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UM Professor: Look Outside Campus For Solutions To Budget Woes

University Hall at The University of Montana.
Josh Burnham
/
MTPR

A prominent University of Montana professor says that faculty needs to look outside campus for help in the face of a budget crisis that will cut 52 faculty jobs, and 149 University staff positions. UM President Royce Engstrom says the cuts are necessary because several years of declining enrollment mean the school is overstaffed for the approximately 11,000 full time students it now has.

Biomedical and pharmacy Professor Doug Coffin disagrees with Engstrom’s strategy.

"In essence we’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Coffin is a former state legislator and chair of the faculty union.

"The first thing the Faculty Senate has to do is engage our state leadership, our community leadership, and get them to come to us to help us formulate a solution to our problem."

Coffin spoke at a UM Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday. He was one of several faculty members who expressed little confidence in President Engstrom’s ability to effectively lead the school, as a boom in the number of students during the recession is now a bust as the job market is rebounding. The University of Montana has lost 2,400 students since 2011.

"Faculty Senate has to come up with a plan to engage the Board of Regents and the Governor, and tell them to come up with a plan to help us. Demand it."

Coffin said he knows faculty typically don’t like to get involved in politics, but that now, their jobs depend on it.

President Engstrom told the Faculty Senate that contrary to what some believe, the University’s Administration grew by only one position during the recession. He has proposed cutting most faculty jobs in humanities disciplines like anthropology, art, and journalism; and focusing the school’s programming in areas like business, entrepreneurship and health professions.

Engstrom says the administration will work on finalizing what he calls the school’s structural adjustment in December, and that affected faculty and staff will get the final word on their jobs in January.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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