Wednesday evening, former Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns received a most unexpected call from current Commissioner Clayton Christian asking her to be the interim President of the University of Montana.

"It was very short notice, so I had to think quickly about it," Stearns said. "The first question was do I have a real commitment to what the task would be, and, of course, to assist the University of Montana in a time of transition and turmoil, and the answer to that was a quick, emphatic 'yes'. The second question was, do I want to step away from my consulting work and my family activities in my retirement, but since it was on an interim basis, it made me say, 'sure, if called upon, the answer is yes'."

Stearns disagreed with the notion that the high enrollment experienced several years ago at the University of Montana were the 'glory years.'

"I want to challenge the notion that those were the 'glory years'," she said. "We all know that enrollment is an issue and it relates to funding, but I know the students and the faculty and all the great work that they're doing, that there are many aspects of the university that are in full flower right now. Every presidential search I've ever been a part of says we just want the new person to be able to walk on water. Those characteristics are wisdom, intelligence, people and communications skills and a real sensitivity to students and to learning, along with the values of the university and its role in a state and in a community."

Stearns said Commissioner Christian told her he hopes to hire a search firm, meet candidates and have a new president chosen by June, if possible.

"The Board of Regents will have to approve the hire when the time comes," she said. The commissioner will make the recommendation after the search committee does it's work. Some members of the board, if not all, will surely meet and help with the final interview stages. So, the board, along with the commissioner is responsible for making a great choice."

Stearns had a very direct response to the question as to whether she was interested in the president's position, full-time.

"I would not," she said.

Current President Royce Engstrom announced on Thursday that his final day in office would be December 31.

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