Montana State University’s new president, Waded Cruzado, sounded positive Friday in her first speech to the Bozeman campus, saying even looming budget cuts won’t keep MSU from accomplishing great things as “a student-centered research institution.”

Cruzado, MSU’s 12th president, spoke in the same upbeat terms as the man she succeeded, Geoff Gamble, demonstrating that she, too, can sound as energetic and optimistic as President Franklin Roosevelt in the middle of the Great Depression and World War II.

“We will not allow fear to stand in the way of our commitment to advancing this great university,” she said.

Cruzado, who turns 50 today, said she was “deeply honored by the privilege of serving” Montana’s land-grant university.

On the job just two weeks, she spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 in the Strand Union Building. The crowd of MSU staff, faculty, students and community members applauded her warmly.

Cruzado praised MSU’s record of accomplishments, saying they were made possible by its “talented faculty, wonderful students, dedicated staff … and the devotion of those who preceded us.”

She promised to listen, encourage open communication, and continue “shared governance” with employees and a participatory budget planning process.

One difference from Gamble, who retired after nine years, was that Cruzado gave greater emphasis to the goal of uniting the four campuses that operate under the MSU name — Bozeman, Billings, Havre and Great Falls. It’s a goal of the Montana Board of Regents, which hired her last fall.

“I’m committed to a ‘one university’ concept for MSU,” Cruzado said.

Cruzado said she plans to hold listening sessions in Bozeman and all around the state to hear “your dreams and aspirations” for MSU.

“I want to learn directly from you what we do well and what we can do better,” she said. She plans to start next week by meeting with each college on the Bozeman campus.

The outside accreditation committee that reviewed MSU last year commended it for its commitment to undergraduate research and for achieving the Carnegie foundation’s highest classification as a research university.

Yet the committee also pointed out areas that need attention, Cruzado said, especially the “increasing tension between critical needs and available resources.” That means MSU is stretched thin, trying to do a lot despite tight budgets.

Cruzado said MSU must strive to hire and keep excellent faculty and staff, find outside dollars to support research, expand graduate programs, maximize efficiency, invest in keeping students from dropping out and expand online education.

She praised the Bozeman campus’s record fall enrollment, with more than 2,200 new freshmen and a 20 percent increase in American Indian freshmen. She praised MSU’s student athletes, citing their high grades and donation of more than 3,000 hours of volunteer service in the last three years.

“Go ‘Cats!” she said.

The speech by MSU’s first female and minority president lasted only 20 minutes, but Cruzado spent nearly an hour afterward shaking hands and chatting with dozens of people who lined up to meet her.

Those interviewed gave her speech high marks.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Katy Hansen, student body vice president, said. “I liked how she gave a broad overview of her goals, while passing on the credit. A very gracious speech. It demonstrates she’ll be a real good leader for this university.”

Regents Chairman Steve Barrett said it was “a wonderful welcoming speech — it really reflects the energy, enthusiasm and qualities she brings to the job.”

“I think she was tremendous,” said Bill Tietz, MSU’s retired ninth president.

Jack Jelinski, a retired professor, said the speech was concise and just about perfect.

Angie Hewitt, an educator at the Museum of the Rockies, said she had “a really great impression” of Cruzado. “She’s very likable and has a real good persona to her.”

Bill Yellowtail, a prominent member of the Crow tribe and assistant director of the Native Health Partnership, said he was “blown away” that Cruzado had highlighted MSU’s success in serving Native Americans.

Lorrie Steerey, Academic Senate chair from MSU Billings, said Cruzado’s promise to work with all the campuses was “very positive.”

“She seems very ambitious, and wanting to do a really good job for everyone, and to listen to everyone,” Steerey said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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