At Thanksgiving, IPFW’s future looked much like its past to the working group pondering the school’s possibilities.
By Christmas the direction had dramatically changed.
With some regional employers pushing for reform and the group’s blueprint for change appearing to stagnate, local legislative leaders made clear the school’s path its first 50 years could not be the plan for the next 50.
Group leaders listened and in early December sent a draft proposal to other members for a vote. IPFW, governed by Indiana and Purdue universities since it began in 1964, would become two schools focusing on IU and Purdue strengths. It was approved.
Released publicly this month, the proposal has brought praise for some ideas it offers and controversy for the change it would require. Political leaders, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana offered statements of support. The IPFW Faculty Senate voted to urge IU and Purdue officials to reject it.
Purdue currently provides administrative oversight of IPFW, with students able to receive degrees from both Indiana and Purdue. Separate teams are now being formed at IPFW, Purdue and IU to determine logistics and costs of the proposal.
But even as the working group met just weeks ago, its developing plan did not greatly change the way the school is now jointly managed, according to group members and others close to the process.
"There was a point where it looked like it was languishing, just nits and gnats," said Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who helped form the study group after the Indiana General Assembly directed the Legislative Services Agency to evaluate the role and governance of IPFW. "They weren’t making much progress."
A report a year earlier that recommended IU, not Purdue, be the managing partner of the school was rejected. That report assumed IPFW’s continued designation as a regional campus, said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and a working group member. When the school was redesignated last year as a multisystem metropolitan university, which allows for more research and flexibility, it "opened the door for a whole new set of considerations," Sampson added.
During a meeting in late November or early December Dr. Michael J. Mirro, an IU trustee and co-chair of the 10-member working group, recalls presenting local legislators with an update and hearing "This is not what we want."
Instead, the discussion turned to "going big," Long said.
"We were looking at the big picture and getting this university where we all want it to be," Long said. "That was the idea."
Afterward, Mirro and group co-chair Michael Berghoff, a Purdue trustee, had several phone conversations. They then talked to IU and Purdue presidents and trustees before coming up with the proposal to split the school, Mirro said.
Under the proposal, IU would maintain control of the School of Medicine and enhance its health science and medical education offerings. In those areas, IU would have sole operating and management responsibility.
Purdue University would control all other course offerings with an expanded focus on biomedical engineering and advanced manufacturing.
The proposal showed up in working group members’ email boxes in early December, said Andrew Downs, president of the IPFW Senate and a group member. Downs said that up to that point he was still under the impression the proposal envisioned a shared governance.
Downs and Chancellor Vicky Carwein voted against the measure, which passed 6-2. Two of the group’s 10 members – an IPFW student and a Legislative Services Agency representative – did not have voting rights, Mirro said.
The report lists areas in support of change.
The undergraduate degree-seeking student population at IPFW peaked in 2010 at 11,836 and declined to 8,746 in 2015, according to the report. Between 2011 and 2015 total enrollment decreased by 11 percent, while enrollment at all four-year state educational institutions increased 1.3 percent, it said.
Time to complete a degree for most IPFW full-time graduates is 150 percent to 200 percent longer than the "normal time" of four years, the report concluded.
During a Faculty Senate meeting last week IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf offered competing statistics.
Looking solely at IU regional campuses, Wolf’s data show most have declining enrollments, with the IPFW rate of decline slightly more. And IPFW compares favorably with IU Southeast and Purdue Calumet in degree completion, his data show.
At that meeting Chancellor Vicky Carwein said the report had a negative bent on IPFW performance. "Our story was not told," she said.
"No wonder we’re having difficulties moving forward," she said after the faculty meeting. "We’ve got a number of initiatives that are on the shelf and have been for two or three years because if IU was going to manage us we’d be doing things this way, but if Purdue is going to manage us we’ll be doing it that way. If we’d stay IPFW we’d do it a third way. So what’s very frustrating for me is we’re sort of on hold."
While the Faculty Senate panned the proposal, Mirro said he has heard from other faculty "that this is fantastic."
Working group member Dr. William R. Cast, a former IU trustee from Fort Wayne, said the moment should be grasped. With online classes and other innovations challenging traditional education significant changes at IPFW are needed, he said.
"You had a unique opportunity here where you have two presidents that are both interested in solving the problem and who have made comments that they are going to make investments," he said.
"Now you have faculty and staff with exactly the opportunity they should be grabbing and saying, ‘We have a chance to work through these things.’ "
The IU and Purdue presidents and their trustee boards will ultimately decide whether the proposal goes through.
Purdue, through an email to The Journal Gazette, said President Mitch Daniels is "aware of the committee’s recommendations and the concerns expressed about them and we will study both carefully."
IU issued a statement from President Michael McRobbie supporting the proposal.
"We find these recommendations to be a creative response to the recurring claims that something needs to be done to enhance the public higher education programs in Fort Wayne," McRobbie said. "We remain willing to do our part to implement the recommendations as they relate to Indiana University."
Niki Kelly of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.