The discord on the IPFW campus over budget and governance issues should be troubling for any northeast Indiana resident. What seemed to be a promising future for the university has evolved into worrisome deal-making between West Lafayette and Bloomington, spurred on by a Statehouse impatient with IPFW’s growing pains.
Who is looking out for the interests of Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana in all of this? Who is considering the effects of program cuts and structural changes on the students from this area who look to IPFW for a four-year degree, or the professionals who need the university for an advanced degree? Will two smaller, separate institutions prove as committed as IPFW has been to improving quality of life in northeast Indiana?
With Monday’s faculty vote of no confidence in Chancellor Vicky Carwein, prospects for a resolution forged here grow dimmer. The tense relationship between the administration and many faculty has reached a breaking point that likely gives the flagship Purdue University campus tighter rein on IPFW.
Frustration on the part of both the Fort Wayne administration and faculty is understandable. Carwein came to IPFW in 2012, with the campus facing significant budget issues. She wrote that she faced "unorthodox financial practices, large budget deficits, top down and unilateral decision making, a culture of isolationism, intimidation as a model of interpersonal communication, and a lack of transparency about most campus operations."
While budget problems – exacerbated by a post-recession-fueled enrollment decline – became clear, the other problems certainly weren’t apparent. Faculty members’ complaints about their role in addressing IPFW’s problems were not heard outside the university until recently.
Ongoing complaints about governance weren’t directed at IPFW leaders but at the parent Purdue administration. In 2013, state Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, wisely pushed for a legislative study committee to address governance, noting that regional campuses were losing out on opportunities.
"Whether that might be creating new degree programs or it might be funding for specific projects – oftentimes what’s good for IPFW in Fort Wayne might not be good for Purdue University in West Lafayette so there’s somewhat of an inherent conflict," Banks said at the time.
The committee proceedings ultimately resulted in IPFW’s classification as a "metropolitan university." Lawmakers seemed to give the Fort Wayne campus authority similar to what allowed the IU-managed IUPUI to flourish in Indianapolis. Carwein said on the occasion of IPFW’s 50th anniversary celebration that the designation was "aspirational."
Purdue officials certainly appeared satisfied with Carwein’s performance, judging by the chancellor’s compensation. Hired at $275,000, with an annual housing and transportation allowance of $29,250, Carwein’s salary climbed to $286,083 last year. She earned $10,000 pay-for-performance bonuses in both 2013 and 2014, $9,500 in 2015 and incentive pay and "special merit pay" totaling $9,000 last July.
Andrew Downs, IU faculty speaker, had harsh words about Carwein’s leadership Monday, noting his doubts upon her hiring of her "commitment to a comprehensive university with liberal arts programs like those at IPFW and embraced by Indiana University." He said he "did not believe that her management style was going to work at IPFW at this moment in our history."
IPFW’s history is a part of northeast Indiana’s history. For our region to succeed, we must have a comprehensive public university with leaders fully dedicated to the institution. With decisions from IU and Purdue on splitting the university likely to come in the next three weeks, community leaders and area legislators must step up to speak for Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana.
We deserve a voice in the decision-making.