New Year’s Eve will not only mark the end of 2012, but also the end of Jim Limbaugh’s first year as Montana State University-Northern’s chancellor.
In the year since Limbaugh made the trek north from Texas with his wife Trish, Northern has made some visible improvements, while the gears of more fundamental change have started turning beneath the surface.
“I think it has been a whirlwind of a year, ” Limbaugh said. “I have been really pleased with what the campus has been able to accomplish. Am I pleased? Yes. Are we unearthing more of the potential of this institution? Yes. Do we have some challenges before us? Of course. ”
Some of the biggest changes to the university were to areas of campus most frequently visited by the public, the Student Union Building and the new floor and seating of the Armory Gymnasium.
Now, the gym upgrades — and the fresh pavement running along the north side of campus for that matter — were in the works before Limbaugh’s appointment, so the most credit he deserves there would be in showing support and not getting in the way.
At the SUB, however, both Jim and Trish Limbaugh spent the summer coordinating volunteered materials and labor. They consolidated the whole rainbow of browns and beiges that previously covered the building, largely unchanged visually in decades, into a more consistent aesthetic; all the while completely overhauling how students eat and adding new meeting space.
Limbaugh’s belief in the importance of presentation was also behind campus-wide landscaping, fresh-painting and banner-hanging efforts throughout the warm months. And the Student Ambassadors program was resurrected to show it all off.
An updated website was debuted in the spring as one prong of a new marketing strategy tied to the university’s fundamental changes.
One of Limbaugh’s first priorities as chancellor was the development of a guiding vision statement. Since then, work has been building toward a comprehensive review of the entire institution, from classes and programs offered to the handling of infrastructure.
Members of the faculty and staff have spent the year developing the rubrics and criteria for evaluating the school’s programs. By next April, the faculty will have to turn in a self-study of the programs they run, with a recommendation as to whether the program should be reduced, maintained or grown. An academic leadership council, made up of department heads and administrators, will review the recommendations and pass their thoughts on to Limbaugh. By Autumn, Limbaugh wants to approach the Board of Regents with a plan to request the resources to carry it out. By the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, Limbaugh hopes to head a revitalized, restructured university, with plans in place for Havre’s campus, as well as programs in Great Falls, Lewistown and on the web.
“In the end, my job is to always think five to 10 years down the line, ” Limbaugh said. “It simply takes time.
“I have to grow the school in a way in which I am competitive. The number of college-age kids in Montana is actually decreasing. ”
Limbaugh said he has set a goal to, eventually “be an institution of 3,000 students, ” between the university’s components. He is confident in the school’s ability to meet that goal, after meeting the three-percent enrollment increase for last fall’s semester, and considering the institutions strengths — “the most advance fuel testing facility in the country, ” the only accredited agriculture program that teaches both plant and animal sciences and the only online bachelors in nursing program.
He’s been playing to those strengths, with new marketing and recruitment initiatives “targeting specific populations in specific places, ” advertising these unique programs in niche trade publications and industry websites.
Limbaugh has faced some pushback in his changes, but he said it’s to be expected.
“There is going to be some discontent along the way, ” Limbaugh said, “but that is a part of human nature and the nature of an organization. ”
One of the most vocal critics has been faculty union president John Snider, who argued at the May Board of Regents meeting that Northern faculty salaries were shamefully low. Other professors at the meeting, and even the regents, agreed and are planning to take the issue into the upcoming legislative session and ensuing biennium planning.
Limbaugh has said that the regents, and the administration at the MSU main campus in Bozeman have been very supportive and is excited to work with them, and the Havre community, in the following years of his tenure.
“I thinks it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in an institution with such support from the community and the regents, ” Limbaugh said. “Think about what we can build here. ”