Larry Hufford, the dean of the University of Montana’s College of Humanities and Sciences, unexpectedly stepped down from his position on March 2 to take on a faculty role.
The University must begin a search for a new interim dean to fill Hufford’s role as the now-former dean takes on teaching. But administrators and faculty have differing messages regarding the dean’s unexpected announcement.
Hufford is the second dean to step down from the position in the last three years amidst budget cuts and calls for reorganization within the College of Humanities and Sciences, said Kyle Volk, the head of UM’s history department.
The last College of Humanities and Sciences dean, Christopher Comer, stepped down in fall 2018 to join the faculty as well.
“It’s unsettling to say the least,” Volk said.
Paul Muench, the head of the philosophy department at UM, echoed Volk’s sentiments.
“Not having a dean at the head of a college, especially the main college at the University, doesn’t seem like a great idea to me,” Muench said.
After six years of consistent budget cuts to the college, Muench said faculty had enough on their hands without the revolving door of leadership. With rumors of even more cuts circulating, he said Hufford’s stepping down should raise questions about why he resigned from the job so early.
“I wasn’t in the room, but from the outside, his decision is very surprising,” Muench said. “He was committed, motivated and enthusiastic, but it looks like he felt that what he was being asked to do was not in the best interest of the college.”
Acting Provost Reed Humphrey said Hufford’s resignation was announced in a memorandum, citing his motivation as a desire to teach. Hufford will be joining the faculty of the biological sciences department.
“I know Dr. Hufford is excited about engaging in his research and the opportunity to teach, and as before, I respect his decision and want to be supportive of his transition to the faculty,” Humphrey stated in an email.
As far as budget cuts go, Dave Kuntz, UM’s director of strategic communications, said the University is in the midst of implementing a new budget enrolled to support programs with the most students. He said the budget will be based on three factors: the number of classes offered to students by each college, the number of majors offered in each college and the research expenditures of each college.
He added that there haven’t been any decisions made regarding faculty or staffing levels.
At present, the College of Humanities and Sciences is being led by its three associate deans, Creagh Breuner, Matthew Semanoff and Julia Baldwin.
Breuner, who has been an associate dean at the college for three years, said she and her colleagues are hoping to help the college get through Hufford’s departure by jointly covering the position. Breuner added that open communication will be important to navigate this period successfully.
Humphrey said the three associate deans have been meeting with department chairs, and he and UM President Seth Bodnar also met with department chairs earlier in the week.
“It’s important that they know we are personally and professionally supportive of their work,” Humphrey said.
Concerning the future of the College of Humanities and Sciences, Kuntz said the college will remain the largest at the University, having the most students enrolled and the most classes offered. He added that the difference between UM and competing schools in the area is that the College of Humanities and Sciences provides the foundation of general education in Missoula, and this is not going to change.
“I’m a graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences and I can see the value it has given me in my career,” Kuntz said. “I know many of the administrators feel the same way.”
For Volk in the history department, the future depends on support of University administration, along with commitments to replace lost colleagues who have either retired or passed away.
Muench, from the philosophy department, said the biggest question for the future of the college is whether or not the administration will back them.
“If we don’t stop cutting this college, then there will be irreparable damage to this college and the University,” Muench said.
Hufford did not respond to requests for comment.