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Discussion digs into IPFW’s destiny

Broad, specific questions for regional campus raised

– IPFW is at a crossroads.

Area legislators have been concerned about the school’s autonomy as a joint venture of Indiana University and Purdue University. And last year’s forced retirement of a popular chancellor by Purdue – the operating manager of the campus – has come with embarrassing lawsuits.

IPFW is governed by Purdue, which means that’s where the funding and the rules flow from.

But as one of the state’s largest public universities, IPFW faces questions about its future.

Is the regional campus properly funded? Should it make more of its own decisions? Can it offer professional degrees? Is it competing with its parent university, and is that fair? Should Purdue remain in charge?

“The system is totally different than what it was designed to do,” said Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. “There are now more people transferring from West Lafayette to Fort Wayne than from Fort Wayne to West Lafayette.”

He said the greatest asset of the current setup is that students get to choose between the two prestigious schools for a diploma, and he doesn’t want that to end.

But there is room for improvement.

“I think at this point I would like to see a bunch of changes,” Kruse said.

Legislators and officials from the higher-education community embark this summer on a study of how regional campuses such as IPFW should function, and IU and Purdue have been negotiating for the last year a new management agreement regarding IPFW.

The current contract expires June 30. The Purdue Board of Trustees approved a one-year interim agreement Friday with only slight changes. IU is expected to do the same in June.

Both sides will hold off on a new five-year contract until next spring, after the study is completed.

“Some items can be easily updated and some things require more discussion,” Purdue Provost Tim Sands said of requests made by IPFW. “Since we have the summer group … we’re going to keep working. A couple large issues could be impacted by that discussion.”

IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein is pleased the decision has been made to wait on the legislative study, as well as a parallel Purdue review of the system.

“President (Mitch) Daniels has asked the entire Purdue system to provide him with information on areas where there could be more efficiency,” she said. “That equates into more local control for us.”

On the surface, the summer study is just another study – similar to one lawmakers did last summer regarding IPFW that wound up reflected in several pieces of legislation.

But the new group is more than lawmakers. It involves the Commission for Higher Education, Purdue and IU representatives, and regional campus participation. Recommendations are due by the end of November.

Kruse said the Statehouse staff will look at how regional campuses are run in the rest of the country.

“If we started from scratch today and built a regional campus system, what would it look like?” he asked.

One of the things that will be considered is whether one major university should be in charge of all regional campuses. Right now, IU and Purdue split responsibilities. For instance, IU runs the regional campus in Indianapolis, IUPUI, which has not had some of the same growing pains as IPFW.

Mark Land, associate vice president of public affairs and government relations at Indiana University, said there was no discussion in the extension talks about IU managing IPFW.

Since Purdue runs the IPFW campus, Land declined to comment further on the negotiations, other than saying that “both universities have worked together well on the extension.”

Sands also confirmed there has been no serious discussion of IU taking over management of IPFW.

“We don’t think the system is broken,” he said.

Sands pointed out a few simple changes that were made in the interim management agreement with Purdue at IPFW’s request.

For instance, he said the agreement currently says that IU and Purdue must approve appointments of all faculty members at IPFW. But he said that has not been occurring in practice, so that provision has been removed. The parent universities get involved only when it comes to promotion and tenure.

Another small change in the agreement is an increase in the number of IPFW alums on the community advisory council.

But other major issues are still up in the air.

Sands said one thing being considered is IPFW’s request to offer a limited number of doctorates at the regional campus. He said the professional community in Fort Wayne has strongly pushed this change.

IPFW has more graduate degrees – about 25 – than any other regional campus in the state. But none of the regional campuses has a doctoral program, and adding one would be a significant departure from the current practice of keeping those degree programs on the main campuses.

This proposal will be considered by the summer study group because it affects more than IPFW.

Sands said another concern is keeping straight the transcripts of IPFW students who transfer between IU and Purdue programs on the campus.

“One of the areas of challenge for us has always been the academic recordkeeping. Students may be getting an IU or Purdue degree, and they take IU courses and they take Purdue courses,” Carwein said.

“So when you start mixing those on a single academic transcript, there are challenges. How courses are recorded, credits determined. That’s one of the big-ticket items for us going forward.”

Sands said many of the other possible adjustments won’t immediately be noticed by students because they relate to faculty and the inner workings of the campus.