William (Bill) J. Tietz, Jr. (President 1977-1990) advocated scholarship, research and creative activity as well as improved educational opportunities for minorities and the disadvantaged. During his first year in office, President Tietz set aside $300,000 of the University's budget for faculty research/teaching development and sabbatical leaves. Also policies were revised to enable a two-quarter sabbatical leave. The faculty voted against unionization, an outcome Tietz had advocated.

Montanan’s passed the 6-mill levy for support of higher education. The proportion of the state’s general fund appropriated for higher education in 1978 was only 2/3 of the proportion allocated in 1968. Although MSU’s enrollment had increased by 31% during the 1970s, the state’s contribution to the cost of educating students at MSU decreased by 17%. These facts, coupled with a $100 million budget surplus, led the 1981 state legislature to increase the funding of higher education by 17% for the next biennium. As a result, MSU faculty salaries rose an average of 15% and 30 new faculty positions were added .6

MSU was a popular choice for in-state students. The 1982 enrollment exceeded 11,000 students; 83% were Montanans. The campus needed space to serve the larger student population. Construction projects the next few years included the Branegan Court apartments, the Visual Communications building, the Animal Resource Center (now Tietz Hall), the Plant Growth Center, and additions to the SUB and the Fitness Center.

During the 1980s the library began its transition from actual books and journals to photocopies of pages. It began to utilize the evolving computer technologies and advances in information science. It provided access to resources through membership in a large coalition of libraries. The traditional card catalog was soon to become accessible electronically.

Campus security officers did not carry side arms, except at night or when escorting couriers who were transporting money or negotiable instruments. In 1987, the campus TV station KUSM became part of PBS. 

When Bill Tietz first arrived at MSU, he fell in love with the institution and the location, believing it was uniquely positioned to become a center for inquiry about the environment .9  (Thirty years later MSU President Goeff Gamble trademarked the name, ‘University of the Yellowstone.’) Tietz and John Jutila, VP for Research, set out to make MSU a comprehensive research institution, a goal in line with the Commissioner’s 1978 role and scope assignment to the University. They had a running start because the agriculture and engineering research stations were long-established and MSU faculty across campus had acquired sufficient federal research support by the end of the 1970s to be among the top 5 percent of the Nation’s 2500 colleges and universities.

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University Presidents Roland Renne (1945-64) and William Tietz (1977-1990), 1978 photo

Funding for research was enhanced when Tietz convinced the legislature to refund to the institution 15% of the indirect costs charged on federal grants. That money was designated primarily for such research necessities as maintenance of instruments and equipment, matches for grants, and monies for hosting visits by experts. MSU sought to facilitate partnerships with other universities and research-oriented corporations. In 1984, the Regents lent support to the University’s plan of building a research and technology park next to the campus. When hard times hit Montana and higher education in the middle 1980’s, Tietz persuaded the state to increase the indirect cost refunds from 15% to 50%. The return on that investment paid off handsomely, playing an important role in the surge of MSU’s research program during the 1980s.12

In the glow of the budget surplus of 1981, not only did the legislature increase the University's budget, but also it cut taxes, instead of setting aside funds in a reserve for the future. However, after a few years of optimism and legislative support, hard times would return to Montana and produce financial and political headwinds for the University. The economy turned sour in the mid-1980s when the natural resource industry floundered. The reaction of the legislature was to cut taxes further, based on the faulty premise that cutting taxes was a cure for the annual revenue deficits. In fact, the tax rollbacks cost the state government as estimated $70 to $80 million annually.15

At the federal level, tax cuts were made during the early 1980s and fiscal responsibility for some expensive programs were passed to the states; therefore, education was not the only area demanding state resources. The 1985 Montana legislature was unable to produce a budget and MSU had to impose a temporary hiring freeze until the legislature held a special session. In June the legislature decided to cut appropriations for higher education. That blow was repeated in the second year of the biennium when the governor made additional cuts to higher education, with the greatest cuts falling on MSU.

More bad news was on the horizon! The governor’s proposed MSU budget for the 1987-89 years was even lower. Tietz would not have enough money to maintain the University's scope. He had to cut or combine programs. The 1987 Montana legislative session was a near disaster for MSU – the worst fiscally since Governor Nutter’s budget slashing in 1961. A two-year salary freeze was imposed on the entire system and an extra $850,000 was cut out of the MSU budget. Partial relief was provided to some funded research faculty who were allowed to include a summer salary component in their federal grants. Tietz convened a Planning and Priorities Committee to provide some guidance concerning appropriate cuts across campus. Fortunately, in 1988, the public again passed the 6 mill levy for higher education.

The Board of Regents issued an unfunded mandate to the University System in 1988 requiring that it convert from the quarter system to a semester system by 1991. The conversion was completed at MSU on schedule but the UM requested and received a one-year extension. The old system of quarter courses provided greater flexibility and more schedule choices for students than the new semester system. During the 1991-92 year, enrollment declined at MSU and increased at UM, possibly because some students wanted to hang on to their quarter course plan for one more year.

Conversion required that every quarter course had to be reconstructed and a new schedule created. For departments such as Mathematical Sciences that taught many service courses, the content and schedule of revised courses had be coordinated with many departments. In my (Marty Hamilton's) experience, the conversion was an unpleasant, time-consuming, thankless imposition on the faculty and students; I believe the time spent on the conversion cost me a research year.

Although the latter 1980s brought depressing deliberations, damaged morale, and increased animosity between Bozeman academics and Helena politicians, the University was able to continue operations and maintain its academic strength. But after the many state-imposed barriers to continued growth, Tietz had had enough. In 1990, he announced his retirement. By that time MSU had become a recognized, regional research university with a reputation for excellent academic programs. Tietz's dynamic administration had led a campus of excellent students, aspiring faculty, and dedicated staff to achieve his vision, even while facing financial and political headwinds.

By 1990, it was clear that MSU was no longer a “state-funded university” – it was a “state-supported university,” with that support diminishing steadily. The only way for the University to maintain the quality of its programs was to raise funds in other ways, one of which was increasing tuition. Since 1990 the University has had to assume a character closer to that of a private college than to a public-supported academy for all. Surly, this is not what was expected by the college founders in 1893.

The 1980-82 MSU Catalog estimated that the total academic year student expenses were $3,197 ($9,510 in 2017 dollars) for a Montana resident and $4,565 ($13,580 in 2017 dollars) for a non-resident. The Fall, 1980, enrollment was 10,750. The 1991-93 catalog estimated that the total academic year student expenses were $7675 ($13,810 in 2017 dollars) for Residents and $10,100 ($18,180 in 2017 dollars) for non-residents. The Fall, 1990, enrollment was 10,390. For resident students, there was a 45% inflation-adjusted increase in cost during the 1980s. During the same period, the MSU enrollment decreased by 2.6%.

Annals of MSU during Era 8
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 Last revised: 2021-04-19