The University of Montana this week unveiled the first draft of its new, long-range strategic vision.
The plan is designed to show how UM distinguishes itself from other regional and national campuses. It does that in a number of ways, including reexamining its core curriculum and its relationships with faculty, staff and students.
Brock Tessman, the Dean of UM’s Davidson Honors College says the plan’s being built from the ground up to accomplish two things.
“We see this document as both a short-term compass and a long term plan for this university which is at a point of great fluidity,” he said.
The plan comes as UM’s enrollment has seen steady decreases since 2010. The university is taking a close look at itself and its mission to reverse that trend and map out its future. Faculty, staff and students met today to discuss the first draft of the strategic plan guiding that process.
Tessman chairs the committee developing the plan which notes UM faculty, staff and students are being asked to do more with less. He says that they need extra support.
“And it may not always be a salary increase, but it can be a better work environment, more opportunities for collaboration across departments. It can also be a clearer vision. I think people feel better about coming to work when they’re moving toward a common goal,” he said.
The strategic plan also notes UM’s beautiful physical setting in west central Montana and the opportunities that presents.
“For example, academically so many of our tremendous programs directly relate to our natural setting; wildlife biology for example. Our Creative Writing program really has strong ties to Montana history in this place. There are academic ways to leverage this place,” Tessman said.
The strategic plan also presents a call to action for the university to reinvent its curriculum. Tessman says all UM students need to be exposed to some basic principles.
“Communications skills, problem solving, teamwork, a sense of ethical responsibility. In all our outreach, we heard the same thing; these are the skills employers and community leaders want. Let’s re-imagine and re-brand our curriculum so that everyone knows that’s what we do at the University of Montana,” he said.
The draft plan also calls for UM to do a much better job of working with students. That includes everything from reaching out to prospective students, to advising services for new students and helping those who are going through tough times.
“More concretely, there are over 100-thousand students in this state that have some college education – who have not finished that education. What a great opportunity for all the universities in the state. Let’s meet those students where they are. That could be through online education, or creative instructional delivery. We have to be more conscious of the student condition in that state of Montana,” he said.
University of Montana President Sheila Stearns considers this draft of the strategic plan to be "version 1.0." More revisions are expected over the next several months.
Brock Tessman hopes those involved in the process step out of their comfort zones to make the best document possible.
“I think if that vision is going to be effective, it ought to make some people a little bit uncomfortable. One of our committee members has a great way of saying that if the magic happens over here on one side of the page, your comfort zone is usually over here on the other side of the page,” he said.