MSU Billings

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

Montana State University Billings Interim Chancellor Ron Larsen received support from faculty and staff groups, as well as community members, during a forum Monday.

The meeting was held as the first real step in finding a permanent chancellor for the university. Larsen, who took over in February, is the third person in that position since 2010.

Montana State University President Waded Cruzado led the forum. She spoke about the quick appointment of Larsen after former Chancellor Mark Nook left for another university.

"At that moment I could not think of a more important, pressing need than providing the stability that our students needed — to provide the environment that our faculty are going to require in order to bring that academic year to fruition," Cruzado said. 

The idea of Larsen as permanent chancellor received the support of members of the university staff senate, academic senate and some community members. Much of that support was rooted in a need for stability at the top of the MSUB organizational chart.

"Playing musical chairs with the chancellor doesn't work," said Mary Susan Fishbaugh, dean of the College of Education.

Reno Charette, director of MSUB American Indian Outreach, said that changes in leadership affects the success of the most vulnerable students. Native American students, she said, have below-average retention rates that are negatively affected by changes in leadership.

Charette and others praised Larsen for being responsive and active as chancellor.

"Ron Larsen knows the job," said Mike Schaer, owner of Computers Unlimited. "He knows how to grow a university, which is critical."

Cruzado began the forum with an hour open to university backers and members of the public, followed by an hour with faculty members.

Susan Gilbertz, geography professor and chair of the academic senate, said that support for Larsen is not universal, but it has grown over time.

"And it's solid," she said. "It's strong."

There was discussion at the forum about whether the university should forgo a national search and appoint Larsen. Others countered that if Larsen is the best candidate, he would win such a search.

But most touched on stability. Terry Bouck, superintendent of Billings Public Schools, spoke about commitment and longevity.

Melanie Schwartz, director of marketing for Big Sky Economic Development, said that focus on big projects, like the Yellowstone Allied Health and Science Building, get interrupted by changes to the administration.

"We've been through a lot of change," she said. "And every time you throw some change in there, it distracts from other priorities."

Cruzado indicated that a potential search committee could have 14 members. The university hopes to name a permanent chancellor by July 2018.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.