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  • Emily Anderson, of Owasso, Oklahoma, who came to IPFW because it was the first in the country to offer a human services degree, questions PFW Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer on Thursday. (Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette)

  • PFW Chancellor Ronald L. Elsenbaumer talks with students concerned about the changing the PFW diploma from saying "Purdue University" to "Purdue Fort Wayne" Thursday morning in Kettler Hall.

  • Audrey Leonard, a senior in Communications and Women Studies, questions PFW Chancellor Ronald L. Elsenbaumer about changing of the PFW diploma from saying "Purdue University" to "Purdue Fort Wayne" Thursday morning in Kettler Hall.

  • PFW students brought posters to Kettler Hall on Thursday to protest a plan to print “Purdue Fort Wayne” on diplomas rather than “Purdue University.” The change has been postponed.

Friday, October 12, 2018 1:00 am

PFW diploma to remain as is

To read 'Purdue' for now, chancellor tells student protesters

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

After an hour of sometimes intense debate, a student protest about proposed changes to the Purdue University Fort Wayne diploma ended with a phone call.

Pulling himself from the discussion to take the call, PFW Chancellor Ronald Elsenbaumer returned to tell students that Purdue President Mitch Daniels would table the measure.

“The board of trustees have heard us, and they are leaving the diplomas as they are,” Elsenbaumer said to applause from the crowd.

Purdue trustees were slated today to vote on word changes for PFW and Purdue University Northwest diplomas that would have emphasized the campus name rather than Purdue University. Students said Thursday that would devalue their degrees. For many, the discussion went beyond a diploma to how the mother school views its regional campuses.

About 50 or 60 students entered Kettler Hall late Wednesday morning expecting to stage a protest with signs that read “Don't trust the board of trustees” and “I paid for what? A diploma that says Purdue University.” Instead, they were greeted by Elsenbaumer, who directed them to a faculty lounge, where the signs were placed on a table.

Elsenbaumer said he was there to listen, and it didn't take long for students to oblige. One of their main concerns was that they had only recently learned about the pending change, some just before the protest.

The chancellor said he questioned the diploma language soon after taking his post in November but put any change “on pause” when he heard objections. It's normal for diplomas to reflect their regional campuses, he added. The rationale for the word change would be to reflect reforms from the recent realignment, which will lead to a new school identity, he said.

PFW officially began in July when Purdue University and Indiana University ended their decades-long agreement to jointly run IPFW and established two schools on campus.

Elsenbaumer likely didn't expect the response when he asked Thursday “Are you not proud of PFW?” and was met with a resounding “no” from the crowd. Some students said the wording would confuse future employers, which could cost them thousand of dollars in lost employment.

Not all students disagreed with the diploma change. One said she was proud of PFW and knows of others who agree but didn't attend Thursday's protest. Elsenbaumer said he was proud of the school's faculty, advisers and staff, calling them “second to none.”

Still, he agreed with those who started as IPFW students and expect the Purdue degree they were promised. Before Daniels called to tell him the topic was pulled, Elsenbaumer said he intended to ask the trustees to postpone the change until at least 2022.

There are no planned changes to the IU Fort Wayne diploma, which will be titled “Indiana University,” Ann Obergfell, Indiana Fort Wayne's associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and operations, said in an email.

After the discussion, Elsenbaumer said it is import to respect students' expectations. The change will be pursued through a long process with student involvement, he said.

“There have been so many changes that have occurred here, it makes sense, of course, to have a change like this made,” he said. “But how you implement it is always important. It's not what the decision is, it's how you implement the change that matters.”

Jenn Reeve, a junior in women's studies and communications who helped organize the event, said students should have been told about the measure. While happy with the outcome, Reeve said she hopes administrators allow students to be more involved, “especially as their rebranding affects us daily.”

Olivia Schumacher, a graduate student and teaching assistant, said while the change was ceremonial, “it did feel like they were trying to differentiate the degrees.” Her bachelor's degree says “Purdue University” with 'Fort Wayne campus' underneath. Her master's would have said 'Purdue Fort Wayne.' Same school, Schumacher said, “but it's saying you went to a satellite campus, you didn't get the Purdue experience, which I don't think it's really fair, I guess.”

Chelsea Bihlmeyer, a graduate teaching assistant in communications, said West Lafayette has labeled itself “better than us, as more prestigious than us.”

“They're not Purdue West Lafayette. They're Purdue,” she said. “And so it's just like this whole many levels of distinguishing themselves as better than us. Really, it hurts. Even though we've won the battle, have we won the war? I think that going forward, for me, it feels like just around the corner something like this could happen again.”

rsahwgo@jg.net