Sometimes that university on a hill feels a lot like, well, a university on the hill — detached and somewhat insular.
We applaud the recent initiatives that have continued to connect the town with the university on the hill...er, Rims. Montana State University — Billings and City College's workforce development and its college completion programs are good ways to connect. Moreover, MSUB plans on holding some events with the University of Montana law school to engage the legal community in the upcoming week. These are excellent ways to get local professionals and business leaders involved.
However, last week, MSU (the one in Bozeman) announced that it would be holding feedback and listening sessions for a permanent chancellor search. Currently, interim chancellor Ron Larsen is serving as the leader of the Billings campus, which reports to Bozeman.
Though some of the faculty and staff knew about the meeting, which was held on Monday, the community was not informed widely until Friday afternoon — for a Monday meeting.
Of course, this could have been just an administrative oversight, but we're concerned that it speaks to a larger issue.
The Gazette was told that the release of information was being handled by Bozeman. If true, it appears that the rest of the community was an afterthought.
Right now, MSUB is still working on knocking down the belief that it is an insular institution. Sending an invitation just to faculty, staff and students means that leaders in Billings and Bozeman are still drawing the boundaries of the MSUB campus too narrowly. And, we've said previously that if MSUB is to be successful, the community needs to feel ownership.
We cannot guarantee that MSU President Waded Cruzado, who will select the next chancellor, would have received more or better community feedback had there been better advance notice, but it would have given more people an opportunity. It would have also made an important gesture to a community that can feel disconnected.
We believe that MSUB must have an open search, just like the one that appears to have been successfully completed at the University of Montana. That search yielded 99 applicants and a talented pool of finalists. Missoula can rest assured that it got very good candidates and there can be no doubt that the university system put a very deliberate process in place.
Billings deserves the same. And if Larsen is the best person to do the job, then he will stack up against other applicants who may make a finalist shortlist. With a full search, the community can also be assured that Billings has the best candidate available on the market to lead efforts here in the Magic City.
Now, a word on Larsen.
We agree with many who spoke in favor of removing "interim" from his title.
We've had several excellent conversations with Larsen. His understanding of the challenges and how to overcome them are sharp.
Larsen has a desire to develop a campus that is responsive to the workforce of eastern Montana. And, he understands the challenge of retention and non-traditional students. Larsen also appears to get that many of the students in Billings are different from those in Bozeman and Missoula. Because of that, the institution must also be different.
Moreover, Larsen has talked repeatedly about wanting to be here in Billings, and making Billings home.
It has seemed like some of Larsen's predecessors were happy to call Billings home until something better or new came along.
We want to have that connection with Montana State University Billings, and someone who loves Billings, not as someone who sees it as a consolation prize.
We also agree with Melanie Schwartz of the Big Sky Economic Development when she said that the uncertain leadership means a distraction from other priorities. We certainly think there is an abundance of projects that MSUB could play an even more pivotal role in.
However, even though we support Larsen and his leadership, we believe that the university system and Billings deserve to know we have the best candidate for the job. Moreover, the community has to know this meeting was not some scheme concocted by Cruzado months ago with the ultimate goal of appointing Larsen anyway.
And that's where our concern lies: We can't help but wonder if this hastily planned community meeting was nothing more than going through the motions of a chancellor search, an academic masquerade.
If the goal is to appoint Larsen outright, then that needs to be communicated. If that is indeed the case, then Billings also needs to know why a full search is not appropriate.
Right now, it feels more like going through the prescribed motions than a true search. And despite Bozeman's rhetoric about concern for the Billings campus and its relation to the community, it's still struggling to demonstrate with anything more than words.
It's a simple concept, really. Put the B in MSUB.
(And we don't mean Bozeman.)