Some members of the public called on the Board of Regents to give MSU Billings more autonomy in what programs it offers.
Higher education officials say they’re listening. As proof, they point to approval of an expanded nursing program in Billings after hearing other public comments strongly supporting the addition.
Former long-time legislator Dave Wanzenried thinks the budget and enrollment problems facing the Billings campus likely stem from being hampered by the 1994 reorganization of the Montana University System. Eastern Montana College was put under Montana State University and renamed.
During the public comment session, the former Missoula legislator suggests that integration hampers Billings from a more robust curriculum, “that can be taken directly to the board without being filtered through MSU Bozeman.”
Wanzenried wants the Regents to re-examine the governance structure.
“Please take this on in the spirit of being open and willing to engage in a conversation with this community and this region to see if we can do better in governing the system and providing more autonomy for Billings in doing that,” he says.
Richard Brown, vice president of WyoBen Incorporated, says he depends on the Billings campus to be a workforce pipeline.
“It really hasn’t been successful yet or as successful as it needs to be,” Brown says. “And I personally think that’s because MSUB has been limited in the diversity of the scope of offerings that it can make to the community.”
Brown says from his standpoint as a businessman, the status quo can’t continue.
MSU Billings Chancellor Mark Nook says in the nearly 2 ½ years he’s been in the post work he has not seen the administration at the Bozeman campus deny programs.
He says as part of the strategic planning process, the Billings campus is reaching out to the business community across eastern Montana.
“We’ve got to sit down and work with the business community,” Nook says. “And put together a plan for MSUB that serves the economic growth, the cultural growth and the social growth of our region and I don’t see a need to separate from MSU to do that.”
MSU President Waded Cruzado says she was surprised to hear those comments.
“Just in the 6 and a half years that I’ve been at Montana State University not once can I remember that I have vetoed an academic proposal that has come from MSU Billings,” she says.
Cruzado understands the frustration, but says it may stem from misunderstanding.
“I don’t think it’s my role as president of Montana State University to tell and direct, via remote control from Bozeman to tell Billings what they need to do. I believe in self-determination,” says Cruzado. “I think this is something MSU Billings, the faculty, the students, and the alumni working together with the community they need to say, ‘Here are the needs that we need to fulfill within the next 5 to 10 years.’”
Cruzado and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian both say their role is to support and let Chancellor Mark Nook do his job.
“That is what we’re all embracing,” says Christian. “And when that plan coalesces around what Billings needs from the people of Billings and the chancellor of Billings and moves up I think it will have tremendous support from both President Cruzado and the system.”
Both point to approval at the October Board of Regent’s meeting to allow MSU Billings to expand its nursing program to meet the workforce needs of the growing medical corridor.
“Because I realize it is something that we all need into the future,” says Cruzado. “And quite honestly because we stood solidly behind that program since day 1.”
The Regents unanimously approved the program during the September Board of Regents meeting at MSU Billings’ City College. This on-line program will join similar ones at Montana Tech and MSU Northern. It’s geared for working RN’s to remain in their communities and jobs and take classes on-line.
Diane Duin, Dean of the MSU Billings College of Allied Health Professions, plans to launch the RN to BSN program during the Fall 2017 semester.