University of Montana President Seth Bodnar

Did the officials who vetted and hired Seth Bodnar know about the discrepancies on the new University of Montana president’s resumé, scrutinized this month by faculty? The state’s university system chief won’t say.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian, who chaired the presidential search committee, says only that he has confidence in the “multi-leveled, open and public” process during which “the tough questions got asked.”

The Missoulian reported Feb. 20 on questions Bodnar was confronting internally surrounding an entry on the resumé he submitted in his president application. The only prior university experience listed on his resumé is two years as an assistant professor of economics at West Point, from 2009 to 2011. Bodnar was actually an instructor — a lesser academic rank — for most of that period, the paper reported.

Bodnar was promoted to assistant professor in January 2011, he told the paper, and attributed any apparent misrepresentation to his use of a “business-sector style” resumé instead of a conventional curriculum vitae, or CV.

Christian, in an emailed statement provided to the Indy, echoed Bodnar’s explanation, disputing that any discrepancies existed in the first place.

Pressed to explain whether Christian was previously aware of Bodnar’s instructor rank, Montana University System Communications Director Blair Fjeseth responded: “We believe we’ve answered your inquiry sufficiently.”

Bodnar, through a UM spokesperson, provided the Missoulian with statements from West Point and General Electric officials vouching for the accuracy of his resumé. Retired Brig. Gen. Michael Meese, who headed the academic department when Bodnar was on its faculty, said the characterization of his employment is common practice among West Point faculty.

That practice doesn’t appear to be universal, however. The three CVs/biographies for top academic officers posted on West Point’s website show delineation of academic ranks not present in Bodnar’s resumé. For instance, the CV for West Point Vice Dean for Resources David Lyle lists his professional experience as “Professor of Economics” from 2003 to 2017, while also listing his teaching experience by academic year, noting his first year in 2003 as an “instructor” in an economics course. The following year, he lists his title as “assistant professor.”

The narrative biography for Colonel Kraig Sheetz, vice dean for operations, notes that he taught at West Point between 2001 and 2003 as an “instructor and assistant professor.”

Bodnar’s narrative biography on UM’s website mentions only the assistant professorship. The resumé and cover letter Bodnar submitted for the School of Business deanship in 2016, obtained by the Indy, described his teaching experience the same way.

Bodnar was heralded upon his selection as the “unconventional” candidate by Board of Regents Chair Fran Albrecht. While Bodnar, a Rhodes scholar and West Point valedictorian, had stellar credentials as a student, his two years teaching at his alma mater were his only professional experience at a university before being selected to lead UM. The Montana University System included Bodnar’s assistant professorship in releases surrounding his public introduction as a finalist and, later, as the selected candidate.

The presidential search process was administered by AGB Search, a higher education hiring firm. The consulting contract, worth $72,500, provided that AGB would handle candidate research, degree verification, background checks and unlisted reference checks. The firm also agreed to “assist the search committee in evaluating the candidates, including providing guidance relative to the applicants’ experience, qualifications, work performance and professional reputation.”

Bodnar was able to slough off the public scrutiny over his resumé. Faculty leaders have since said they consider the matter resolved and reiterated their support for the new president, while the Missoulian editorial board dismissed the recent “nit-picking” as “stubborn and petty.”

“So what was the point of delving into such details now? How does this help the university?” the editorial board asked in a Sunday column.

AGB Search is currently administering the search for UM’s next provost. Finalists are expected to be announced in March, once their background checks are complete.

Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Derek Brouwer joined the Indy in 2015 after year-long stints covering education at the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record. He graduated from Montana State University. Follow him on Twitter: @derekwbrouwer.

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