Rumored Cuts To UM Arts Degrees Cause Campus Kerfuffle

Sep 24, 2018

Weekend rumors about the impending demise of the University of Montana’s arts program were, a dean now says, greatly exaggerated.

UM’s College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean Stephen Kalm on Monday clarified what he says was misinformation widely distributed on Saturday.

“There was perhaps a miscommunication or misunderstanding,” Kalm said.

That misunderstanding started at a Friday budget meeting led by UM Provost Jon Harbor.

Kalm offered no specifics to Montana Public Radio, but says he left that meeting with an impression that UM’s arts programs were on the verge of being gutted.

“I had a discussion and didn’t get super specific, but I was a little concerned,” Kalm said.

Kalm subsequently sent an email to his program directors expressing his concerns.

School of Music director, Maxine Ramey, quoted from that email in an open letter that spread like wildfire on social media, available here.

That letter asserted several arts degree programs would be discontinued due to budget cuts.

The potential losses, Ramey’s letter continued, meant that the arts on UM’s campus would be minimized to less than elective status or terminated altogether.

This created a social media backlash. UM students made plans to rally in support of the programs later this week.

Ramey’s letter was also inaccurate according to a UM press release issued Monday afternoon.

In that release, Provost Harbor is quoted as saying his budget comments on Friday were only stated in general terms. The release describes the arts and humanities as vitally important to UM’s mission.

I asked Visual and Performing Arts Dean Kalm if he believes Harbor and UM President Seth Bodnar are as committed to the arts and liberal arts as they say.

“I do," Kalm said. "I think they have, at least for me over this past weekend have really shown that commitment. I also think in the past the president has talked quite a bit about the importance of the arts and humanities and what it means for students who may switch jobs four or five times within a lifetime and how that makes you flexible and qualified to succeed in many different fields,” Kalm said.

Proposed budget cuts at UM are expected to be released this Wednesday.

UM is working to pare down a $10 million deficit and announced last week a steeper than expected drop in fall enrollment.

The retracted warning about deep cuts to UM’s arts program came on the same day Montana State University announced record enrollment of nearly 17,000 students.