Commentary

‘Brawl of the Wild’ an opportunity for all Montanans to celebrate

November 19, 2022 4:45 am

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar.

This weekend, we’ll celebrate a treasured Montana tradition, the Brawl of the Wild.

Like many families across Montana, my family is a “house divided” – my wife is a Montana State University graduate, and I serve as president of the University of Montana. Saturday’s game should be a good one, as two dynamic football teams vie for the Great Divide Trophy. 

While only one team will celebrate a win on the field, the Brawl of the Wild gives all Montanans an opportunity to celebrate a tremendous asset of our great state: the Montana University System. 

Montana’s universities are an engine of economic growth and social mobility, playing an undeniably critical role in ensuring the future prosperity of our state. Montana students benefit from a first-rate college education on par with or better than any institution in this country. At UM, we have the top-ranked wildlife biology program in North America, the top-ranked business school in the Big Sky Conference, and nationally renowned programs in forestry, journalism, public administration, and many others. 

We are also the only state in our region to have two top-tier (R1) research institutions, a designation achieved by less than 4% of universities nationally. The research activity at our universities not only advances the reaches of human knowledge, creating jobs and companies, that provide opportunity for our state’s greatest treasure – our kids – to build careers and lives right here in Montana. 

But quality is only half the equation in ensuring the Montana University System is worthy of Montanans’ collective pride. The other half is accessibility.

The magic of the Montana University System is that we dismiss the notion (embraced by many elite universities) that quality is measured by the number of people we exclude and that sky-high tuition rates somehow signal a quality education. Here in Montana, we believe that all students deserve access to a quality education, and so we open our university doors widely and provide the support our students deserve. We offer a world-class education at a fraction of the price of most universities. In fact, tuition and fees for a Montana resident at UM are 25% lower than the average of our peer institutions in the region.  

A high-quality university system does not happen by accident – it is an asset gifted to us by previous generations of Montanans – and its continued success is not a given. Sustaining our universities requires commitment and resources. As we compare Montana to our neighbors, we see states like North Dakota allocating 22% more state funding per student than we do here in Montana, while also charging tuition and fees for resident students that are more than 28% higher than a student pays here in Montana. It is no doubt challenging to sustain the quality of our university system with resource levels far below our peers, but as stewards of state resources, we work relentlessly to adapt and innovate to provide the high-quality education Montana students deserve today, while advocating for the financial resources our campuses need to serve our state for the future.

On Saturday, our three kiddos – like kids all across Montana – will watch the Brawl of the Wild with excitement. My son will join my wife and me in Bozeman, while our two daughters prefer the comfort of their grandparents’ living room in Missoula. Wherever you plan to take in the game, I hope that you’ll celebrate not just the talented young people competing on the field, but also the incredible impact of our university system. And I hope that you’ll join me in embracing our obligation to be good stewards of this asset – for all the Montanans who will cheer on their beloved Grizzlies or Bobcats on Saturday and for those who will carry on this great tradition for many generations to come. 

Seth Bodnar is the 19th President of the University of Montana.

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