Montana State University’s draft plan to grow bigger and better received both praise and criticism Thursday, including questions about how MSU is going to pay for its big dreams.
About 60 people attended a public forum in the Strand Union Building for the chance to comment on the draft Academic Strategic Plan, which lays out MSU’s ambitious goals for teaching, research, learning and public service for the next seven years.
A key goal calls for expanding MSU by 15 percent to 16,000 students by 2019. The plan sets other ambitious goals, calling for more research and more “engagement” so that all faculty and students are involved in the local, state, national or global communities.
“Without new space? We are already over full,” one sticky note comment said of the growth goal.
“More faculty? More classrooms? More housing? Funding?” another asked.
Provost Martha Potvin, who’s in charge of academics and leads the Deans Council that drafted the plan, said she was pleased to see all the sticky notes.
“They’re all good comments,” Potvin said. “We’ll take this back and have more conversation.” It will eventually go to the University Council for approval.
Asked how MSU would pay for its big goals, Potvin replied, “By prioritizing.”
Jeff Krauss, a Board of Regents member and MSU employee, said he was concerned whether the draft plan includes the regents’ goals, such as speeding up the time it takes students to graduate, now typically five or six years. Potvin said she’d show him where the MSU plan reflects that concern.
John Neumeier, Faculty Senate chair called the draft “a very aggressive plan for the university.” Unlike at the University of Montana, where student enrollment is down and budget cuts are in the works, MSU’s enrollment is growing.
“We’re in a great position,” Neumeier said. “It’s clear we’re becoming the university of choice … We’ve got so much to offer.”
Still, Neumeier said, professors are “really interested in how we’re going to reach our goals in terms of infrastructure and the number of current faculty. Many of us feel we’re at the limit” in the numbers of students that can be handled.
MSU has found creative solutions, he added, like changing the Tuesday-Thursday schedule to accommodate more classes and adding some evening classes.
Wes Lynch, a psychology professor and former Faculty Senate chair, said the plan’s “broad goals are quite good,” such as making it easier for students to attend MSU. But he questioned is who is going to carry out all the ambitious ideas.
“It’s definitely going to be more work,” Lynch said.
Some sticky notes expressed support for ideas in the plan, like creating more study aboard opportunities, more diversity and recruiting more Native Americans, and expanding leadership classes.
Raising MSU’s national and international prominence in research, one wrote, “is vital to our continued success in nonresident recruitment!”
But others were alarmed at the plan’s call for more online classes (“Students hate online courses – No connecting,” one wrote) and its call for raising faculty and staff pay.
“Do not raise pay if it means increasing student costs,” one wrote, while another warned, “Tuition will SKYROCKET. BAD.”
However, Lindsay Murdock, student vice president, said she supports “100 percent” raising MSU’s pay to what other Western universities pay. “We value our faculty and staff so much. They are overworked and underpaid.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com ore 582-2633.