Late August in Missoula is synonymous with University of Montana football practices (and football player arrests), an influx of freshmen looking for fake IDs and hundreds of students displaced by the growing demand for more on-campus housing.
For the last 20 years, it's also been a time for UM President George Dennison to hold court during his annual "State of the University" address. Last year was supposed to be Dennison's last hurrah, but with his planned Aug. 15 retirement date come and gone, he's now preparing to give his second "final" address on Aug. 27—a coda befitting the man who still is king.
As students begin to fill UM's classrooms, the Montana University System continues its search for Dennison's successor. Campus interviews with the final candidates won't begin for another few weeks, meaning Dennison's still neck-deep in challenges like the sudden lack of stimulus funding and the obvious need for additional student housing.
"I'm still president," Dennison says. "I still have those responsibilities and I've always been one to tell it like it is."
Dennison's willingness to throw himself into yet another to-do list is hardly out of character. While the specifics of his address will have to wait until after press time, we have it on high authority—Dennison himself—that the administration's priorities this academic year are to prepare for the 2011 Legislature and to adjust for the mounting financial shortfalls the university will contend with through at least 2015. On top of that Dennison says the College of Technology is in dire need of a larger facility, a project that will further sap UM's dwindling fiscal resources.
Funny. We remember just a few months back when the bureaucratic talk lifted and we glimpsed a Dennison primed to reenter the classroom as a teacher, not an administrator. He spoke of mining the Mansfield Library archives and putting together a history of UM in book form. He even rocked out during a campus fundraiser in March, although the chosen Ray Charles cover proved challenging.
Yet King George seems unshaken by the temporary interruption of his retirement. He admits that he'd hoped the campus interviews with his potential replacements would've taken place already, but he's prepared to serve for as many weeks—or months—as it takes. After 20 years, what's a little overtime?
"Retirement will come," Dennison says.
Sorta like that on-campus housing.