Montana Tech will have a hard time keeping a qualified chancellor unless the state stops allowing the presidents of its larger universities to have oversight of the smaller colleges, Chancellor Frank Gilmore told the state Board of Regents recently.
Gilmore, in a recent letter announcing his June 2011 retirement, said Montana has one of the most top-down public university systems in the country. And that has kept Tech from growing into a world-class research university that can pay competitive salaries that attracts professors.
"The Montana University system is arguably the most hierarchical and pyramidal system found in higher education," Gilmore said in his letter. "I do not believe the most capable vigorous leaders will stay very long if they must work under the conditions I have worked."
Sheila Stearns, state higher education commissioner, said that while she respected Gilmore's
opinion, she disagrees that having Tech officials coordinate with the University of Montana is a negative. As the former chancellor at the University of Montana Western, Stearns said she's seen the
efficiency that comes by making the campuses work together. That adds up to saving taxpayers' money, she said.
"There are some times you'd like to have your own board and report to them - that's maximum autonomy, but it's not maximum efficiency," Stearns said. "Montana's doing it pretty well in terms of what's in the best interest of the state - it's been far more positive than negative."
Gilmore said in a telephone interview Wednesday that Montana's university system is a pyramid system, with the presidents of Montana State University in Bozeman and the University of Montana in Missoula at the top. And that structure carries all the way down to personnel issues and program development.
"It's very much a pecking order," he said. "Any program that we want to submit has to first be scrutinized by Missoula, but we don't get to scrutinize theirs."
Gilmore outlined several changes he said Tech needs to make it more competitive to attract students and faculty. He said the school needs a name change to get its own identity.
And he reiterated that Tech needs to offer doctorate degree programs in natural resource fields in which it specializes. That would make it possible to bring in more private money to help improve salaries, as well as more and bigger research grants.
Gilmore also said the university system doesn't involve faculty members with expertise in setting its policies or offering advice. He said that happens to numerous professors within the system and cited himself as an example of someone with two decades of experience in scientific research and contracts.
"Not once in my tenure have I been asked to participate in discussions of scientific research or science policy," Gilmore said. "The synergism gained by including qualified individuals in these discussions might have a very positive influence in making the affiliations work."
- Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org