UM releases strategic recommendations for program realignment, core areas of focus

Incoming University of Montana provost Jon Harbor, left, President Seth Bodnar, center, and interim provost Paul Kirgis discuss the recommendations included in the school’s new strategic plan, which was released on Tuesday. (Missoula Current)

The University of Montana released a draft of its new strategic plan on Tuesday, including a core set of recommendations intended to better meet the needs of students while positioning the university for a changing future.

The plan includes a revamped mission statement and offers a series of goals that target both academic and administrative changes, including the elimination or realignment of some programs and a push to direct resources to areas of broad student interest.

“Change is always difficult, but these are important adjustments for us to make,” UM President Seth Bodnar said. “This is about shaping the university to best serve our students now and in the future.”

Bodnar joined interim provost Paul Kirgis and incoming provost Jon Harbor in media interviews Tuesday morning to review the recommendations before discussing them with the faculty senate later in the day.

Detailed in a 20-page plan, the recommendations represent two years of work by a number of campus groups charged with taking a deep dive into current statistics and trends, including changing student interests, a lower enrollment and changes in the workforce.

“At the heart of all this has been one question: How do we most effectively meet the needs of our students and deliver for them a high-quality, world-class education that’s accessible and affordable,” Bodnar said. “That’s what’s been driving all of this analysis.”

The plan identifies six core areas on which the university will focus, including science and technology, artistic expression, business and entrepreneurship, and health and human development, among others.

It also looks to reorganize the College of Humanities and Sciences by replacing 23 department heads with 10 divisional heads, a move advocates believe will simplify the administrative process and encourage more work across disciplines.

The plan also looks to create a Division of Biological Sciences that encompass a number of existing areas, including chemistry, physics and astronomy. It does the same with a proposed Division of Mathematics, as well as a newly formed Division of Languages and Culture.

“We’ll eliminate specific majors in a specific language, but we’ll consolidate that into two studies, including Asian studies and European studies,” Bodnar said. “We’re still offering language training here, but we’ll offer it in as effective and streamlined way as possible through a combination of in-person learning, immersion experiences and using online and distance technology as effectively as we can.”

While the streamlining refocuses limited resources to the greatest benefit, Bodnar said, other programs could see a reduction in faculty, or discontinuation all together, including a minor in applied science and a certificate in bioethics.

Other programs eyed for discontinuation include mountain studies, global youth development, and the global humanities and religion program, which has seen majors decline by 58 percent, according to the strategic plan.

“Disruptions to programs won’t mean disruptions to students who are already here,” said Bodnar. “Students in those programs will be able to finish.”

The recommendations also look to bring the university’s faculty numbers in line with current enrollment, which has steadily decreased over the past several years, falling as much as 30 percent.

According to the recommendations, the College of Humanities and Sciences could see a reduction of roughly 34 full-time equivalents, while the College of Education and Human Sciences would see a reduction of two.

The College of Forestry could lose 2 FTEs, and the College of Health Professionals and Biomedical Sciences could lose three. The College of Visual and Performing Arts would see a reduction of six, and the School of Journalism and the School of Law would each lose one.

Bodnar said the reductions represent preliminary estimates and don’t align with specific individuals, and some faculty could be placed in other programs.

“As best we can, we’ll make these reductions over the course of the next three years through departures and attrition,” Bodnar said. “Where that’s not possible, there’s curtailment in specific areas as necessary. We’d do that in conjunction with the deans and the union through the processes laid out.”