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Keep students uppermost in IPFW talks


Growing pains aren’t common at age 50, but IPFW continues to suffer and to draw continued legislative scrutiny for its sometimes troubled relationship with parent Purdue University.

The General Assembly’s current review, which began with a hearing Thursday at the IPFW Alumni Center, is good news for the regional university as its management agreement with Purdue is revised. Testimony from the legislature’s regional campus study committee should shape the agreement and allow IPFW to better serve students and northeast Indiana’s regional economy.

Something clearly is wrong with the current alignment. Local economic development representatives continually complain of IPFW’s lack of authority to create degree programs to serve area employers. IPFW officials charge that efforts to collaborate with both Purdue and Indiana University sometimes are stifled.

IU and Purdue representatives, however, claimed Thursday that collaborations are possible. Some pointed to a doctoral program in nursing practice as an example of a current partnership between a regional campus and its flagship institution.

But the most insistent voice for change doesn’t agree.

“It just doesn’t happen,” said Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, after last week’s hearing. “They say that they’re willing to (collaborate), but generally it hasn’t happened. That’s what upsets us. If we have 13,000 students, we ought to be able to have some PhD programs.”

Steven T. Sarratore, associate vice chancellor for academic programs, cited failed efforts a few years ago to establish a partnership with IU for a doctoral program in education.

“Our faculty are able to serve on graduate committees and partner with Purdue and IU, but what we need is a system that would encourage that and support that,” Sarratore said.

The five-year management agreement that sets out terms for Purdue’s oversight of IPFW was extended until June 30, 2014, as Purdue studies its own operations and the legislative study commission examines governance of regional campuses.

The state’s dwindling share of support for state universities doesn’t justify the General Assembly’s greater control of oversight, but its review can be worthwhile in highlighting continuing problems.

It’s possible to amend the agreement not to give IPFW autonomy but authority and flexibility to better serve students.

Kenneth Christmon, associate vice chancellor for diversity and multicultural affairs at IPFW, gave the best example. He spoke not on behalf of the university but as a student seeking a doctoral degree in educational leadership. Christmon said family obligations and the lack of options in northeast Indiana forced him to choose an online university.

“I’ve heard you talk about engineering; I’ve heard you talk about business, but I’ve not been anywhere in this state where teachers, educators, student affairs workers and people like social workers don’t need the opportunity to advance their credentials and to pursue high-level degrees,” he said.

Student needs must be the driving force in a revised agreement – one that can be improved and strengthened with the review now under way.