the list of at-risk programs on April 12.
This leaves the committee only about two and a half weeks, not counting spring break, to finalize UM’s four to six areas of excellence (identity), rewrite UM’s mission statement, and rank programs based on enrollment, cost and the newly defined identity.
Chris Comer, dean of the College of Humanities & Sciences, tried to confirm that when the UPC looks at costs of programs, it will look at the net cost — how much it costs to run compared to how much money/students it brings in. Megan Stark, co-chair of the data analysis subgroup said she is hoping that’s what the group would get, but it was left unclear if the budget office could produce that level of specificity.
Bodnar said things would be further complicated by parts of a program being cut, for example a Ph.D. being cut but an undergraduate major remaining, leaving it hard to distinguish how that translates to the number of faculty needed for the remaining program. He also addressed Comer’s concern of cutting a program that brings in students, saying UM should focus on quality of programs over quantity.
“As we accept the reality of, maybe, we can’t continue to do everything, but for the things we do [continue to do], quality should be improving,” Bodnar said. “We should be focused in recruiting and delivering [a high quality] education, and retaining students, so I think, yes, we may lose some, but we may gain some by doing less better.”
The mission/identity subgroup presented its work from the past week, showing the six areas of excellence it had drafted for feedback. Those six, as of the start of the meeting, were:
- Environment and sustainability
- Health and medicine
- Culture and Society
- Leadership and justice
- Creative arts
The group also sought clarity from Bodnar on whether the areas of excellence were primarily for marketing purposes or for defining which programs UM would continue to invest in. He said the terms were not for marketing, but soon after, said they would be “the areas we excel in that I can take on the road and tell potential students, “This is what we do really well.””
The only two areas of excellence that seemed agreeable to the whole committee were ‘environment and sustainability’ and ‘health and medicine.’ As for the others, Bodnar said he wasn't sure about 'culture and society' and for the last three, suggested changing them out for:
- Human interaction and governance
- Business and entrepreneurship
- Human expression and communication
Jill Farnsworth, the lone graduate student on the committee, said she didn’t understand how Bodnar’s charge to identify core strengths applied to UM.
“This is a comprehensive university, so it’s not like Montana Tech were we can say we’re good at specific things," Farnsworth said. "When i see [the current six areas of excellence] I think about all the other university towns I’ve lived in, and I see no difference. So its not unique, and it will be hard to inform the data subgroup because it is very wide.”
The data subgroup presented the committee with documents outlining its draft process for deciding which programs to be reviewed for cuts. Those documents can be found here, or click through to the March 7 meeting notes on the next page for a brief synopsis.
The data subgroup — charged with analyzing trends and costs of academic programs, and deciding which programs do not fit UM’s new identity — worked toward a system of using APASP data to narrow down which programs it should look at financially.
Paul Kirgis, law school dean and subgroup co-chair, said V.P. of Administration and Finance Rosi Keller told him she could calculate the cost of individual programs for the group.
To avoid overburdening Keller and her team, the group decided to only request budget numbers for the programs that the data shows to be struggling.
The current plan to rank academic programs would split up undergraduate majors, graduate programs and two year degrees into separate groups. Based off data compiled for APASP, including five-year-averages on program enrollment, student to faculty ratios, and student credit hours per faculty, degree programs would be ranked into quintiles.
Once programs are ranked in a range from thriving to failing, much like they were in APASP, the ones at the bottom, and potentially in danger of cuts, will be more closely analyzed. The subgroup decided it will only request budget numbers for programs in the lowest two quintiles.
At that point, the mission subgroup should be done with redefining the identity of UM. Then the data group will be able to use the “lens” of the new identity, along with the budget numbers, to make recommendations on what programs should be subject to cuts or elimination.
The group will present this plan to the whole UPC for feedback on Friday at its 2 p.m. meeting.
Check back Friday evening for an update after the UPC meets as a whole.
The mission/identity group is supposed to help provide "a lens" to the UPC — a narrowed mold to look at UM's academic programs through to determine whether the programs fit with what UM wants to be, and what UM wants to focus on excelling in with limited funding.
The data group is waiting for this lens to be delivered, so that it can continue the work of analyzing enrollment trends and program quality through this lens.
By the end of the meeting, the group had settled on six draft "areas of excellence":
- Environment and sustainability
- Health and human potential
- Culture and society
- Leadership and justice
- Creative arts
These areas of excellence that the group has come to will be used to define the core areas UM will continue to invest in, while programs not in these areas could be subject to cuts.
The group has also discussed other core values that run throughout all of the six areas — things like critical thinking, data science and ethics.
The debate over whether to include the term "liberal arts" in either an area of excellence or the mission statement intensified. Nadia White, subgroup member and journalism professor, said UM shouldn't run away from the fact that it is the flagship liberal arts university in the state just because some people see the term "liberal" as problematic. Subgroup members have been concerned about it alienating conservative potential students, despite the liberal arts not actually having a political attachment.
ASUM president and subgroup co-chair Braden Fitzgerald relayed President Bodnar's opinion that the term "liberal arts" should be left off the table as it is obviously part of what UM is.
The group has not worked much on the mission statement yet, but rather focused all of its time on defining UM's areas of excellence. There were still questions within the group on whether the areas of excellence should include programs UM wants to excel in or only places it already excels in.
February 16 through March 5 catch-up
At the first meeting of the full UPC committee on Feb. 16, President Bodnar, reviewed what he hoped would come out of the committee, formed subcommittees and laid out a draft timeline for the semester.
Bodnar explained the task at hand to be twofold: "Crystallize" the identity of UM, which includes mapping a handful of areas UM excels in, and then figure out which programs best align with this new identity.
Bodnar made it clear that programs not in line with the "areas of excellence" would likely be subject to cuts.
"Limping along with across the board cuts, if we continue to do that, we will destroy the quality of this University," Bodnar said. "We cannot and will not do that. And that means decisions — decisions about where we are going to focus and potentially decisions on what were are not going to do."
Bodnar also made room for programs that may not be currently excelling, but are areas UM wants to build on in the future.
The committee, composed of faculty, staff, students and administrators, was divided into two subgroups. One is set to focus on identifying UM's mission and four to six areas of excellence. The second will use data, including data from APASP and the SPCC, as well as the work of the mission/identity group, to outline which programs will be kept, and which will not.
Committee members raised questions and ideas about programs working across administrative barriers, allowing for more interdisciplinary offerings. While most faculty and deans want to do more cross-campus work, no one seems to know how to do it. Because professors are only paid to teach classes within their own department, there is no incentive to teach in more flexible areas.
Bodnar seemed wary of addressing that problem within the UPC, based on the amount of work already scheduled to be done before early May.
Tom DeLuca, forestry school dean, said he thought now, as UM rethinks its identity and areas of excellence, would be the perfect time to make some radical changes.
"There's a culture of 'can't be done,'" DeLuca said. "But this is an opportunity to launch. As we look at these areas of excellence, we should look beyond solvency, we want to be progressive and creative. We kind of hit rock bottom, but we have an opportunity for some serious change."
Since the Feb. 16 initial meeting, each subgroup met about 4 times. Both groups have struggled to clarify exactly what each one's mission is, and what each should be producing.
The members of the mission/identity subgroup debated whether they were producing the four to six areas of excellence for marketing purposes or for the purpose of having a core identity that could be used to eliminate programs outside that core.
The mission group also struggled to understand how exactly general education and the idea of a liberal arts education should play into the areas of excellence. Most are skeptical of using the term liberal arts because of the political connotations of the word "liberal," often citing the conservative-stereotyped idea of the "kid from Eastern Montana" being put off by the term.
The data subgroup has been skeptical of using data from APASP since there was so much controversy and backlash from campus surrounding APASP. The group has started moving ahead with some of APASP's enrollment trend data.