The search is underway for a new chancellor of Montana Tech, and those who are doing the searching say they are willing to consider a wide range of candidates to lead the university perched on Butte’s west side.
As for who might fit the bill, Brock Tessman, Montana University System deputy commissioner for Academics, Research and Student Affairs and the chair of Tech’s search advisory committee, says, “I think I have heard a lot of open-mindedness about the kind of leader the campus and community are looking for.”
Since 2011, Tech’s leader has been Chancellor Don Blackketter. During his eventful tenure, the university has been designated the Montana University System’s only special focus institution, changed its official name, bolstered its campus facilities, added its first Ph.D. program, devoted more resources to research and reached — and fallen from — enrollment highs.
And since announcing his retirement in October, Blackketter hasn’t been idly waiting for the end of his term in June.
Rather, Blackketter has spent his final months on campus pushing forward with a program prioritization process that has slated four campus departments and 10 faculty positions for elimination as the university deals with recent declines in the student population while also charting its way forward as a special focus institution with an emphasis on science and engineering fields.
According to Tessman, Montana Tech is the midst of “a lot of change and some difficult change and some exciting change.” And he says he and his fellow committee members have a ”deep desire to bring in somebody that can make the hard decisions that are in front of Montana Tech right now.”
The search for that person began soon after Blackketter announced his retirement, when Tessman organized some 12 listening sessions with stakeholders from both the Tech campus and the Butte community. During those sessions, Tessman says he was able to “get a sense of where Tech is at and where Tech is headed” and also began picking up “nominations and names for our search advisory committee.”
Formed in November, that 21-member committee includes Tech faculty, staff, students and administrators as well as community members, MUS administrators, the University of Montana’s provost and others.
In addition, the committee is working with two consultants from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, which has been hired to “do the heavy lifting” in terms of finding and recruiting potential applicants for the position, Tessman says. To do so, the AGB consultants are disseminating a job ad that spells out the expectations the committee has for Tech’s next leader.
According to Tessman, that ad reflects the committee’s, the campus’ and the community’s interest in “a bold and innovative leader,” whether or not he or she has the traditional background of a university chancellor. To that end, the ad notes that a Ph.D. or terminal degree is “preferred, but not required.”
“I think everyone involved in the search is truly open-minded on that front,” Tessman says of candidates’ qualifications. “We have had so much vigorous discussion about ways we can attract very different kinds of candidates. I think that people would be excited about a traditional candidate that knocks it out of the park. … But a number of people understand that lots of institutions are seeking new perspectives from their leaders.”
While that perspective could come from someone with “deep experience in the academic world,” Tessman says it could also come from someone with “a lot of experience in private industry.” Either way, though, he says, “I think it would be surprising to me if the next chancellor didn’t have a wealth of experience, academic or otherwise, in the STEM fields.”
Jim Keane, who represents Butte in the Montana House of Representatives and serves on the search committee, agrees the search should be inclusive, much like the one that brought Seth Bodnar from General Electric to serve as president of the University of Montana.
“I think you should look at everybody,” Keane says. “You look at UM, they picked someone from outside of academia, and I think you’d be crazy not to look at people with a broad scope of talents that run the gamut from the academic to a manager of budgets to a manager of people to a manager of resources. … I guess my question is, why wouldn’t we?”
Chris Danielson, a member of the search committee and president of Tech’s faculty union, says he’ll be looking for “somebody who will have a good working relationship with the faculty, representing both teaching and research.”
But he also says it’s important to find someone who can help the campus move past the difficult program prioritization process that has led to some cuts and some consternation.
“I just hope we get a chancellor who will take Montana Tech into the future and into a period where we’ll have growth and increasing enrollment,” Danielson says.
As for how the planned cuts and ongoing prioritization process will affect the search for Blackketter’s successor, Tessman says, “Some (candidates) might find that to be a deterrent and some might find that as a chance to shape the university in ways that they might not be able to in different times.”
Applicants have until Jan. 18 to apply and receive priority consideration. The committee will then meet in February to select a pool of about 8 to 12 semifinalists. From that pool, three to five finalists will be brought to campus in late March and early April. The committee will then submit a “a list of acceptable candidates” to the state’s Commissioner of Higher Education, Clayton Christian, and to the MUS Board of Regents to make a final decision, Tessman says.
If all goes according to plan, a new chancellor would begin work on July 1.
“And I’m pretty intent on meeting that goal,” Tessman says. “We’re very much on track for that July 1 start date.”
In the meantime, Tessman says all are welcome to apply: “If you have a love for higher education, if you can appreciate what Montana Tech has to offer and if you have extraordinary leadership experience, throw your hat in the ring.”