Union head, chancellor agree on many items
Wednesday's Chancellor's Forum drew a few dozen people to hear Sue Ost explain how Montana State University-Northern's budget works. The largest group of attendees, and the most outspoken, were Northern faculty.
Heading into the meeting, the Northern faculty union's new president, John Snider, was curious about a few ways Northern has handled its funding in the decades he has been an English professor.
His three main concerns were with faculty salaries that are particularly low; the recent academic trend to hire fewer full-time faculty and hire more adjunct teachers and office staff; and the lack of "shared governance" in past budget talks.
Snider said that Northern's faculty are some of the lowest-paid college professors in the country. And, at the forum, Ost explained that the Board of Regents has started encouraging Montana universities to spend half of their operating budgets on instruction, which includes faculty salaries. Northern currently spends 43.8 percent.
Chancellor James Limbaugh this morning said he hears everybody and sympathizes.
"I agree with Dr. Snider completely, " Limbaugh said. "The salaries here are low. They are an issue for both faculty and staff, and I want to do everything I can to fix that because it not only affects the good people that are here now but it affects our ability to attract more good people. "
The second concern, about the lack of new faculty in favor of more adjunct teachers and office staff, has increased over the past decade of program cuts and enrollment drops, he said.
Snider is bothered by the fact that Northern has no professors to teach fundamental courses like psychology, physics or philosophy. He thinks it's strange that Havre High School has more music courses than the university.
As far as getting more people on board to talk about budgeting decisions, Snider and Limbaugh are again on the same page.
Snider said that he was frustrated by decisions being made almost exclusively by previous chancellors, with little if any opportunity for input.
Limbaugh said he was aware of that concern when he came to Northern and he plans to alleviate it.
"The next level is devising a structure where more people on campus can participate, " Limbaugh said. "It will all depend on the deadlines Sue Ost has on what information needs to be submitted when. I also have to structure this around the deadlines established externally. "
Snider appreciates the consideration and hopes use these new techniques to approach long-standing issues.
"I think there's an opportunity here to move forward and focus on supporting instruction, " Snider said.