Money is the primary concern at the University of Montana right nowor rather, a lack of it next year. And while Provost Perry Brown says budget reductions are merely a "possibility" at present, the tone on campus has been markedly altered as deans and department chairs write up recommendations for cuts they hope will have a limited effect on students.
"The deans are working hard to maintain all the necessary ingredients for all of the programs that they offer," Brown says.
Registration for fall semester opened on Cyberbear April 8, and students may already have taken note of the impacts of budget discussions. Brown has encouraged chairs to identify sections of courses that could be cut if budget reductions become a reality. That means select sections may be listed on Cyberbear but not open for registration. Some of those sections may open later, Brown adds, depending on student demand.
"Last fall, we had 700 fewer students than we had the previous year," Brown says. "If we have fewer students again, that means there are at least some sections that won't be needed because there won't be anybody in them."
At the College of Arts and Sciences, the 8 percent reduction administrators are using as a cautionary figure could equate to cuts up to $1.6 million, says Dean Chris Comer. He's told his chairs to be transparent with adjunct faculty and to realize that they can't "register students for courses that we then can't deliver." The overall uncertainty has created a mood of "deep concern," Comer says, and caused some faculty to become "edgy."
"I'm sure a number of adjuncts have been told that the course they taught last year or the year before is in doubt and may not be offered," he says. "But the colleges have not been given definite numbers ... so nobody's being told they're not going to be hired for next year."
Comer adds that "it would be fair to say [budget reductions] will not be invisible to students." It will be harder to find courses, he explains, "and yeah, it's going to inconvenience some students and cause some consternation."
Comer would like to remain optimistic, but he's also realistic.
"I don't think the situation is going to turn out dramatically different than we're expecting," he says.