University Relations and Communications

Former Eastern Montana College President Dr. Bruce H. Carpenter Dies

February 2, 2009


Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


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MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Dr. Bruce H. Carpenter, president of Eastern Montana College from 1982 to 1994, died in late January at his home in California after an illness. He was 76.


During his tenure at EMC, which transitioned to Montana State University Billings the summer after he retired, Carpenter provided academic and fiscal leadership that positioned the college for growth into a comprehensive, regional urban university.


“He was a highly professional, highly dedicated individual whom I always viewed as a mentor and friend,” said Dr. Ronald Sexton, chancellor of MSU Billings who served as academic vice president under Carpenter. “He will be missed, but he left an indelible mark on the university and the community with his service.”


Sexton noted that when Carpenter retired in July 1994, he left the supporters of Eastern Montana College with a “deeper understanding of our mission and corresponding challenges,” but also with a broader portfolio of resources and the means to preserve high-quality postsecondary education in Montana.


Bruce Carpenter.jpgCarpenter was a champion for EMC in many ways, but he also understood the power of partnerships and the importance of education to a community. He once said that “education is an investment that goes well beyond the person we teach, but reverberates throughout the community in which he or she participates.”


In his quest to continually improve access to higher education, Carpenter started the Wine Festival in 1993 as an annual fundraising event for the college’s foundation. Featuring premium wines (many not available locally) and national wine experts, the two-night affair was a unique and significant addition to Billings’ events calendar.


The initial event drew 600 people and was a significant boost to scholarships for students. The MSU Billings Foundation Wine and Food Festival is now a weeklong affair that draws more than 1,200 people to a variety of cooking, tasting and fundraising events. Over its 16-year history, the festival has netted more than $3 million to support the work of the MSU Billings Foundation on behalf of the university and its students, especially in providing scholarships.


Other notable achievements under Carpenter’s tenure as president included:

  • The first master’s degree program to be delivered outside the school of education was approved by the Montana Board of Regents.
  • The Master of Science in Information Processing and Communications was developed under what was then the School of Business and Economics.
  • He was involved in the total revision of the general education curriculum at EMC, including a component for writing across the curriculum.
  • He created a regular sequence for program review for academic and support programs.
  • The university developed an enrollment-management concept for attracting and retaining students.
  • Expanding telecommunications and continuing education opportunities in different parts of Montana before there was an internet.
  • The renovation of the Student Union Building in the late 1980s that included space for student art display.
  • Creation of the first academic senate for the campus.
  • A focus on outcomes assessment as a means of measuring student achievement and emphasis on campus-wide strategic planning.
  • Establishment of the first endowment in the history of the college that grew more than $1 million during the last three years of his presidency.

Sue Hart, professor of English at MSU Billings and author of “Yellow-Stone and Blue: Montana State University Billings, The First 75 Years,” said she will always remember Carpenter as a pleasant professional who was always approachable.


“He was always very cordial,” said Hart. “I could always knock on his door and chat with him about anything.”


Hart noted in her book that Carpenter was confronted with some tough decisions during his first year as president, such as closing the elementary school at the EMC campus as a School District 2-operated facility.


“News of the closure brought both accolades for past performance and angst over losing such an outstanding school,” Hart wrote. “Parents of students commented on the devotion of the teachers at the campus school and on the extra help available to the elementary students from education majors who could give them personal attention in academic areas that were proving difficult.”


Always looking forward, however, Carpenter emphasized positive future possibilities not only for Billings, for the entire state.


“President Carpenter said he could appreciate the unhappiness over the closure, but predicted that having more space for training future teachers would provide more beneficial to the community in the long run than keeping the elementary school open,” Hart wrote.


Carpenter was active in the community, serving on the Billings Medical Corridor Study Committee for the City Council; Billings Rotary; Montana Center for Handicapped Children Board of Directors; United Way board of directors; the Norwest Bank board of directors; and the Deaconess Hospital Foundation.


Carpenter and his wife, Kathryn, came to Billings in July 1982. Born in 1932 in South Dakota, he earned his bachelor and master degrees in biology from California State University, Long Beach and his doctorate in botany from UCLA. He taught at CSU Long Beach and entered the administration there as head of the biology department and then Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs and Personnel. In 1975, he became Provost and Academic Vice President at Western Illinois University.


Before entering the administrative ranks, he authored or co-authored papers on how the earth’s rotation affects plants, on ways hormones act and on general biological subjects including a book of readings. He also received grants to study how plants react to light and hormones taught a course in EMC’s science department at least one quarter each year.


When he retired in 1994, he moved with his wife to California.


In accordance with his wishes, no funeral or memorial services are planned.  A private family gathering was to be held in California last week. 


Memorials can be made in his honor to the Bruce H. Carpenter Non-Traditional Student Scholarship Endowment at the MSU Billings Foundation, 1500 University Drive, Billings MT, 59101.


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