George Dennison's Monday convocation in the University Theatre started with the expected doom-and-gloom of a speech on potential budget cuts for the coming year. But King George wowed many in the audience with a surprise follow-up: Come Aug. 15, he'll be retiring as president of the University of Montana.
If the wells of inspiration ever run dry at Six Flags theme parks, might we suggest a roller coaster based on the ups and downs of Dennison's 20-year legacy at his alma mater?
From record enrollments to sweatshop apparel dustups, each year has brought a new round of criticisms and accolades for Dennison. In 2006 alone, he was raked over the coals for his proposed code of ethics. The voices of opposition came from both in state and out, with skeptics claiming the university clause breached rights of free speech. Months later, the president was praised for his lead in fighting the much-ballyhooed Constitutional Initiative 97, a damaging cap on state spending.
The man's made friends and enemies aplenty, left an indelible mark on the campus and community, and taken his share of knocks—trust us, we dished out a few ourselves. He's also responsible for the most rampant rash of construction in UM history, repeatedly denying that he has an "edifice complex."
It's certainly no overstatement, then, to say Dennison has left some Paul Bunyan-sized boots to fill. And whoever slips into those boots will have to hit the ground at full sprint.
In the coming months, regents will conduct an intense search process for Dennison's successor. Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns says it's still too early to say who the likely candidates might be, but we're willing to bet not even Superman could make a seamless transition. Several shovels from building projects remain in the ground, relations with faculty and staff are tenuous at best, graduation rates are embarrassingly low and officials have already stated UM is "cutting into bone" financially.
Indeed, alongside his retirement, Dennison announced future budget cuts could include raising tuition and moving to a four-day workweek. It's no wonder the new president's salary is expected to be $75,000 more than what Dennison makes—it'll have to be to attract a worthy candidate.
Regardless of who steps in to fill Dennison's boots, we wish Furious George all the best in his retirement. He says he plans to use his free time to write a history of UM. And hey, if Six Flags doesn't pick up our pitch, he could always build the roller coaster himself. We know he's good with buildings.