A group of University of Montana faculty, students and staff met together on Monday afternoon to respond to President Royce Engstrom's plan to cut staff and expenses due to reduced enrollment. Their response, according to history professor Mehrdad Kia, "We cannot cut our way out of this crisis."

Kia, an outspoken critic of the administration's plans to bring the school's budget under control, told KGVO News that a meeting last week with the Commissioner of Higher Education produced positive results.

"We shared some of our concerns and ideas with Commissioner Clayton Christian who graciously agreed to come all the way from Helena for about two hours to discuss these issues," Kia said. "First and foremost, we expressed our very great concern about these cuts, both to staff and faculty.We firmly believe that we cannot cut our way out of this crisis. These cuts are not the way to address the present financial condition and reduction in enrollment.."

Kia said they told the commissioner about their concerns regarding cuts in graduate assistantships, in addition to the way that new administrators are recruited and hired.

"We emphasized the need to hold open, national and transparent searches for each and every administrative position, starting with the Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Theresa Branch and for Provost Perry Brown.," he said. "We hope to make this point that we are not here to criticize only, but also to offer constructive and positive suggestions and solutions as he crisis at the university unfolds."

[button href="http://newstalkkgvo.com/files/2016/01/U-of-M-Relations_20160126_140442.pdf" title="UM Advocacy Coalition Statement

UM Vice President for Integrated Communications Peggy Kuhr issued a response to a press release issued at Tuesday's meeting, Following, find the administration's response.

Jan. 26, 2016

From Peggy Kuhr

Vice President for Integrated Communications

UMAC press release says “The cuts began last Friday…”

UM reply: That is not the case. Last week, HR and supervisors began meeting with UM employees who were either going to be laid off or have their hours reduced. The layoffs and reductions take place by June 30, so people have more than five months of notice.

UMAC statement: the reductions “amount to 15% of UM’s force…”

UM response: That percentage is incorrect. When you look at total UM workforce – regardless of where the paycheck is coming from – the percent reduction is 6.7.

Here’s where that number comes from: We are reducing by 192 FTE paid through the general fund – that’s the full-time equivalent number. Add 4 additional layoffs that come from other sources and your total is 196 FTE reduction. Divide that by 2,925 FTE, which our total workforce, and you get 6.7%.

UMAC statement: UMAC states that there will be another 50 cuts in graduate positions.

UM response: We don’t know where that number comes from.

The only reductions for graduate student teaching assistantships amount to 20 FTE. We kept more graduate student teaching assistantships than what was originally proposed in November.

UMAC news release says “UM officials blamed the problem on cyclical student enrollment and overstaffing.”

UM response: Quoting from President Engstrom’s announcement in November:

“I won’t dwell in detail on the reasons for our enrollment decline, but I do want to establish that multiple factors have been at play. These include at least the following: 1) our own recruiting challenges in the face of increasing competition, 2) a declining Montana demographic of college-going students, 3) the multiple effects of the economic recession and recovery, first in moving students into higher education as jobs became scarce, then the opposite effect as job availability returned, and afterwards, students migrating toward majors perceived to be more directly connected to jobs, and 4) our ongoing visibility around the topic of sexual assault. These are not excuses; they are reasons. I do not know the relative contributions of these factors, and each of us can likely argue the importance of one over the other, but they have all played a role in getting us to the reality of our current enrollment.” http://www.umt.edu/president/docs/Campus%20Budget%20Forum%20Remarks.pdf