Statement by Clayton T. Christian Commissioner of Higher Education
After careful discussion and consideration, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and I have decided that he will step down as UM’s President effective December 31. I asked President Engstrom to consider this transition at this time based on my belief that a change in leadership direction is the right step for UM going forward. I greatly appreciate the graciousness and care with which President Engstrom engaged in our discussion.
On behalf of the Board of Regents and myself, I want to thank President Engstrom for his hard work and steadfast dedication to the University of Montana. His leadership efforts have strengthened this great university in many respects. He and his administrative team, working together with UM’s tremendous faculty, staff and students, have accomplished a lot for which all are to be commended:
- The productivity of UM’s competitive research enterprise this year is at an all-time high, with world-class faculty making amazing scientific and technological discoveries and advancements.
- UM’s development and nurturing of private gift support is at an all-time high, which is vital to continued excellence and innovation in the university’s teaching-and-learning opportunities.
- UM’s athletic programs today are recognized not only for their success on the court or field of play, or their rising academic excellence by student athletes, but also for their strong compliance with NCAA regulations and guidelines.
- The new Missoula College is no longer just a dream or a long overdue project, but it is now a reality and is ready to serve generations of students and employers long into the future.
- Finally, after major policy and procedure reforms launched by President Engstrom very early in his presidency, UM is now a model campus for thousands of colleges and universities across the nation for preventing sexual violence and providing a safe, healthy, enriching environment in which to teach, learn, and live.
I speak for the Montana University System in extending deep gratitude to President and Mary Engstrom for their unwavering devotion these past six years to serving UM students, staff, faculty, all campus personnel, alumni and supporters, the greater UM community, and the state of Montana.
Transition plan for the remainder of the academic year and going forward:
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.