A new chapter for the Bitterroot College opened with the swearing in of seven people who were elected over a year ago to be trustees of a college district that had not yet been created. The 2021 Montana Legislature made that district happen, and Wednesday, May 12, the trustees-elect took the oath of office.

At the public ceremony in the Ravalli County Commissioners Office in Hamilton, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen administered the oath, with the help of Clayton Christian, the Commissioner of Higher Education. The trustees are Linda Doughty, Don Gardner, Gary Carlson, Marci Smith, Sue Smith, RAN Pigman and Janet Woodburn.

This was the first public event for the Board members, who have been working with education officials and legislators to get the district approved. Currently, the classes at Bitterroot College UM are run as an outreach program from Missoula's University of Montana.The board figures it will take some time to work out the details and put the district into operational mode. In the meantime, classes continue with the University of Montana. Summer classes are now accepting registrations.

Board Chair Linda Doughty said, "We have worked diligently over the past year and would like to thank all parties involved in this process - the Montana Board of Regents, the Commissioner of Higher Education's Office and our State Legislators. Our vision for this new community college district is to be an accessible, affordable educational resource. One that benefits both traditional and non-traditional students, as well as having the flexibility to offer programs tailored to the specific needs of our local economy."

Following the brief ceremony, Clayton Christian told KLYQ News that it's been a while since a new community college district has been formed in the state. "A new chapter in an entity that hasn’t been used for over 50 years. The first community college in a very long time in Montana. Certainly two-year education is part of the Montana landscape, but this is a new vehicle, if you will, and the new trustees sworn in this morning have a real integral part of making sure this institution will be responsible and responsive to this community. It’ll be a great new chapter in the Bitterroot College progression. Obviously this effort has been going on for 10 years now, but this will take it to a new level of local accountability and local participation that I think will be welcomed in the Bitterroot and very much needed."

Elsie Arntzen looked at the opportunities the college will have for all ages. "You’re a lifetime learner. So being a lifetime learner means you have the ability to learn at whatever age, at whatever might interest you. And I believe in local control. So these trustees, as being locally elected now, will guide the future of this college, and I believe that’s where we need to be."

Attending the ceremony were valley legislators, local city and county officials and business leaders, along with college supporters.

group photo
The traditional group photo at the swearing-in ceremony. (Steve Fullerton, Townsquare Media)

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