Annals of MSU: 2000-2009
Michael P. Malone, MSU's tenth President died suddenly in December, 1999. Terry Roark, retired President of the University of Wyoming, was recruited to serve as Interim MSU President for the bulk of 2000 while a formal search was held. Roark arrived as MSU was confronting a serious budget crisis. Options for balancing the budget were limited, but a decision was required. Roark announced in the spring that anticipated faculty salary increases would be rescinded.
The new MSU President, Dr. Geoffrey Gamble (President: 2000-2009) began to serve MSU in December, 2000. He had just a few weeks to prepare for the upcoming Montana legislative session. In his previous position as Provost at the University of Vermont, he gained experience with budgeting and personnel management. Gamble’s approach was to create an open and transparent budget process. He formed an advisory committee of 20, including faculty, students, administrators, and a representative from the community. There was still a budget deficit and it was unlikely that help would come from Helena. The new Montana Governor Judith Helen Martz (1991-1995) suggested an increase for higher education that was a third of what was needed for salary increases and maintenance. The result of the legislative session and Board of Regents (BOR) allocations was that MSU, with its salaries already frozen, would not have to cut any academic programs, but tuition would increase substantially.
In 2000, the estimated total cost per student for an academic year was $10,626 ($15,130 in 2017 dollars) for residents and $16,375 ($23,310 in 2017 dollars) for non-residents. Resident tuition steadily increased through 2007, with the annual increase varying between 8.7% and 14.0%.3
Put that together and it amounts to an 54% real increase (inflation adjusted) of resident tuition from 2001 to 2007. This trend would end for a while when, in 2007, newly elected Governor Brian David Schweitzer (2005-2013), the legislature, and the BOR agreed that the State would put $50 million more into higher education for the next biennium, the BOR would freeze in-state tuition rates, and the universities agreed not to expand their program offerings. As a result, in 2010, the estimated total cost per student for an academic year was $14,500 ($16,300 in 2017 dollars) for residents and $26,620 ($29,920 in 2017 dollars) for non-residents. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of an MSU education increased by 7.7% from 2000 to 2010 for resident students and by 28.4% for non-residents.
In spite of the period of tuition increases, MSU enrollment grew from 11,760 in 2000 to 12,250 in 2005, and 12,760 in 2009. Some new buildings and renovations during this decade included Bobcat-Anderson Tennis Center in 2002, Chemistry and Biochemistry Building in 2007, major renovations of Marga Hoseaus Fitness Center and Strand Union Building in 2008, Black Box Theater in 2008, Outdoor Recreation Facilities and Alumni Plaza with its iconic bobcat sculpture in 2009.
The number of instructional faculty also increased. For academic year 2000-01, the instructional faculty included 409 FTE in tenure-track positions and 162 FTE in adjunct positions.6 For academic year 2005-06, the instructional faculty included 421 FTE in tenure-track positions and 196 FTE in adjunct positions.9 For academic year 2010-11, the instructional faculty included 438 FTE in tenure-track positions and 211 FTE in adjunct positions.12
Calls for curriculum reform at MSU were heeded in the late 1990s. In response to the University's proposal, the Hewlett Foundation provided start-up funds to create a core of instruction that incorporated new knowledge and research into the undergraduate curriculum for all students. The effort to design and implement “Core 2.0” took several years and finally was launched in the fall semester of 2004. It required first year students to take a University Seminar to help them transition into the demanding college environment. Degree-seeking students were required to take Core courses from a list of classes that fell into the following areas: Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, Diversity, Contemporary Issues in Science, Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Every student was required to take one Research and Creative Experience course. To help students navigate the new curriculum, MSU put its course catalog online. Core 2.0 was an expensive, time-consuming effort, but it fit well within MSU’s ambition of providing a high quality education. The purpose of Core 2.0 is similar to the rationale provided in 1902 for an undergraduate thesis as a requirement for the B.S. degree in Mathematics.
The blending of teaching and research that Core 2.0 provided to the instructional part of the campus also suited the research side. VP for Research Tom McCoy, continued Bob Swenson’s research culture in which an individual researcher’s initiative could advance research knowledge and generate additional grants for the University. In 2006, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced that MSU had become “one of 108 research universities [out of 4,321 colleges and universities] with ‘very high research activity’.
President Gamble had MSU file trademarks for two brand names, "The University of the Yellowstone" and "Trout University."15 The former brand emphasizes MSU's reputation for significant research contributions concerning Yellowstone National Park, the Greater Yellowstone Region, and the Yellowstone River system.18
Then came the Great Recession of 2007-2008. In a remarkable show of support for higher education, Montanans voted in 2008 for continuation of the Six-Mill Levy. That funding was critical as MSU struggled to deal with the financial pressures brought on by the recession. Part of the pressure was due to governmental and corporate reductions in research support, thereby diminishing opportunities for university researchers to secure funding. With fewer grants coming in, MSU research administrators struggled to maintain commitments already in place. Fortunately, the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 helped ameliorate the situation. The ARRA provided support on a competitive basis for advancing scientific research and the creative arts. MSU submitted several proposals and, within the time frame of the ARRA, acquired 77 grants totaling $43 million, including funding to remodel the 1960 Cooley Lab, raising it to a Biosafety Level III facility for microbial research.
The Great Recession was accompanied by a political emphasis on two-year college education entities that could meet the State’s workforce needs, as well as prepare students for a four-year degree at less cost. This was in line with a nationwide educational reform movement that emphasized “business models,” “productivity,” and “outcomes.” Competitive support was available for such reforms and MSU won a grant that eventually led to the opening of the two-year Gallatin College, located at MSU. The University and College agreed to be accountable for improved performance-based outcomes and graduation rates.
The University easily passed its accreditation review in 2009. The reviewers reported that,
“this past decade has witnessed a change at MSU from being an institution with a modest
research and scholarly agenda to one having a substantial national presence” and praised
MSU for its “culture of integrity.” The review team also noted that “MSU salaries
are between 10 and 30 percent lower than at peer institutions” even though Bozeman
has experienced a “substantial increase in the cost of living.” It also noted that
the teaching loads were high at MSU.
The "Working More For Less" Culture
Commentary by Marty Hamilton, 2019
After describing the 2009 accreditation review, Bob Rydell noted that “working more for less had long been the unofficial way of life at MSU.”21
However, in spite of the “more for less” culture, a core of MSU faculty members have remained here, dedicated to the goals of the institution and to their individual scholarly pursuits. Their willingness to stay at MSU is a paradox that I often have pondered.
The accreditation review explains why MSU faculty members could become discontented. I cannot understand why the faculty, staff, and students haven’t been appreciated and properly supported by Montana politicians. Clearly, higher education is a very profitable investment for the State. Yet, the typical MSU position consistently has been underfunded relative to peer universities. Over the years, higher education in Montana has received haphazard support, varying independently of MSU's steady successes. The resulting uncertainty has been detrimental to retention. The history of the statistics program shows that many excellent statisticians have passed through MSU, vacating their faculty positions here because they were offered better-paying, and potentially more stable, jobs elsewhere.
Why did I stay at MSU? I once heard that one should appreciate a job that is interesting and consistently provides opportunities to learn. A faculty position easily meets those criteria. There are additional factors that are important to faculty retention at MSU. I think that many faculty members are delighted by the intelligence, energy, and unassuming demeanor of the typical MSU student, the pleasure of working with MSU faculty and staff colleagues, the excitement of participating in successful instructional and research/creative endeavors, and the satisfaction of living in SW Montana.
The beneficial side of employment at MSU has been periodically offset by oppressive treatment by the Governor, BOR, or legislature. During the late 1980s, I seriously considered applying for a positions elsewhere. However, I initially came to Bozeman on purpose. When I was seeking a location in 1970, I definitely wanted to live in this region and I wanted to work with, and contribute to, people from this region. When I thought about it a couple decades later, I still felt the same. I was as dedicated to this part of the world as anyone. It occurred to me that, if I left MSU, who would stay? There was no sense in considering alternatives - I would remain at MSU and try to improve it.
After that epiphany, I realized that I needed a new perspective on working at MSU and decided to change my job description to involve more research and less on academic affairs. I immediately told the statisticians and department head that I would be seeking research support for my AY salary, which if successful, would provide less time for teaching and curriculum development. Almost immediately, I had the good fortune of securing research funds; I was primarily a researcher for the rest of my career.
In essence, my research program was run like a little self-sufficient company. The research successes certainly benefited the University, but also provided me with great motivation and pleasure, as well as some independence from the State's budget fluctuations and bureaucratic blunders.
In retrospect, I see that similar choices had been made by my two contemporaries, Dick Lund and Ken Tiahrt, although their motivations may have been different. At retirement, Dick was the Statistician for the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and Ken was Head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. At the end of our MSU careers, we all were doing different jobs than in 1970. Instead of becoming entrenched in "working more for less," we redefined our "work" at the University.
Next year (2020), I will have been associated with MSU for 50 years, an anniversary for which I feel fortunate and appreciative. I'm glad I stayed.
By 2009, the faculty had become resentful of the circumstances they were confronting. The dissent resulted in a close vote of the faculty in support of unionization. That outcome was a surprise and within four years there would be another vote that decertified the union as a representative of tenure-track faculty. In 2009, there was a lot of faculty energy expended on defining faculty rights and responsibilities.
President Gamble announced his resignation in 2010. During the decade of the 2000’s he had led MSU through a very turbulent time into the high status described in the accreditation report. He wanted MSU to be the school of choice to the citizens of Montana. He strove to provide students with “the inspiration and tools to be lifelong learners ... Learning how to learn, how to be inquisitive, how to ask good questions and seek good answers in the vast array of information available on the internet are valuable traits ... [that guide MSU graduates to] become well-informed citizens who are able to make well-reasoned decisions.”24
Last revised: 2021-04-19