With less than a month to go before UM President Royce Engstrom steps down, there is a lot that will need to happen before a new president takes control, an event expected to take place on July 1, 2017.
Engstrom leaves before the start of the New Year, so there is an expected seven month gap between presidents, during that time the office will be filled by Interim President Dr. Sheila M. Stearns.
The interim time could prove to be highly consequential for the University of Montana as it happens to fall right when the Montana Legislator is in session. The lack of a President and a unifying vision could make it difficult for UM to make its case during the session.
Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian, has released a five point plan to guide the University of Montana through the transition process, that plan has been reprinted in full below:
1. New Leadership
A national search for the next UM president will begin immediately. My office will assist UM in assembling a search committee with a diversity of campus and community representation before the start of spring semester. We will enlist the help of a national search consultant to ensure the search committee is prepared and supported in its task of vetting candidates and bringing finalists to campus for public interviews in the spring. We anticipate the next president will be selected by the end of the current academic year and ready to start in the job by July 1.
2. Interim Leadership
Dr. Sheila M. Stearns will serve as interim president starting January 1 continuing until the national search is completed. Stearns is an accomplished and effective educational leader with strong ties to UM and Montana. She has served in past capacities as UM’s Alumni Association Director and Vice President for University Relations. Stearns has also served as Chancellor of UM Western, President of Wayne State College in Nebraska, and as Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education. Stearns is an active senior consultant for the national Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
3. Listening Efforts and Outreach
As soon as possible, perhaps even before the search committee is assembled, a number of on-campus listening sessions will be scheduled for members of the university community and the public to participate in this process. It will be important to the search committee, to me, and to the process to have members of the UM community and public tell us the kinds of qualities or characteristics people would like to see in the next university president. These listening sessions will help inform the search process for the selection of finalists to bring to campus for public interviews in the spring. We assure students, faculty, and the campus community that this process will be inclusive and comprehensive.
4. Short-term System Support of UM in Transition
My office will assist UM with transition support and planning in every way possible. Assistance may include fiscal help with presidential search costs, staff support with institutional financial assessments, planning and estimating budget, enrollment, and tuition scenarios. I will relieve the interim president of the administrative duty of supervising the chancellors of Montana Tech, UM Western, and the Dean of Helena College. In the interim, I will supervise those administrative officers so the interim president and UM can focus on best situating UM-Missoula for a successful transition and continued excellence.
5. Mid- to long-term System Support of UM
The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Board of Regents are committed to continual improvement of the educational and governance framework across the Montana University System. This shall include analysis of institutional mission differentiation that supports and enhances UM’s strengths and growth opportunities. My office, on behalf of the Board, will work with UM to develop a cohesive financing plan with stronger alignment of state appropriations, tuition, and student aid. This will provide long-term structural balance and stability for institutional finances.