Message from University of Montana President Seth Bodnar – What should a flagship for America’s future look like?

President Seth Bodnar University of Montana


Dear Colleagues,

I write with a comprehensive update on our shared progress and commitment to UM’s future. Below, you will find an invitation to join campus conversations as we design UM for tomorrow.

Last week, your UM leadership — including nearly 200 of your chair and director colleagues from across campus — gathered for a full-day session on UM’s progress and our collective roles in maintaining this momentum. The day was designed in a spirit of transparency and with the intent to invite more voices into our shared work.

In this same spirit, I write to provide you with a brief summary of our progress and to — more importantly — invite you to participate in the design of tomorrow’s UM. We have made steady, tangible progress over the past year, bringing us to a place of stability. We are now called upon to lift our collective gaze to the horizon as we design a UM worthy of its history and long-standing impact.

Our Steady, Tangible Progress

You have worked tirelessly to make the steady, tangible progress necessary in stabilizing UM. Our Priorities for Action, which echo the work that produced the Strategic Vision and UM 2020, have resulted in real accomplishments. Here are just a few highlights:

Student Success

  • Our first-to-second-year retention rate increased 3 full percentage points this past fall.
  • We recently saw the lowest attrition rate fall-to-spring that we’ve seen in a decade and the second lowest in 20 years.
  • We have seen exciting innovation in our orientation and first-year experience, including the launch of the Big Sky Experience, which recently won a regional award for innovation from the National Orientation Directors Association.
  • We are launching EAB Navigate, which will significantly improve our ability to provide more targeted student support, as well as adding advising capacity.
  • Our Office of Experiential Learning and Career Success has created a community of practice around internships and is expanding student access to career-oriented experiences.


  • Our marketing, admissions and financial aid teams have significantly rebuilt the operational infrastructure we need to be successful.
  • Applications for this coming fall are up, as are our admits, and we’re now turning our focus to yield.
  • We’ve been out on the road with our “UM to You” bus tour, meeting students and families where they are, not just expecting them to come to us.
  • We relaunched the We Are Montana in the Classroom initiative, bringing UM faculty to high schools around the state and engaging more than 2,000 students.

Budget and infrastructure

  • We have reduced our budget deficit and refinanced our debt, significantly lowering our interest expense and freeing up much-needed capital for deferred maintenance and infrastructure upgrades to better attract and retain students.
  • We are excited to have a new forestry, conservation and lab science facility as the top priority for new construction. Almost every student on campus will use this building.
  • We’re planning a major renovation of our Music Building.
  • We will soon begin campus discussions around other major upgrades in dining, residence halls and other infrastructure that directly impact students’ experiences.

This is concrete progress. To learn more about other exciting PFA accomplishments, please visit the PFA webpage.

Our Transition Into Growth

Accomplishments in each of the PFAs have cleared the runway for us to begin our transition from stability to growth and to raise our collective gaze to ask what we want UM to be 10, 15, 20 years from now.

I’m excited to turn our campus community’s attention to this future. Given our strengths, the demographic shifts ahead, the future of work in this country and UM’s stated mission, how can we expand of our conception of a university and meet our moral obligation to effectively serve the students of tomorrow while expanding the boundaries of knowledge?

We absolutely will not cede this good work to others. We are the experts in research and learning. This is ours — the administration, directors, faculty and staff — to get right.

To get this transition to growth right, we will consider what we’ve learned over the past several years, seek to better understand the current challenges and opportunities in higher education and layer in our community’s insights. Together, we will ask ourselves tough and thoughtful questions.

Your Input Into UM’s Future

Much of this insight to inform our growth will come from you.

Over the course of this spring, I invite you to join me in thinking collectively about the attributes that will define the UM of tomorrow. Three questions will guide this thinking, helping us explore the promising strategies we’re already enacting as well as the things we could be doing to shape UM’s future.

  • How can we provide an education that ensures students are career-ready — able to succeed in their first jobs out of school — but at the same time tomorrow-proof — able to adapt, learn and innovate over the course of their careers and lives? And how can we articulate that story as effectively as possible?
  • How should we expand our conception of the ways in which we provide education for learners of all different types and at all stages of their lives, expand the boundaries of knowledge and foster inclusive prosperity for our community?
  • How should we adapt our operating and cultural practices to best serve students and one another?

You will hear me ask these questions repeatedly as a way to open space for us to do what we do best: think critically in conversation with others.

‘Student of Tomorrow’ Input Sessions

Your first opportunity to provide input into this conversation will be April 2 and 3. We have invited the Education Advisory Board to lead us through a “what if?” conversation around the “student of tomorrow” and the many alternative futures available to UM. The intent of this conversation will not be to adopt one of the archetype universities that we will consider, but rather to get us thinking together about designing UM’s future.

The April 2 and 3 “Student of Tomorrow” sessions will likely be offered as remote sessions or postponed for a later date. As we determine how and when these sessions will be offered, we will send updated information and opportunities to RSVP.

While it’s important that we continue to think about UM’s promising future, we will do so in a way that minimizes health risks in our community.

Faculty Breakfasts

In addition to inviting the campus community to these idea generation sessions, I am hosting a series of intimate faculty breakfasts to discuss the key attributes that should define the UM of tomorrow. Spots for these breakfasts filled quickly, and I hope to continue this tradition in the fall.

The campus community will have other opportunities to participate in these ongoing discussions, so please consider participating as these future invitations arise.

Our Ongoing Strategic Thinking

Looking ahead, your input will inform our development of a set design principles that will help us continually shape the UM of tomorrow. Our goal is to align on a strategic direction for UM and to rigorously determine on an annual basis the ideas and initiatives that are likely to have the greatest impact. To this end, we will implement an annual planning mechanism for institutional strategic thinking that allows us to validate, refine and revise our priorities and efforts annually.

This is our shared responsibility and opportunity. I thank you for your contributions to the progress we’ve made, and I enthusiastically invite you to engage in actively shaping UM’s future. As I mentioned, this is ours to get right — together. I am confident we will because we have the talent, resiliency and wisdom of the UM Family.

Seth Bodnar
University of Montana President

Office of the President
University of Montana – 32 Campus Drive
Missoula, Montana 59812 | 406-243-2311
[email protected] |



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