As Indiana and Purdue University officials prepare to sever a partnership 50 years in the making, northeast Indiana residents who care about the future of IPFW are largely left on the sidelines.
But a group of community and business leaders have laid out guidelines that should help protect the interests of Fort Wayne and the region as IPFW’s health programs become the sole purview of IU and the rest of its academic programs fall to Purdue.
The group’s challenge will be in gauging how the two institutions follow the version the leaders have set out; in responding if additional guidelines are needed; and in demanding change if either university falls short. But its willingness to step forward in insisting the regions’ needs aren’t ignored is welcome.
"Two satellite, regional campuses do not adequately serve the economic interests of the citizens of northeast Indiana, its businesses or the people of Indiana," said Ron Turpin, a member of the community group, at a news conference Friday to announce the guidelines. The group’s vision calls for "a top 100 comprehensive, national university, with globally recognized academic and research programs, by 2027."
Turpin, Chuck Surack, Irene Walters, Mac Parker, Larry Lee and Tim Pape were the primary authors of the guidelines, according to Turpin, but there were about 20 people who provided input. Eventually, they would like to see hundreds of community members sign on to the document.
The guidelines seek "significant new funding," a reconstituted local advisory council, a northeast Indiana representative on the Indiana and Purdue boards of trustees and more.
IU should expand its presence on the Coliseum Boulevard campus "by engaging Lutheran’s and Parkview’s networks to develop programs and research aligned with their missions and furthering medical science development," according to the outline. The area leaders called on Purdue to continue development of its programs here, "specializing in advanced manufacturing, medical devices, engineering, liberal arts, music and business."
Turpin acknowledged that measurement of IU’s and Purdue’s advances toward the community vision are "a work in progress." In its budget request to the General Assembly, IU requested funds to implement new programs here; Purdue did not.
Steve Carr, an associate professor in communication at IPFW, asked whether the group considered the role of faculty in shaping the two new institutions.
The community leaders were looking not at the fine details but at "big, audacious goals," Turpin replied. "We are not experts in education ... we’re here to work with you to make this vision a reality."
But if faculty, students or other community members identify places where the new model is not serving the region well, the community leaders should be prepared to listen and set out additional guidelines.
The group members, many of whom initially opposed splitting the universities, have limited clout with the leadership of IU or Purdue. For that reason, they must hold legislators accountable as the two institutions move forward.
The lawmakers who pushed for changes in IPFW’s governance ultimately accepted the decision to end the long-standing partnership in Fort Wayne. They should be continually reminded of their responsibility to ensure northeast Indiana has access to comprehensive public university programs. The guidelines identified last week are a starting point for that crucial oversight.