Now that Engstrom is gone, maybe a teacher should run the school

One of the few images of former UM president Royce Engstrom left undestroyed

Enrollment at the University of Montana here in beautiful Missoula, Montana has declined almost 25 percent in the last five years. This drop roughly coincides with the tenure of President Royce Engstrom, who stepped down last week in a mutual decision with the Board of Regents that they announced. Here’s regent chief Clayton Christian:

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.

Sounds like an amicable discussion to me. Engstrom is probably just one of the many Americans who quit their jobs right before Christmas to focus on family. But maybe he got fired. If that’s the case, the most interesting phrase in Christian’s statement might be “at this time.”

Why now? Engstrom got through the first few years of declining enrollment, big cuts to teaching budgets, and a Department of Justice investigation1 with his job intact. So what prompted the regents to cut him loose last week, in the middle of the school year?

You can read my speculation on that and other subjects in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which advances the piping-hot take that maybe a teacher should run the school. Never forget that when declining enrollment forced UM to lay people off last year, 98% of the planned cuts went to classroom instruction. Administrators don’t cut administration. But instruction is what UM is selling. Facing an enrollment crisis, the Engstrom administration decided to offer fewer services for the same price. Maybe there’s fat to be trimmed somewhere else. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

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