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Golden opportunity

A northwest Indiana legislator observed a few years back that a “golden triangle” exists in the state – a privileged area encompassed within the lines linking Indianapolis, Bloomington and West Lafayette. His assertion that the capital city and flagship university communities enjoy economic advantages comes to mind as northeast Indiana officials work to strengthen IPFW as an economic tool.

They can do it best by making the case that Fort Wayne, Allen County and its neighboring counties can be an economic driver for all of Indiana. An independent study of governance options at IPFW, announced last week by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, will support that case. The study, by Indianapolis-based Policy Analytics, allows for a fresh and unbiased perspective of the regional campus’ relationship with parent Purdue University.

Senate Bill 265, which would grant IPFW more autonomy, was approved last week in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee and is headed to the full Senate. The discussion and 8-4 vote, however, showed that some lawmakers, higher ed officials and even the Indiana Chamber of Commerce aren’t convinced IPFW should be recognized as a “metropolitan campus,” distinct from the regional campuses overseen by IU and Purdue.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, voted no after suggesting that “personality conflicts” might be the cause of governance disagreements between IPFW and Purdue. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, also voted no, suggesting those disagreements might be better addressed in a meeting of IPFW officials, the Purdue Board of Trustees and the Commission for Higher Education.

But the autonomy discussions preceded the current administrations at both campuses. So it’s likely they have more to do with the governance structure than who is governing. Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, and bill co-author, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, are responding as much to the pleas of northeast Indiana economic leaders as to campus leaders.

An economic focus is the new wrinkle in the long-running dispute. The regional partnership’s focus on increasing the percentage of northeast Indiana residents with degrees or certifications inevitably drew attention to IPFW. As the region’s only public four-year university, it’s only logical that it should play a major role in producing college graduates. It also follows that a study exploring how governance changes might help IPFW fulfill that role is not just a wise way to meet the partnership’s goal. The independent study also is an effective way to get past the conflicts, turf issues and preconceived ideas that have allowed the IPFW governance discussion to drag on for years.

It would be best if Purdue and IPFW were to make progress on the issues themselves, but the study will be a good tool in those talks.

Policy Analytics’ findings, due in the late spring, might finally put to rest questions that haven’t gone away, regardless of who’s in charge at Purdue or the Statehouse. With the right answers, northeast Indiana will be in better position to expand Indiana’s golden triangle to the benefit of both the region and the state.