Questions and Comments on Restructuring the MUS

Editors' Note: The editors circulated copies of Commissioner Baker's proposal to our review board members on each campus with a request that they solicit questions and comments from whomever they could contact an their campus. Some faculty members had already seen the proposals, far others it was new. (With the mailing of this issue virtually every faculty member in the MUS will have it available.) The edited responses are printed below. Some members appended their names others did not. None was asked to include a name. In the interest of consistency we have chosen to publish them all without names. We do not represent this to be anything more than the views of those who were contacted. There is no pretense a survey--scientific or otherwise. On the other hand, these are the views of a number of people whose professional life and career may be significantly affected by the decisions to be made in the near future. We find the questions to be thought provoking and ask that they be taken into consideration wherever decisions ore being made. (Note: We assume the Commissioner and the Regents intend to systematically involve faculty in these decisions. To do anything less would be to court disaster.)

The editors think it is critical that faculty from the MUS have a forum where they can communicate with each other, especially now with the anticipated MUS changes. We want to continue to publish anonymous contributions from the faculty (subject to editorial judgment). Please send comments, questions, and observations to one of the editors or give it to your campus MP representative (see p. 5).

The branch campus model proposed by Commissioner Baker makes sense not because it will improve the quality of education, research, and service now provided by the University System nor because it will reduce the cost of what is already badly under funded. Rather, the branch campus model addresses the widely held perception that there are too many units of the system. Thus, the branch campus model makes sense because it satisfies a political precondition for the restoration of public confidence in the management of higher education in Montana.

The draft restructuring document appears to be primarily a political exercise designed for public consumption, that is, to convince the people that the MUS is serious about "reinventing" higher education. But does it really represent a serious proposal? If we assume that it does, then it does not go far enough.

  1. The proposal should have called for one system with five branch campuses called the University of Montana or Montana State University with one president of the university and a provost for each campus. Each branch would be called the U of M or MSU at _____.

  2. Graduate programs should be offered only at Bozeman and Missoula. There should be no duplication of graduate degree programs.

  3. Undergraduate degree programs should be offered only at Bozeman, Missoula, and Billings. Undergraduate degree programs with very small and declining enrollments should be dropped as long as such action does not result in a loss of accreditation.

  4. Associate degrees (community college) and the first two years of core should be offered at Dillon, Butte, and Havre. For specialized degrees such as engineering and forestry, the students would have to be accepted at Bozeman or Missoula or if not would have to prove themselves as viable candidates by doing good work at one of the smaller campuses. There should be a uniform system of undergraduate core courses that transfer between different sub fields. For example, a course designated as meeting a core math requirement at Havre would meet the core math requirement at MSU when the student transfers.

  5. All intercollegiate athletics should be dropped at all branch campuses. The one program should be located at either Bozeman or Missoula with options to play some games away at the campus where the program is not administratively housed. The "Montana team" should play at the level of competition that does not require any direct state aid.

I would be in favor of the general reorganization plan providing that some meaningful administrative cost reductions were mandated at the same time and that faculty and student interests were protected.

  1. The budgets of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education have continued to escalate beyond any rational need or benefit to the system and should be reduced to, say, 1985 levels. Future budgets should then be indexed to the same percentage increases as faculty salaries. All administrative salaries should be indexed in the same way.

  2. Mandated and uniform teaching Ioads such as those proposed by the governor fail to take into consideration the complexities of faculty service and should be proscribed.

  3. Northern Montana College and Western Montana College should become two-year junior colleges and feeder institutions for the two universities.

  4. Every effort should be made to normalize faculty salaries to national averages according to rank and the excessive salary discrepancies between disciplines should be reduced or eliminated.

  5. All residents with a high school diploma should be admitted to the junior college feeder system and those with junior college degrees should then be admitted to the universities.

In order to be able to finance these proposals, major tax and tort reform is required. What follows are a few modest and reasonable proposals.

  1. The workers' compensation law should be revised along the lines of the New York state system. No claimant should be allowed to be represented by legal counsel. Rather the workers will adjudicate their claims before a citizens' panel. As it stands now, lawyers pocket over 35% of the total claim funds and need to be taken out of the loop. The savings could then go to education and human services. Additionally, the compensation fund needs to beef up its investigative functions so that fraud can be actively pursued and prosecuted.

  2. A five percent sales tax should be instituted. Food, drugs, medical supplies, and all services should be exempt. This tax should be fully deductible on the state income tax.

  3. A five-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax should be imposed but be fully refunded to Montanans via an income tax credit.

  4. A five-dollar-per-night tax should be required in hotels and motels but fully refunded to Montana residents via a tax credit.

  5. Property tax relief should be given to long-term elderly residents and those residing in high growth areas.

These tax reforms would go a long way toward providing state fiscal soundness and fairness to the taxpayer. Visitors and tourists would begin to pay their faIr share of the costs of the services they have enjoyed free up to now. Much of what residents would pay in additional taxes could be returned via the income tax system. The state can no longer afford the inefficient and costly workers' compensation system. l must be redesigned to benefit workers and not lawyers.

Finally, the administrative reductions suggested in this restructuring proposal must be mandatory, not optional, and the commissioner's office must be reduced proportionately as well. In the future all administrative salary increases should be indexed to the average increase for all MUS workers. The faculty and staff of the university system are no longer willing to subsidize the state for its inability to bite the political bullet and reform the higher education system, reduce administrative excesses, and revise the tax laws. The current proposal suggested by the commissioner's office represents only a modest and incomplete first step.

I will confine myself to commenting on one of the demerits and one of the merits of the plan. The demerit (which is reasonably obvious) is that there is a conflict between making the system more efficient and improving services.

Implicit in much recent criticism of the system is the complaint that it has too many administrators and that reducing their numbers through restructuring could result in substantial salary savings. It is simply not true that the units in the system are top heavy with administrators. With some exceptions, our administrators are efficient, hard working, and at least considering finding other jobs where they would be better paid for their skills. Reducing their numbers through restructuring would almost certainly reduce the quality of institutional service. Attracting qualified administrators for enhanced responsibilities would require higher salaries and reduce the expected savings. (We compete in a national market and we get what we pay for.)

Furthermore, at present the individual units are much more efficient than the commissioner's office and there is (deplorably) no reason to expect restructuring to change this. The merit of the plan is that it would, at least in certain respects, improve educational quality. For example, at present many of the units have adopted core curricula. These have been the product of a great deal of internal debate and although the results are not uniformly appealing, each core addresses some previous and fundamental complaints about the quality of education. It is in the interests of students to satisfy their core requirements in an efficient way even when they transfer from one unit to another. To allow students to transfer core credits, the MUS constructed its own core which seems to have no rationale behind it, which is only partially transferable, and which is so complicated when transferred that its adoption defies rational explanation. Restructuring the system would allow cores to be determined within the new extended units. This would greatly simplify life for students who transfer between these units and increase the coherence of their education.

  1. There are many aspects of this plan that are subjects of collective bargaining, e.g., "managing faculty workloads." How are negotiations going to figure into policy decisions and timelines?

  2. There is evidence that costs per student are lower for larger campuses than for smaller ones. Does similar evidence exist regarding economies of scale in multi-campus institutions? To the extent that reorganization is intended to result in costs savings, this issue is critical.

  3. Cost of education is a critical element in this proposal since:
    (a) Tuition = 25% of cost of education, and
    (b) State Funding = 75% of cost of education.

    How is cost of education determined? What it really consists of is a target level of expenditure per student. Before the last legislative session the tuition indexing plan promoted by the Regents took peer average spending per student as the target level for cost of education. Is that still a goal? If not, what is the goal? In theory in this proposal the cost of education drives access. Following the legislative session, however, the regents abandoned their tuition indexing plan because of legislative opposition to the restrictions on access it implied. Will they once again change their minds on this issue? Or should we take the failure of this proposal to specify an appropriate goal for cost of education to mean that legislative funding decisions and access mandates will determine the cost of education rather than the cost of education determining access? If the former is true, the proposal simply maintains the status quo. Of course, cost of education can be determined separately from resident guaranteed enrollments and legislative funding if the regents are prepared to vary (probably increase) the share covered by tuition. But this privatization of instate enrollment again raises access questions

  4. Should there not also be limits placed on funding for athletics from student fees? Replacing state funding with student fees, a widespread practice, although it appears to provide relief for the general academic budget, in fact does not. Instead of diverting state money to athletics, it diverts tuition (under another name) to that purpose. If athletics are to be genuinely self supporting, they cannot be financed out of compulsory student fees.

The general feeling on our campus is that this plan is politically motivated and is not likely to bring about any significant change The faculty here feels that if anything is reduced it will be faculty and programs and not administration or other functions. Many faculty feel frustrated that each year in Montana we have another major crisis which draws our attention away from the real reason we are here; that is, to educate students and do research in our fields of study. I talked with a number of faculty and they raised the following questions and concerns:

  1. What impact will the proposed restructuring have on collective bargaining, especially when two campuses, one unionized and the other not, are brought together? Is this proposed restructuring an attempt to weaken or even bust the AFT in Montana?

  2. The plan proposes that a list of programs be drawn up to be eliminated, but nowhere does the plan call for a list of administrative positions to be drawn up to be eliminated. The plan clearly sets up a double standard: academic programs and faculty may be reduced but administrative positions will be maintained, though probably renamed to give the appearance of change.

  3. How will criteria fur promotion and tenure be affected? What about job security? At least one of the system presidents has stated that he would like to do away with tenure. Is this a hidden part of this plan?

  4. Would programs be consolidated at the expense of students who can attend only one certain campus because their families and jobs demand that they be able to commute to college?

  5. How would this plan affect various accreditation plans the colleges have?

  6. If the plan calls for a single, unified system then why does it propose a two-branch system?

  7. If the plan proposes real change, is the timeline too short?

  8. Many of the faculty on our campus are suspicious of the so-called delivery at a distance idea. The system buys a dubious and expensive technology which is touted as the modern answer to problems of delivery but which in fact is designed to replace highly qualified live faculty with what amounts to little more than a glorified television. A television after all is easier to turn off than a unionized faculty member!

  9. Will the state of Montana ever be willing to demand standards of its college students and actually turn away students who cannot read or write, or cipher?

  1. Would it be possible to have Commissioner Baker and Governor Racicot visit (tour) Montana Tech's engineering and computer labs and then do the same at MSU? After that they could:

    (a) Do an in-depth comparison of the two.

    (b) Do a cost per student comparison

    (c) Do a class size comparison of math, engineering, and chemistry curricula.

    (d) Examine the "small is best" concept on quality of service at the point of delivery to the student-customer.

  2. Making Montana Tech a satellite campus will cause the school to lose not just its name but its identity and thus its reputation. Has this been considered? We believe that Commissioner Baker, Governor Racicot, some of the legislators, and most of the Board of Regents do not believe this to be true. How can we convince them?

  3. If consolidation of the MUS into two administrative units, i.e., UM & MSU, saves money, why won't consolidation into one unit save even more money?

  4. Consolidation such as proposed here has failed everywhere else it has been tried. Remember the "wreck of the Penn Central," International Harvester, etc. The only successful take overs have been where the taken over organization is allowed to continue as an independent with the parent company only lending support.

  5. How can the down grading of MT Tech be squared with the educational goals and obligations spelled out in the 1972 constitutional convention and in the constitution itself?

Judging by the tenor of our recent general faculty meeting and private conversations I've had with colleagues, I feel confident in stating categorically that Montana Tech administrators, faculty, and students are overwhelmingly opposed to the commissioner's proposal.

We question the notion that such restructuring will really lead to substantive economic savings. For one thing, Tech--which has an international reputation as a first-rate mineral engineering school--has been very successful in the past at soliciting donations from various corporate and other donors, most affiliated in some way with mining interests. Such funding sources will almost surely dry up if our school is no longer Montana Tech but rather Montana State University-Butte. As for the argument that eliminating Tech's administrators (except for an academic provost) will be a cost-saving measure, our current president, Lindsay Norman, has been extremely successful over the years at soliciting donations for the school. Norman's fund raising accomplishments have paid for his salary many times over. It's inconceivable that an administrator operating out of Bozeman would raise money for our school as effectively.

Then there is the question of student access. Will our students really be able to have all their countless needs met if every student concern which isn't academic will be handled by an administrator situated eighty miles away? lf any of our programs is cut because it is presumably duplicated at another school in the system (as the commissioner at his press conference implied may well occur), what about students who are tied to the Butte area by families or jobs? Is it fair to demand thai they uproot and transfer to UM or MSU in order to complete their degrees?

As to the argument that eliminating duplication will save money, this will be true only if the programs which are duplicated don't have full enrollment. However, at Tech, which has been flooded with students of late (in fact the state-imposed enrollment cap has forced us to turn away many students), our programs are all full, so any notion that the college is filled with wastefully under-populated programs is false Indeed, the real duplication problem is between UM and MSU which have many overlapping graduate and undergraduate programs. Obviously, though this problem will not be addressed by the commissioner's proposal since these two universities will be left untouched.

Finally, there is a deep fear on campus that the current proposal will be the beginning and not the end of deprivations imposed on Tech by the state. Once the commissioner has enacted such a major step, and once we no longer have a president on campus fighting exclusively for our interests, won't it be infinitely easier to whittle away at Tech more and more--cutting faculty, eliminating programs, gutting athletics. reducing student services, eventually perhaps turning the school into a two-year college or even closing it altogether?

Even if none of these draconian measures occurs, it will certainly be demoralizing for everyone on campus to no longer be affiliated with a school that enjoys an autonomous identity, but instead is merely one of a series of satellites servicing a huge university. Tech is a small but proud school. Its pride has survived the plethora of budget cuts we've already been forced to absorb but it's doubtful that morale will continue to remain high in the face of such a drastic demotion of our status. Likewise, the Butte community, which has been economically and psychologically devastated by the drastic decline of the local mining industry, has endured in no small part because of the continued existence of an acclaimed mineral engineering school in its midst. The loss of that institution's autonomy would surely be a devastating blow to local civic pride.

The basic question everyone on campus keeps raising is: Why is it necessary to make such huge changes in the university system especially when the alleged benefits are so dubious? Is the current system really in such awful shape that such potentially devastating reforms are unavoidable? Are Montanans really so fanatically averse to taxation that they will simply refuse to properly fund higher education even if our elected officials actively make the case for the incalculable long-term benefits of a superlative system of higher education? Or are our Republican governor and his supporters on the Board of Regents really being led less by practical than political concerns, specifically a fundamental animus toward government, driven by a hard-core commitment to massive privatization--an ideology which one would think twelve years of botched Republican rule in the White House had discredited forever? In short, the adage that is making the rounds on campus is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The best things to do would be to:

  1. Keep the two universities.

  2. Convert Montana Tech and the three regional colleges to two-year community colleges.

  3. Make their programs and those of the existing community colleges concordant with the lower-division programs in the universities as in British Columbia and Wyoming so that graduates of the community colleges could easily continue at either of the universities.

  4. Move essential four-year programs such as mining engineering at Tech, to the universities.

Two-year colleges are enormously less expensive to operate than four-year ones, e.g., faculty aren't required to have Ph.D.'s, library needs are vastly less, etc.

The name change bothers some colleagues but I think it is an improvement. Stronger ties with UM cannot hurt us. I'm not sure how much sense the restructuring makes for other branch campuses.

If the universities manage all the programs at the branches, that will require more long-distance management and another level of bureaucracy. The University of Montana's graduate program at Dillon is an example of failed long-distance management.

The whole idea of WMC being a part of UM hasn't sunk in, or made much difference. We've had few tangible benefits from the merger. I couldn't care less what we are called, but I want much more of an impact on and for us.

We should have one university rather than two. The Wisconsin model is a good one. We should retain separate budgets and, hence, control.

In large unified systems individual units easily lose their identity. The units serve their constituencies differently. I think we're better off with our admittedly clumsy name. We can't get Title III grants under our proposed new name.

The plan is something we have needed to do for a long time, however, it won't produce any great savings. We need to preserve diversity but have a lot more planning among units. The more units can work together academically, the better the payoff for all constituencies.

Western is known for its excellent Education program. The name change might lose us this name recognition and reputation.

A unified system will work only if each unit retains a high degree of autonomy. One catalogue, one set of courses makes a great deal of sense and would take care of the transferability problem. The restructuring may raIse a lot of expectations for continuing cost savings and set off a backlash if they don't materialize.

If the system is unified, particular academic strengths at each unit might inspire new academic programs in areas where the system has none.

The goal of achieving "A single, unified system of higher education, a totally integrated approach..." (emphasis added) strikes me a being typical of the top-down approach to solving problems. This "from the top-down" philosophy infuses the entire document and I think it is dangerous and inconsistent with the tradition of higher education and the precepts of reinventing government.

Even if all the proposals are judged meritorious and it is doubtful they will be, the proposed timeline is entirely too optimistic for the MUS or any state system.

If it is assumed the two university model rather than one is appropriate, the arrangement of the branches to their respective university seems quite relevant and defensible.

A considerable portion of the section on access is devoted to the in-state students contrasted with out-of-state students. The assumption is (as it is in most states) that the in-state students should receive preference over the out-of-staters. But is this clearly the best policy? In a relatively attractive state such as Montana, a good argument might be made for making higher education more rather than less accessible to out-of-state students.

The proposal provides that general fund dollars will be used only for Montana students. This too may be a questionable policy. In Alabama some years ago the state charged the same tuition for resident and non-resident students. That policy served well for all concerned. While this isn't quite the same as the general fund dollars referred to in the proposal, it does seem the commissioner's proposal seems a case of a kind of turning in upon one's self. In short, the proposal is narrow in vision.

The proposal regarding two-year programs makes more sense than anything else in the outline. Essentially, this paves the way to make of the present vo-techs full-fledged community colleges. And that is the way it should be! This state needs more full-fledged community colleges.

The proposed cuts in state funding for athletics seems like a great idea, but what the author of the proposal wants and what the general public will accept may be two quite different things. At the present time there is no strong evidence to indicate that the general public wants to cut-back on any kind of competitive sports. To the contrary.

Thus far the proposal is perforce very general in nature. The broad lines are sketched in outline form. As an outline it possesses great potential. The restructuring could do a great deal of good or it could cause a great deal of harm depending on how all those decisions are made which are necessary to convert the outline to a plan. Thus far the process to be used is not at all clear. There is no evidence of any involvement of faculty or of the usual academic governance machinery on any campus. The commissioner needs to make it clear that he recognizes and accepts the legitimate role of the faculty in shaping academic decisions.

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