Members of the Indiana Select Commission on Education seemed confused after the first testimony heard today on the subject of Purdue's governance of its regional campus in Fort Wayne, IPFW.
"What's broken that we're trying to fix?" asked Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary.
Not a surprising question, given the positive comments offered by Purdue officials and by the insistence of IPFW representatives that the prestige of their association with the West Lafayette campus and Indiana University is a tremendous benefit and that IPFW has excelled in meeting the needs of northeast Indiana.
But former Chancellor Michael Wartell quickly dispelled any thoughts that everything here is "sweetness and light," suggesting that IPFW has succeeded as much in spite of Purdue. "Willful failure to govern" was his precise description.
While he stopped short of pushing for autonomy, Wartell surely surprised a number of lawmakers in making his case that the West Lafayette leaders view IPFW and other regional campuses as much as competition as partners, "poaching" donors and deep-sixing capital requests. His description of the Purdue trustees' oversight of and interest in the regional campus in recent years was enlightening and disappointing, and he surely scored some points by crediting legislators with the success the Fort Wayne campus has enjoyed in adding new buildings.
Northeast Indiana Sens. Dennis Kruse and Jim Banks were responsible for today's hearing; look for one or both to follow through with some sort legislation. Purdue has made some clumsy missteps in recent months: Enforcing the retirement-age policy in Wartell's case after ignoring it elsewhere; rewarding former President France Cordova with an extravagant buy-out package; and now spending nearly $400,000 to renovate her former office for Gov. Mitch Daniels – without his prior approval.
Kruse and Banks probably won't be the only lawmakers eager to remind university officials who is in charge of the purse strings.