Sacrificing the queen at the University of Montana

University of MontanaA few weeks ago the University of Montana announced plans for a queen sacrifice. It’s hard to get good information on this, but I’ll sum up what I can find.

November’s Inside Higher Ed article mentions a large number of faculty and staff cuts, “201 full-time positions — 52 of them faculty slots…Some positions may be currently vacant. ”  The rationale?  My readers will be utterly unsurprised to learn “enrollment declines”.

Which academic departments are in the line of fire?  Maybe these:

Many professors say the cuts appear likely to disproportionately impact liberal arts programs, although other programs face cuts, too. Among the liberal arts departments slated for cuts: anthropology, English, geography, liberal studies, art and political science, as well as graduate programs in foreign languages.

Again, no surprises here.

A more recent and local report notes faculty unrest, and the possibility of a no-confidence call.

The criticisms aimed at the president are varied. Among them are a plodding or misguided approach to pressing problems, poor recruitment and fundraising efforts, and lack of transparency.

The Montana Board of Regents, in contrast, stands behind the president and the plan.  This public statement is worth examining in detail.  For example, it’s openly against faculty wishes:

UM held off on implementing a similar plan a few years ago after a small segment of faculty objected to any faculty reductions during declining enrollment. But now there’s no time for further delay. We commend and support President Engstrom for confronting the enrollment reality and for challenging UM to adapt to the expectations of students, parents and Montana citizens.

Note the evocation of the public as stakeholders.

The cuts are pour encourager les autres:

This financial stability and enrollment management plan… … is also crucial to motivate programs to improve that may be struggling with customer demand.

That board representative offers a creative approach to declining enrollment, a quality versus quantity argument:

It is vitally important to note that in aligning UM’s workforce numbers with student enrollment, President Engstrom’s plan will provide the university with more faculty and staff per student than the university had at its peak enrollment period a few years ago. UM will maintain an 18-to-1 ratio of students to faculty, which will provide more faculty per student than a few years ago at peak enrollment.

“peak enrollment”: don’t lose sight of that pregnant phrase.

Let me repeat that this is a developing story without a lot of hard information.  But what we have points to another example of the queen sacrifice, with connections to larger trends shaping higher ed.

(thanks to James Kerr for the link; logo from Wikipedia)

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