By Tim Leeds
There has already been some success in meeting the new goals set for Montana State University-Northern, Chancellor Mike Rao said.
One of Rao's first steps was to outline a comprehensive set of goals for the university when he took over the chancellorship in the spring of 1998. Some progress has been made in many of these goals, he said, with efforts continuing to make improvements.
A top priority was given to reducing expenditures and increasing revenues to eliminate a $1.3 million uncovered debt he discovered shortly after assuming his position, Rao said. More than $480,000 was owed for the 1998-1999 school year and more than $830,000 was found in long-term obligations. The 1998-1999 situation has been corrected, Rao said.
"It's accomplished. Done with," he said.
Rao said he immediately began a major expense reduction process. He made an effort to involve everyone on the campus in it and tried to avoid any surprises, he said. His commitment was to reduce expenses in non-teaching areas, and he said he had success in this goal.
The late Montana State University-Bozeman President Mike Malone was very helpful in this process, Rao said. He said that Malone, who passed away in December, had been very helpful in his transition to MSU-Northern and will be sorely missed.
Rao said he has also worked to increase revenue to help defray the MSU-Northern debts he discovered. Grant writing has increased significantly, which has been a major help, he said.
Reduced expenditures, increased revenue and normal employee attrition have allowed the university to eliminate $1 million of the debt, Rao said. About $280,000 remains.
Rao said there has been success in improving the student services program at the university.
"We opened a new student center," he said. "It wasn't obvious to students how you get through programs here. Now it is better."
Under the new program, incoming freshmen have to go to the student center first, he said. One of the first things this accomplishes is to find an appropriate faculty advisor for the student.
Part of this has also included implementing the Banner software system. This allows faculty to advise and enroll students in classes right at their desks. This also freed up some of the faculty's old computers for other work.
Increased computer availability has also had success, Rao said. Along with the terminals freed by implementing the Banner system, funds from the Department of Education's VATEA Act have also been used to buy new equipment for the computer labs, and Frank Miller has been hired in an Academic Lab Position to help supervise and maintain the labs.
Rao said there has also been progress in integrating the different units of the MSU system. But Rao is cautious about future predictions.
"A lot of it hung on Mike Malone," he said. "Now we'll have to see."
Rao pointed out that there are major differences between the systems, including sizes of enrollment, budget size, MSU-Northern's Masters-1 Carnegie Classification versus Bozeman's Doctoral-1 Classification and classes offered by the schools.
"Most of it is mind set," he said. "Willingness to accept your role and position in the system. (Bozeman) has been pretty good about sharing its resources."
There has been progress in other areas as well, Rao said. A plan is in place to try to gain NCATE accreditation of the MSU-Northern teacher education programs, and a University Governance Council has been formed to facilitate discussion of issues across the campus.
This council consists of two students, two classified employees such as secretarial or physical plant, two faculty members, one administration members, and the chancellor. The intent of the council is to allow members to share information, discuss the results with their groups, and return to share their group's concerns with the council.
Improvements have been made to the university's web site, Rao said, including the addition of a search engine to find desired information at the site.
Work has also progressed on improving regional development. The goal is to establish a plan to serve the entire area better.
"We're trying, but it's such a big area," Rao said.
Research is also progressing on adding new programs and classes to the university's catalog, but Rao warned that the procedure for this is very long and complicated. It involves faculty, faculty chairs, the academic subcommittee of the Board of Regents, as well as the full Board of Regents itself. While optimistic about the results, Rao was cautious about the time-frame involved.
While seeming pleased with the successes in his plan, Rao said that even in the successes, there is still work to be done.
"I don't want people to feel I'm trying to only tell them the good things," he said. "We face challenges, too. We're working as a team to overcome them."