Bodnar: UM spending is “unsustainable” without “hard” budget decisions

Posted at 4:37 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 18:37:08-04

MISSOULA – It will take a combination of "cuts and curriculum" if the University of Montana is going to solve its on-going budget issues.

And UM President Seth Bodnar says that’s going to take some "hard decisions".

Everyone on campus has known this day was coming, as the administration grapples with a way to not only stop the flow of red ink, but to realign UM as a stronger institution going forward, and more than anything, a school that will attract and help students.

Tuesday’s Senate Faculty meeting was moved to the Music Recital hall to accommodate the large turnout, as everyone gathered to hear more details of the proposed cuts and changes for the next few years.

Bodnar was very frank about both the opportunities and the problems UM is facing as the second decade of the 2000s draws to a close, saying the university hasn’t been "clear or focused" about UM’s "special strengths" and what attracts students. And he noted the sharp slide in enrollment hasn’t been helped by a past decision to limit money tied to marketing.

"A university can’t operate without some funding for recruiting and retention," Bodnar said. "We have to restore that funding. So when you add that up you have a true structural imbalance of the magnitude of about ten-million dollars. So, that’s not a crisis as we said in January, but it is not sustainable over the long run. So the question becomes what do you do about that?"

Bodnar says there’s no way UM can "continue to everything we do now and do it well." But he also expresses optimism that once the university comes out at the other end of the tunnel it will be a much stronger institution, much better aligned to meet what students need in the future, and much stronger financially.

And he challenged the university community to dig into the details, "as if we were starting from scratch" in making the re-alignment.

"We have endeavored to identify the ways in which we can keep our offerings to students, and give our students the best, highest quality education and the most offerings, the most options as possible while addressing our budget issues. And the recommendations that will follow are the result of a deep analysis. We recognize that that analysis is not perfect and that’s why this is the beginning of a discussion." 

The proposed budget and curriculum changes must also meet the approval of the University Board of Regents, which will be meeting in Havre later next month.