GOP leader says Pat Williams should get the ax
HELENA - A Montana Republican Party official has assailed university system officials for recent tuition increases and suggested one cost-cutting move would be to fire a former Democratic congressman from the University of Montana faculty.
Chuck Denowh, executive director for the state GOP, said this week that higher tuition this fall could have been avoided ''had the university administrators and the Board of Regents worked harder to find areas of the university system to cut.''
He recommended that spending reductions start with eliminating the $90,000-a-year job of Pat Williams, a senior fellow with the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at UM.
A higher education official called Denowh's comments stupid, and Williams blamed Republicans for rising tuition.
Denowh's remarks came in one of his periodic e-mails sent to party members this week. Last week, he used the same means to criticize Williams for a recent newspaper opinion article deriding proposals for forest-thinning programs.
He called Williams ''dangerously irresponsible'' and said he was ''using half-truths, twisting statements and manipulating scientific data to his environmental ends.''
Denowh said today he targeted Williams in connection with higher education's finances because he gets paid too much for little work. Williams is listed in the UM class schedule for this fall as an instructor for one environmental studies course and ''it's probably not a good investment for the university to teach just one class and make that much in compensation,'' Denowh said.
As a former UM student, Denowh said, ''I didn't see anything productive that Mr. Williams produced other than the occasional opinion piece in Montana newspapers.''
Williams, a Montana representative in the U.S. House for 18 years before retiring in 1996, said he teaches three classes in environmental studies, forestry, and regional history and geography.
To suggest that his $90,228 salary is a cause for the tuition increase this year is ludicrous, he said. Rather, Denowh's own party is to blame, Williams added.
''The actions of the last three Republican governors and a series of Republican legislatures in underfunding Montana's university system is obviously responsible for the unreasonable tuition increases suffered by Montana's parents during the past decade,'' he said.
He said Denowh should have checked his teaching schedule more carefully. ''Although I'm sure Mr. Denowh is a nice guy, we would hope our graduates could do more accurate research than Mr. Denowh has and we would also hope that they are more polite.''
Interim Commissioner of Higher Education Carrol Krause called Denowh's claim that the $29 million tuition increase could have been avoided with spending cuts ''just stupid.''
The Legislature gave the university system $39 million less than what was needed to maintain existing programs for the next two years, and about $10.5 million of that was made up with budget cuts, he said.
To eliminate any tuition increase, as Denowh suggests, would have required extensive faculty layoffs that would have damaged the quality of higher education, Krause said.
The university system has received no increase in state funding for instruction for the past decade, getting additional money only for the agriculture experiment stations and extension service, he said.
Denowh insisted the Legislature should not be blamed for tuition increases, since the Board of Regents has constitutional authority over campus spending.
Williams said he's not surprised the GOP likes to go after him.
''Throughout my time in Congress, I said precisely what I meant,'' he said. ''Since I've been home, I've refused to go sit in the back of the room and be silent. I prefer to use my experience to generate healthy dialogue among Montanans and that seems infuriate the far right.''