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Main Hall, University of Montana

Main Hall on the University of Montana campus is the U's oldest building, and reportedly the most haunted.  Knocks on doors when no one was on the other side, an apparition of a woman with dark hair, clanking chains, and objects moving on their own have all been reported.  

The University of Montana has a plan to lose 58 faculty and cut $5 million by 2021 — but it will do so without having to cut tenured faculty.

Wednesday, Provost Jon Harbor said UM will drop an estimated 12 percent of its faculty full time equivalents with instructor departures and hires. Although challenges remain for UM, he said the campus can begin to shift its energy to implementing budget plans, "telling the story of the university," and growing enrollment.

"We're at a point where that hard work has been done, and it was hard, difficult, soul-searching work for many of our units to go through this planning process," Harbor said. "… I think people are now relieved that the hard decisions have been made."

Proposed budget adjustments include reductions of $7.1 million and additions of $2 million. Although faculty numbers will drop and 16 majors, minors and options will disappear or change, recommended program changes also include hires in English, Psychology, Media Arts and Counselor Education.

UM has been dealing with budget trouble from an enrollment decline of 32 percent since 2010. The campus has tried to fix its financial trouble before, but it has hit resistance to proposed cuts, and attempts to be strategic about reductions have fallen short under different leadership.

In September, Harbor requested budget plans from schools and colleges that would save a total of $5 million, or 13 percent of instructional staffing money. Harbor set specific targets for academic units.

The effort followed a lengthy process to set academic priorities at UM.

Wednesday, Harbor said schools and colleges met objectives for their bottom lines, although some smaller units within colleges delivered budgets that varied slightly from original targets. He said the variations were not large enough to prevent strategic investments.

"That's why we have deans and chairs — to make those types of adjustments to achieve those goals that we have," Harbor said.

He made the largest reduction request of the College of Humanities and Sciences — a 20 percent reduction of some $3.9 million — and he said that college submitted a budget with that cut. However, Harbor said UM is not pulling investments away from the College of Humanities and Sciences as detractors claim.

Rather, he said the College of Humanities and Sciences represents 52 percent of the instructional budget. As UM reduces spending in some areas and bolsters funding in others, Harbor said the College of Humanities and Sciences is receiving 63 percent of the strategic investment, more than it would have if the administration had doled out money solely based on student numbers.

"It's slightly ironic that I'm getting the most criticism for something that I didn't do," Harbor said.

On the other hand, in the current picture, the College of Humanities and Sciences accounts for 52 percent of the instructional staffing budget. In 2021, it will account for 48 percent of that budget, according to the provost's targets for instructional staffing.

At press time, the number of faculty in the College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) was not available, nor was the number of faculty planned to be in the college in 2021.

However, at the news conference, Harbor said UM will be able to hire faculty in units such as English. He also said UM will be able to keep newer faculty, who invested time and energy to start careers in Missoula and "represent the leaders of tomorrow."

"That's our future, and to be honest, CHS in particular was very keen to work as a team to avoid retrenchment because that would have meant the loss of early career faculty, who really are our future," Harbor said of the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The provost also said UM will "wind down or change" 16 majors, minors and options, although students currently in those programs can finish them. He said fewer than 2 percent of students are in those options, which is an indication of the low level of interest. (See corresponding box for details.)

One specific change is the consolidation of language degrees. As proposed, students may seek a major in World Languages and Cultures with a Spanish option instead of a Spanish major.

Harbor said the budget plan also includes dropping the number of general education courses UM offers. "Quite frankly, we have too many, and too many small ones." He also said the number and frequency of elective courses will decrease, but some faculty teaching loads will increase.

On the other hand, he said UM will continue to offer programs that 98 percent of its students want, albeit with fewer faculty in the future. He also said UM will be investing 14 percent more dollars per student credit hours in instruction than it did from 2009 to 2013.

The budget plan is tied directly to UM's enrollment drop, but Harbor said a new team at UM is working to get the word out about the flagship and boost its student population. He said recruitment and retention are a focus at UM.

"The University of Montana offers a truly transformational education, and now that we are telling the story more effectively, we are seeing applications rise," Harbor said.

In January, a new and energetic nontraditional president took the helm at UM. President Seth Bodnar quickly hired Provost Harbor and enrollment and communications vice president Cathy Cole, who has fixed some systematic computer problems that left prospective students in limbo. Harbor said UM already is seeing positive results.

"I think we are more optimistic because the number of applications are going up," Harbor said.

At the news conference and on the provost's website, UM outlined the $7.1 million reductions:

  • $1 million from voluntary departures that already have taken place,
  • $3.6 million in future voluntary employment terminations or reductions,
  • $1.4 million in non-tenure-track faculty,
  • $300,000 to change some support for faculty; "Instead of being supported on the instructional general funds, they are being supported on the (anticipated) new funding associated with the online programs," Harbor said, and
  • $800,000 in other faculty support through "existing non-general funds and grants and vacated/discontinued admin positions).

The planned additions of $2 million are these:

  • $700,000 in non-tenure-track faculty, and
  • $1.3 million in tenure-track faculty.

Although Harbor shared the overview of budget plans Wednesday, he said UM will continue conversations to refine them over the next few weeks.