Bulletin September 2006
Volume 74 | Issue 5
September 2006

Union Spotlight: University Center at University of Montana


In January 1969, the University Center opened its doors at the University of Montana–Missoula. During the grand opening of the union, it was said that it was “the university’s belief that a student’s leisure should complement his education. The new air-conditioned University Center is well equipped to provide UM students and the community with optimum circumstances for cocurricular activities, social functions, and construction recreation. Through service programs and conferences, the University Center also will benefit Montanans, alumni, guests, and faculty.” When it first opened, the University Center was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with not a lock on one door. However, within one year, locks were installed.

The University Center is the third college union built at the University of Montana–Missoula. The first was built in 1935 and was later turned into the Fine Arts building. Then in 1955 another union building was constructed, known as the Lodge.

Unique features

Inside its walls, the University Center houses a games room that includes pool tables, table tennis, and video games; the student radio station, KBGA; and the university bookstore. A favorite feature of the union, the University Center Ballroom was the largest in western Montana until recently. With hardwood floors and a glass wall looking out onto the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, the ballroom is the stage for both campus and community events. According to University Center Director Candy Holt, the ballroom has an average of 293 bookings a year for every type of event from weddings to political appearances.

An unplanned hot spot at the University Center is the atrium. In the original design of the union, there were plans for an open-air, three-story atrium that would house a garden full of native Montana plants and flowers. However, it was later decided to enclose the atrium, resulting in the death of much of the greenery. With all the original plants dead, a University of Montana–Missoula employee donated a “fiddle leaf fig” that has now grown into a fig-producing, three-story-tall tree. Other gardens located in the area include a vegetable garden used by the University Catering Service and a medicinal garden used as a study point for several classes. The uniqueness of the atrium draws many students who hang out near the gardens on the first floor or venture up to the second floor for a birds-eye view of the area.

Students’ role

Besides using the University Center as a place to gather, study, or take midday naps, students also use it as a place of employment. From customer service desk attendants to table tennis instructors, the majority of the University Center staff are students. And, outside of the employment role, the University Center board is comprised entirely of students who have the majority vote on the advisory board and approve all requests for increases in student fees.


Throughout the year, the University Center offers a variety of programs to attend. Usually, no major problems occur, but when Step Afrika, a percussive dance group, came to perform at the University Center, no one anticipated all the work it would take to pull off the show. As it turned out, the group’s luggage, instruments, and props were all lost by the airline, leaving them empty handed upon showing up in Montana. So, the University Center staff and the community moved quickly to help. In only five hours, they managed to find all the pieces necessary to put on the show, from drums being brought in from a town 35 miles away to shoes being donated by a local store.

Every year, the union is the stage for “First Night Missoula,” a popular community New Year’s Eve celebration, offering musicians, face painting, magicians, dancers, and more. And, more than 30,000 people from the campus and community pile into the University Center for the annual International Food Festival.

Most recently, the University Center has taken the lead in organizing a campus-wide program called “Building Communities of Difference: A Day of Dialogue.” The program was designed to engage the campus and the community in a daylong discussion about diversity, covering such topics as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities. “The symposium has as its primary goal to enable structured and facilitated dialogue that will lay the groundwork for collaborative, campus-based action and institutional change,” said University of Montana–Missoula President George Dennison.

University of Montana–Missoula
Four-year, urban, public, commuter
Full-time enrollment: 12,104

University Center
Director: Candy Holt
Union size: 212,219 sq. ft.
Floors: 3
Built: 1969
Operating budget: $2,956,067
Student staff:
80 (part-time)
Nonstudent staff:
29 (full-time);
2 (part-time)