Present at the Creation: Montana Higher Education Reforms from 1972 Constitution -- Dr. Lawrence K. Pettit “In the Crucible of Change”

Lawrence K. Pettit Ph.D.
Evan Barrett, Executive Producer

This interview/discussion is a segment of the series “In the Crucible of Change” - Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change [1965-1980] - From a Corporate Colony to a Citizens’ State and the Challenge of Keeping It That Way - An Evan Barrett Telefilm Series; Produced by: Highlands College/Montana Tech & Orphan Girl Productions (Evan Barrett); Executive Producers: Evan Barrett & John Garic; Host/Moderator: Evan Barrett; Produced in the studios of Helena Civic Television (HCTV) – Production unit: Kirsten Faubion, Stephen Maly, Dave Clarke, Kelsea Kimerly, Lauren Fredrickson, Jeanie McLean-Warden; Opening Voice Recording - Ian Hadley; Photos: Montana Historical Society Photo Archives - Tom Cook; Personal Photo Archives of Evan Barrett; Music: “Living Room Jam” & “Island Breeze” - Richard H. Kuschel - The Recording Center - Missoula, Montana; “Orphan Girl” used by permission of Headframe Spirits – John & Courtney McKee; Partially funded by Grants from Humanities Montana (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Montana History Foundation, and The Greater Montana Foundation (encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans).


Prior to the passage of the 1972 Constitution, Montana’s higher education system was both controlled and victimized by Montana’s politics. Alternatingly, Governors or the Legislature tried to control and/or impose political ideology upon the management and teaching/content within the University System. Political favoritism and power-broking were the hallmark of the legislative appropriation process. Under the new Constitution, a newly empowered Board of Regents, and a new Commissioner of Higher Education managed the system and controlled the allocation of the legislative appropriations, but not without a major battle before the Montana Supreme Court.

Dr. Lawrence K. Pettit (Larry Pettit) (b. 5/2/1937) was present at the creation of this newly structured higher education system as the first Commissioner of Higher Education in Montana after his appointment by the Board of Regents of the University System in 1973. Larry Pettit has had a dual career in politics and higher education. Pettit, of Lewistown, served as legislative assistant to U.S. Senators James E. Murray and Lee Metcalf, campaign manager, head of transition team and assistant to Montana Governor Thomas L. Judge, taught political science at The Pennsylvania State University (main campus), was chair of political science at Montana State University, Deputy Commissioner for Academic Programs at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Chancellor of the University System of South Texas (since merged with Texas A&M University), President of Southern Illinois University, and President of Indiana University of Pennsylvania from where he retired in 2003. He has served as chair of the Commission on Leadership for the American Council on Education, president of the National Association of (University) System Heads, and on many national and state boards and commissions in higher education. Pettit is author of “If You Live by the Sword: Politics in the Making and Unmaking of a University President.” More about Pettit is found at