Jill BelskyFall 2017: A brief note to welcome all new and returning graduate students, and faculty, to the Department of Society & Conservation.

I am Professor and Chair of the Department of Society & Conservation. If your major advisor is on our faculty then you are too! Knowing how you fit into the W.A. College of Forestry & Conservation structure can be perplexing. You each are aligned with a graduate degree program as well as a department. Here at “Socon” we hope your department identity provides a vibrant and enriching academic and personal community. While your individual areas of expertise may be far-reaching, most of you are nonetheless involved in a field related to the broad environmental social sciences/human dimensions of natural resources/policy and/or ethics. That gives us important areas of convergence theoretically, methodologically and practically. I hope that you get to know each other and department faculty, so you can take advantage of both your similar areas of interest as well as differences, and to enjoy stimulating and informative conversations with your colleagues outside as well as inside your classes. Try to invite someone to bring a coffee or tea to the Socon student lounge, outside suite 461 in the Clapp Building/fourth floor, or meet elsewhere on campus. Hopefully new graduate students will begin to know each other through your classes this fall, and especially in our department seminar in the spring. Returning graduate students seek out a new grad and introduce yourself. In a few weeks we will have an informal department fall get together, so stay tuned for the announcement where and when.

You all also received an earlier email from the Socon administrative assistant, Mary Beth Horvath. Her office is in the main Forestry Building, 109A. Mary Beth assists Socon faculty and students in many ways. For graduate students, she is the one to see for getting a card to enable you to get a key to your office space and buildings. This is important since campus buildings are closed after working hours and over the weekend. She is also the one who assists with purchases, and paper work related to purchases, as part of your research or projects with your advisor. These can be complicated so make sure you have a conversation with your major advisor about the process, and see Mary Beth if you have additional questions. Mary Beth is the key person related to travel, and the travel authorizations/travel expense reports known as RATTER that must be filled out, and filled out correctly, before you are authorized to travel using UM resources. These pile up for Mary Beth so please give her sufficient time to complete them, at minimum one week’s notice before a departure date within the US and three weeks if heading internationally, but preferably even longer.

So what do I do? The role of department chair at the FCFC is dynamic, especially over the approximately 13 years since we transitioned from the School of Forestry to be a college with three departments and numerous curricula and degree programs. I represent the Socon department at college and university levels, assist the Program Directors with developing and operating degree programs and curricula/courses. One of the most important tasks I have concerns personnel-related issues involving faculty and graduate students. As such, I encourage you if you have any personnel questions or difficulties to first try and work it out among yourselves, but if no solution is apparent then talk with your advisor. If still no resolution can be found, please come and talk with me. Best to make an appointment via email, but feel free to come by and knock on my door too. I will try and accommodate you as best I can at that time. Indeed I encourage you all to come by and either introduce yourself or for returning students to let me know what you have been up to. Since I am not teaching a graduate course this fall, I don’t get to meet many new graduate students until the spring. So please do not be shy.

Lastly, we are beginning this fall semester in a context unlike any during my 26 years at the University of Montana. Our campus is challenged by serious financial shortages, interim leadership at the highest administrative levels, and many UM staff are being fired or given notice that they will be fired during the year. This can be very disconcerting. However campus leaders have been working through the summer to develop a process for dealing with budget shortfalls, and will continue through the coming year. You may or may not have personal contact with this situation. But it is there. Chairs, program directors, the FCFC dean’s office are working steadfastly to represent our college in this effort. Our college is actually doing well on many counts, especially with the recent large financial gift from the Franke family and grants raised by our faculty (including extraordinarily impressive ones within our very own department!).

We are also beginning this fall in a new national and international context. The recent events in Charlottesville are symptomatic of the deep rift and hostile  in fact violent — politics dividing our country and with unknown consequences across the globe. I want to be clear that while free speech continues to be a value highly endorsed at the University of Montana and Department of Society & Conservation, hate speech and discriminatory actions of any kind are not. I hope our department faculty and graduate students can be an active part of the solution to better understand and eliminate racism, sexism, classism, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, neo-Nazism, maltreatment of people with different genders and sexual orientation and identity… and all other kinds of divisions and subjugations that I did not explicitly specify, but that have come to the surface in our country and even region over the past year. These are political processes that many of us address in our classes and research concerning environmental topics and actions, that’s extremely important and even more valuable today. But it is highly challenging. I am very open to all suggestions and recommendations how we as a department can interact constructively with this situation at multiple levels.

Good luck settling into Missoula and University life, and the first week of classes. Warmly,

Jill Belsky
Professor, Rural and Environmental Social Science and Chair, Dept of Society & Conservation, Rm. 410 in the Clapp Bldg jill.belsky@umontana.edu