In my first months at the University of Montana, I have had reaffirmed what I had already learned from my Montana-born wife, Chelsea: Montana is a place that shapes the people who live here into resourceful, disciplined, and creative optimists unafraid of a challenge worth pursuing. At the University of Montana, we celebrate this Montana way of being in the world, and we commit to bring to bear on our own work these admirable characteristics.
I recently shared that I plan to run the Missoula Marathon, a goal that requires a combination of strict discipline, persistent grit, and deep optimism. Having run multiple marathons in the past, I understand that training for and running a marathon tests one’s physical strength and mental acumen. Some who have run a marathon will tell you stories about “hitting the wall” around mile 20. The wall is the point where fatigue tests your body and challenges your determined mindset. Those who successfully draw upon their disciplined grit and optimism press through the “wall” to reach the goals they have set for themselves.
As a campus community of Montanans, we at the University of Montana are running a marathon of sorts, and we are up for the challenge. We aspire to educate agile, lifelong learners prepared to solve complex interdisciplinary challenges. This honorable mission similarly requires that we draw upon our collective ability to dig deep and courageously pursue an optimistic vision for our future. I believe UM can be a national model for higher education at a public institution. We will not become this model if we assume that we long ago hit upon the right structures and delivery models. We must deliberately design our institution to provide an unparalleled experience that best prepares our students for the challenges and opportunities that await them beyond graduation.
I have faith in our readiness to take on this historic endeavor. To be clear, there are challenges – we currently face a significant structural budget deficit that was years in the making. But like a marathoner in training, we have been preparing to tackle this challenge. We have undertaken a months-long program prioritization process. We have deployed measures to reduce staff through voluntary retirement and severance programs. We have taken a discerning and data-driven look at every program to identify areas for growth and those which we cannot sustain. We have been disciplined, deliberate, and inclusive in this necessary work.
We now find ourselves at the toughest mile. As Montanans, we will draw upon our resourcefulness, our persistence, and our creativity to fulfill the University of Montana’s potential. We are at a point when our own magic combination of discipline, grit, and optimism will serve us through to the finish line. These are the most difficult decisions we will face: deciding what will endure at UM and what must change to ensure the university will thrive into the future for the many students whose lives will be transformed by a UM education. This moment of deciding is our “wall” – we are fatigued, uncertain and anxious, yes, but we are fully capable.
We will press on toward the finish line. Our students are counting on us to reinvigorate a UM education and to be resolute in our commitment to investing in our greatest strengths so that they may be leveraged against the greatest opportunities. Montana is counting on us.
Completing this race will not be easy. The decisions we will make with the best intentions will impact the professional and personal lives of many. We will build and sustain communities of excellence and innovation; in doing so we will choose to step away from programs we have held tightly for many years. The path forward is important and necessary, but not without tremendous challenge. Excellence involves sacrifice. The runner who pushes past mile 20 and, ultimately, crosses the finish line reaps the rewards from months of training, discipline, sacrifice, and discomfort. Therefore, too, shall our students, our state, our nation, and the world reap the rewards that will emerge from a reimagined University of Montana.
We are Montana. We are ready for this race.
University of Montana President