House District 64 Candidates: Tom Woods (D), Clint Field (R)

1) To what extent will you combat financial barriers (i.e. rising tuition) that students face in their pursuit of higher education?

WOODS: Student loan debt is a drag on our economic future. It’s hard to start a business or create great art and literature when you’re in debt. I would like to see Montana institute a tuition freeze as soon as possible.

FIELD: To the extent that the legislature has any influence, I will do my very best to limit tuition increases and even work to lower tuition for most attendees. It is my belief that as enrollment goes up, per student costs should fall. Any economics student can explain the laws of economies of scale and their relation to cost savings and efficiencies. It defies my understanding that as enrollment has risen, tuition has also skyrocketed.

2) Montana State University just completed a long-term strategic plan which includes calls for raising enrollment by 2,000, increasing faculty pay to 80 percent of the national average, priority budgeting and enhancing the student experience. What steps can Montana’s lawmakers take to assist in the pursuit of MSU’s goals?

WOODS: Montana culture greatly benefits from its university system. There’s no doubt in my mind that Montana’s economy benefits from a university system that supports research. The bottom line is that higher education is a good investment in our future. That being said, the percentage of the university’s budget that comes from the state has been decreasing for decades. I would like to see that trend reversed. We can’t continue to do more with less. I’ve been teaching as an adjunct at MSU off and on since 2002. The cost of living in Bozeman has increased dramatically since then. It has also become more difficult for adjuncts to acquire and maintain benefits. At the same time, it seems as if more coursework is being taught by adjunct faculty. This trend is not sustainable if we want to maintain our reputation as an institution that values great teaching.

FIELD: While I support paying teachers, professors and staff a reasonable wage, since the rest of the state’s private sector employees do not earn 80 percent of the national average, I think it is wrong-minded to think the taxpayers and students of MSU can afford to pay the staff at those levels.

3) Are Montana’s universities spending student and public money efficiently? WOODS: I wish that I could answer “yes” to that unequivocally. Quite frankly, I can’t help but feel that salaries paid for some administrative positions are too high. I also have some reservations about the priorities set in housing demolition and construction. In fairness to those making these decisions, I understand that I’m not privy to all the information at their disposal. I think that we all want what’s best for the future of university system, but we may have different ideas on how to get there.

FIELD: I think the regents and administration have done a satisfactory job of spending state money in the past; however, I believe the current climate is one of spending on “wants” rather than focusing on the “needs.” Administrators wanting new “eco-friendly” and “green” buildings with all the “bells and whistles” is fine when budgets are flush and students are not struggling financially. But in this economy, it is irresponsible to spend student’s money so carelessly. How many more local residents would pursue higher education if the tuition was more reasonable? How many students could study instead of working extra part-time jobs?