Annals of MSU: 1971-1976
The 1970 U. S. census showed that the population of the U.S. was 203,392,000 of which 694,000 were in Montana. The Fall, 1970, MSU enrollment was 8190. The total college academic year expenses for a student in 1970 were $1,443 ($9,120 in 2017 dollars) for a Montana resident and $2,111 ($13,340 in 2017 dollars) for a non-resident6.
MSU President Carl W. McIntosh (President: 1970–1977) had prior experience as the president of the much larger Long Beach State University in California. However, he arrived at an dismal time for higher education in Montana. The state legislature had become decidedly anti-intellectual. Montana had 14 state-supported institutions of higher education, more per capita than any other state in the union9. These factors combined to produce fiscal and communication challenges to McIntosh throughout his presidency, even though MSU in the 1960s had grown rapidly both in accomplishments and in size.
When President McIntosh arrived, accountants from the state legislative auditor were reviewing all of MSU’s financial records since 1893. The final auditing report concluded that there was no evidence of fiscal impropriety, although the University was using an antiquated and inefficient bookkeeping system that needed immediate updating. Unfortunately for MSU, misinterpretation by the legislature and the press led them to assume that the University was irresponsible in its fiscal affairs. After attending the hostile legislative sessions in 1971, McIntosh realized “that the decade of the 1970s would be one of significant scarcity in financial support for higher education.”12 When budget reductions were imposed on the University, the resulting entrenchment policies were heavily criticized by students and faculty. By 1974, faculty salaries at MSU were 15 percent below the peer average for Rocky Mountain state universities and the less populous Wyoming was spending more on its single four-year institution than Montana was for its six.15
Although the 1971 Montana legislature provided insufficient funding for higher education, it took some remarkedly progressive steps, including passage of tough environmental laws, executive reorganization, the state’s first minimum wage law, a referendum to bring the controversial sales tax issue directly before the people, and final preparations for a constitutional convention.
The new constitution was passed by Montana voters in 1972 and put into effect by Governor Thomas L. Judge (1972-1980) on July 1, 1973. The constitution created a Board of Regents (BOR) with exclusive responsibility for higher education completely separate from the public education school system and created a constitutional administrative officer, the Commissioner of Higher Education (CHE). The constitution stipulated that the legislature would appropriate monies for higher education, but the specific allocation of those monies within the University System was the responsibility of the CHE as stipulated by the BOR. In 1973, Governor Judge convened a long-range planning group, popularly known as the Blue Ribbon Commission, to prepare a long-range plan for higher education. That commission received great attention and was in the news constantly, but its recommendations were not implemented because of political intervention.
The first Commissioner of Higher Education was Lawrence K. Pettit, a University of Montana alumnus and a former MSU professor (and also he was Governor Judge’s brother-in-law). Pettit attempted to assert (micro-)management control over the universities and went to extreme lengths to force the presidents into acknowledging his authority. He attacked MSU, especially President McIntosh. Citing the legislature’s austerity budget for 1975-76, Pettit and the regents put a freeze on hiring. Pettit ordered McIntosh to conduct an extensive self-evaluation of McIntosh's own office. The regents were persuaded to order McIntosh to fire several members of his MSU staff. McIntosh asked for an investigative committee and the regents agreed. The committee found much to criticize about the commissioner’s office, cleared McIntosh, and thwarted the effort by Pettit to embarrass MSU. Pettit next expropriated a million dollars from the MSU reserve fund, monies set aside in anticipation of expenses related to its increasing enrollment. Those funds were transferred to the University of Montana, (which was facing a declining enrollment!) and to Pettit’s office. The commissioner’s aggressiveness, and McIntosh’s inability to counteract it, tarnished both Pettit and MSU. McIntosh resigned, effective June 30, 1977, and Pettit resigned, effective at the end of 1978.
In litigation that lasted from 1974 to 1976, Montana courts ruled that MSU had discriminated against women in the areas of promotion, tenure, salary, and appointment to important University committees. The ruling required retroactive promotions, payment of over $400,000 in back wages, and imposed strict rules for fair personnel management.18 This case established an important precedent for the entire Montana University System.
In the areas of instruction and research during the early 1970s, MSU won a significant NSF research contract to conduct a multi-disciplinary study of the Gallatin Canyon. The purpose was to document the canyon’s social, financial, and environmental conditions prior to completion of the Big Sky development. After a competitive review by the University of Washington, MSU was selected to deliver the WAMI cooperative medical education program for Montanans.
Despite the fiscal problems that hamstrung MSU during the early-1970s, the campus grew. On Nov. 27, 1972, the Museum of the Rockies re-opened in its new building on Kagy Blvd, and the University prepared to demolish the old dairy barn where the Museum was formerly housed. By 1975, the University had constructed Reno H. Sales Stadium, the Marga Hosaeus Center, the Creative Arts Complex (Haynes, Cheever, and Howard Halls), Wilson Hall, Sherrick Hall, and Leon H. Johnson Hall. Also, most of the remaining WWII wooden structures were removed.
Surprisingly, MSU was surging forward at the end of McIntosh’s presidency. The 1977 commencement graduated 1686 students and granted 30 doctoral and 200 master’s degrees. The Fall, 1977, enrollment was 9800, the largest in the state. The incoming Freshman class contained 44 percent of the state’s first-quarter freshmen and 55 percent of the state’s designated honor scholarship recipients. The faculty were bringing in millions of grant and contract research dollars. Moreover, the 1977 legislative provided generous support to the University System for the next biennium.21
Last revised: 2021-04-18