Annals of MSU: 2010-2019
MSU President Dr. Waded Cruzado (President: 2010-present) began MSU duties in January, 2010, and she expressed strong support for the land-grant university goal of providing educational opportunities for all. She believed that MSU should be a place where young people “come out transformed, becoming competent professionals, better citizens, and happy human beings.” Her vision included two-year community colleges as well as research universities. Her management was directed toward “disciplined action” and goals to which metrics could be attached. For example, MSU set targets for increasing the graduation rate, the number of doctoral degrees, and the overall enrollment, especially enrollments of minority and international students. MSU also committed to environmental protection; e.g., reducing its production of greenhouse gases and landfill waste. The objectives were not new to the MSU culture, but Cruzado’s compelling call to action was well-received by students, the Board of Regents, and Montana governors. Time would show that her optimistic targets were attainable.
MSU enrollment increased from 11,760 in 2010 to 16,900 in 2018. The University's physical size and payroll grew also to accommodate so many students. For academic year 2010-11, the full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for instructional faculty included 438 FTE in tenure-track positions and 211 FTE in adjunct positions.3 For academic year 2017-18, the instructional faculty included 484 FTE in tenure-track positions and 285 FTE in adjunct positions. That is, the tenure-track positions increased by 46 and the adjunct positions by 74 FTE.6
MSU’s enrollment growth brought some stress to the faculty, staff, and infrastructure. The University hired new faculty, but an increasing proportion were in non-tenure-track positions. Tenure-track professors had to take on more responsibility for advising undergraduates, supervising graduate students, program development/oversight, and committee service. Instead of taking on additional graduate students, research professors began to hire post-doc assistants for their funded projects. In 2012, by a close vote, the tenure-track faculty supported a proposal to decertify the faculty union. However, the adjunct faculty and other non-tenure-track faculty voted to organize their own union. In a separate vote, a large majority of the graduate students chose to unionize.9
The tenure-track faculty became increasingly worried about the direction of research at the University. Following the Great Recession, the University changed its policy on sharing facilities and administration charges on grants. Instead of going to the principal investigators and departments, more of the funds went to the University where they were needed to cover the research obligations that had accrued during the Recession. In the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE), “research” was removed from the title of the Deputy Commissioner of academics, research, and student affairs. In 2013, at an off-campus meeting that received press coverage, a large group of faculty expressed their concerns, including the possibility that current trends put in jeopardy MSU’s high ranking for research. To explain the administration’s approach for dealing with the rapid growth, President Cruzado responded in a publicly-distributed letter. Subsequently, the Commissioner and some of his staff attended a meeting convened by the Faculty Senate in Bozeman. The main message expressed to the Commissioner — the faculty’s top priority was maintaining MSU’s top-tier research ranking.12
The decade witnessed needed renovations and new construction. During 2010-2019, major renovations of buildings included Gaines Hall (classrooms and labs for undergraduate students in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, earth sciences, and physics, 2010), Hamilton Hall (Gallatin College, Army and Air Force ROTC 2010), the Renne Library Commons (group study rooms, computer access, printing, scanning, technical support, coffee shop, 2011), the entrances to Hapner and Langford Halls (residence halls, 2011), the Cooley Lab (biomedical research, 2012), Linfield Hall (Agriculture & MAES 2013), the SUB Ballrooms (events & meetings, 2015).
Among the new buildings were Animal Bioscience (Animal and Range Sciences, 2010), Gallatin Hall (residence hall, 2013), Jabs Hall (Business & Entrepreneurship, 2015), Miller Dining Hall (Dining, Auxiliary Services, 2015), Yellowstone Hall (residence hall, 2016), Parking Garage (2017), Rendezvous Dining Pavilion (2018), and Norm Asbjornson Hall (Engineering, Honors College, 2019).
In 2018, MSU housed 4,200 students in the residence halls. Freshmen students made up approximately 70% of those on-campus residents. A New Residence Hall to house 480 freshmen was started in 2019 and due for completion in 2020.
A vast amount of support for the academic construction came from private donors, many of whom were MSU alumni. Those alumni illustrate the fact that “MSU has opened a world of opportunities for students, introducing them to professions that many never dreamed they could have entered. The University has transformed the lives of students who, in turn, have improved the lives of many Montanans, Americans, and people around the globe.”15
In appreciation of generous contributions, MSU sometimes named academic programs after donors. Such naming proposals were sometimes thwarted; for example, because of a $5.76 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2016, MSU economists proposed a new “MSU Center for Regulatory and Applied Economic Analysis.” That proposal generated a campus controversy because of the extreme political influence of the sponsor and, although the research grant was accepted, the new Center was opposed by the Faculty Senate and was never created. After reviewing MSU’s successes in private fund raising, the historian Robert Rydell asked, “will the need to raise vast sums of money from private individuals and non-profits lead to a quasi-private University with more control over the educational mission of the University left to the preferences and dictates of private donors?”18
In the grip of the Great Recession, the 2009 Montana legislature passed HB 34 which became effective on July 1, 2013. Although the bill was created to provide financial stability to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), the bill placed severe constraints on post-retirement appointments for MSU professors who retired under the TRS. Consequently, MSU rarely allowed a TRS retiree to be a collaborator on campus research projects, even if the professor had unique knowledge and experience in the area. The same legislation contributed to the demise of post-retirement teaching appointments at MSU.
The faculty’s expressed concern in 2013 about the future of MSU research was prescient. In 2016, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced that MSU no longer held the status of ‘very high research activity.’ However, after six years of concerted effort on the part of MSU faculty and administrators to promote research and graduate degrees, MSU was able to overcome that setback. In 2019, MSU was again included in the top Carnegie research classification. Out of roughly 4,400 colleges and universities nationally, MSU was among only 108 universities to receive the classification of ‘very high research activity.’
MSU undergraduates won some prestigious scholarships during the quarter-century 1993-2018, including 54 Goldwater Scholarships, 7 Truman Scholarships, and 6 Rhodes Scholarships. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced in January, 2011, that it had recognized Montana State University for its significant commitment to community engagement. Only 311 among the Nation's colleges and universities received that recognition. In 2014, MSU received a National Diversity Award for a variety of programs that supported minorities and veterans.21 The 2019 Carnegie listing contained the good news that MSU was one of only two schools with an enrollment profile classified as ‘very high undergraduate’ that also was classified a ‘very high research activity' university. In 2019, MSU was the only very high undergraduate institution in the country to hold Carnegie Foundation recognition for both its very high research activity and its commitment to community engagement.24
This decade in MSU history brought many changes to instructional tools. By 2018, the internet allowed students to access the MSU Library from almost anywhere. Course handouts were often distributed only on D2L, MSU’s online classroom. Although many courses recommended textbooks, purchasing books became prohibitively expensive and it was common practice to rent an e-textbook, to access the instructor’s notes and videos online, or to otherwise rely on digital technology for supplementary information. Students carried digital equipment (e.g., laptop or tablet) instead of the collection of heavy textbooks and notebooks carried by previous generations of students.
Another change during those years was concern about campus security. By 2019, campus police were given training on effective responses to active shooters. Montana State University began to require that all incoming students complete online courses about personal security, responsible alcohol use, and sexual assault prevention.
During this decade, statisticians received significant support for campus-wide statistical consulting and collaboration. The Montana IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (MT-INBRE) was a state-wide network of academic institutions funded since about 2013 by the NIGMS division of the National Institutes of Health. It focused on increasing the biomedical research capacity and was expanded to focus on research on health disparities with in the state. In 2014, MT-INBRE provided start-up 5-year funding for a resurrected Statistical Consulting Center at MSU. By 2019, the Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Core became a MT-INBRE program and INBRE Biostatistics was administered by MSU Statistical Consulting and Research Services (SCRS).
Several large interdisciplinary research centers were widely-recognized MSU entities in 2018. The centers evolved on campus because solutions to research questions often required the pooling of ideas from diverse branches of knowledge. Perhaps stimulated by the success of research centers and Core 2.0, MSU increasingly promoted interdisciplinary education for students at all levels of instruction. MSU emphasized teamwork and cooperative problem-solving as important educational experiences.
The 2013 and 2015 Montana Legislatures approved funding for the Montana University System that was slightly higher than just before the Great Recession.27 Students and their families discovered, however, that the cost of higher education in Montana increased much faster than the U.S. inflation rate during the 2010s. The estimated academic year expenses for an undergraduate student increased from $14,500 in 2010-11 to $22,530 in 2018-19 (55% increase) for a resident and from $26,620 in 2010-11 to $40,240 in 2018-19 (51% increase) for a non-resident. From 2010 to 2018, the compounded percentage increase in undergraduate expenses (5.5% each year) was about three times the U.S. annual inflation rate of 1.8%.30
The state-funded share of the costs of higher education in the Montana University System dropped from 72% in the 1990s to 26% in 2018. State funding for higher education hovered around only 2.25% of the state’s general operating allocations. In response, MSU actively recruited non-resident students because the non-resident tuition and fees helped replace the dwindling state support. In 2018-2019 year, 40% of the undergraduate enrollees were non-resident, and the tuition & fees for the year were $24,849 for a non-resident student, 3.3 times the cost to a resident.33 The historian Bob Rydell asked, “if MSU is forced through future declines in state funding, to rely even more heavily on out-of-state students, what will happen if, say, other states provide greater economic incentives for their resident students to attend colleges closer to home?”36
The decline in state support for education appears to be detrimental to the state’s economy. Research showed that higher education was a good investment for the state. A 2010 study, based on data for the two previous years, concluded that “MSU adds 13,511 public and private jobs to the state’s economy. This generates more than $1 billion in personal income from [MSU’s campuses] and MAES, which equates to $900 million in after tax income and $250 million in state tax revenue.”39 The positive fiscal impact of higher education must be substantially larger in 2019.
Nevertheless, Montanan politicians have been reluctant to support the University. Some note that, because MSU received many donations for scholarships and buildings, it has the potential to be more self-supporting. Many have come to view higher education “as a private, not a public, good; as a benefit to a minority, not a majority of citizens.” They seemed to forget the historic reasons for creating land-grant institutions, “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life” and “to educate students to become better citizens and to serve state and national employment needs, especially in engineering, agriculture, education and the various professions.” When conceived, “land-grant colleges were seen as cultural fortifications of the American republic, imparting civic values (and not just adding economic value) to students who graduated from ‘democracy’s colleges’.”42 The original idea of “state-supported” higher education was reduced to “state-assisted” higher education by the end of the 20th century, then further subverted to “state-located” higher education by 2019.45
At the end of this era, MSU was being forced to apply the financial planning strategies of a private college while continuing to uphold the land-grant promise of open enrollment for Montanans, and while providing extensive service and economic growth to the state. Can such an institution continue its remarkable success in acquiring and sharing knowledge or will the headwinds of political recalcitrance eventually halt MSU's momentum and stifle its societal and financial contributions to Montana?
Last revised: 2021-09-04