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The Journal Gazette

  • Dr. William Cast was recently elected as President of the Indiana University board of trustees.

Monday, January 25, 2016 10:01 pm

Focused on strengths


The study commission, created to make recommendations for change in the governance of IPFW and appointed by the state legislature, after meeting since June 2015, reported Jan. 15. Findings were many – too many to fully develop here – but a signal recommendation was that Indiana and Purdue decouple on the undergraduate level with the campus becoming a Purdue campus. Currently, Purdue oversees administration, but both IU and Purdue operate their own academic programs, hire professors, set curriculum and design benefit programs. The campus exists separate but equal, apart but housed together and workable but imperfect as witnessed by years of recorded complaints leading to the critical Sheldrake report of 2014.

Imagine this metaphoric situation: two children inherit a lake cottage, or a farm, from parents – now it is jointly owned. Will it be used equally? A new roof, an added bedroom, added acreage, ordinary maintenance – all common matters but matters of timing and investment to be solved by owners with different budgets and perhaps slightly differing goals. Each owner is likely to invest where personal control is greatest. It is human nature that one cares for the things one owns more reliably than things jointly owned, just as carpenters are most careful with their own tools.

Those facts of human nature have been frictional factors at IPFW. By decoupling the two institutions, Purdue will operate the Fort Wayne campus and Indiana will focus increased investment in its medical school and in expanding opportunities in health care. Both will remain, and invest, but responsibility will be clarified.

On Thursday last, lU’s Medical School dean, Dr. Jay Hess, spoke to the IU Medical School Alumni meeting about new opportunities in Fort Wayne. He spoke of new residency programs and expanded course work, noting that similar program growth is occurring in both Evansville and in Bloomington. In both cities, relocation of a medical school building and health care facility to a dedicated campus offers the chance to grow into an academic medical center, one able to support more research and training. Indiana University has revealed the possibility of establishing a School of Public Health, and it seems more than likely that other programs in the health sciences should follow.

Enrollment at IPFW is shrinking, to which a reading of the Commission Report will attest. Several campus spokespeople have said that this is a problem common to all regional campuses, but that is not the case.

While all regional campuses face the same difficult demographic fluctuations and face losses through dual-credit courses (taught in high schools for college credit) that take students away from campus, IPFW has been hit harder.

In part, it was this shift toward providing credits in high school that masked the decline in enrollment on campus. It was reported to the study group that several other IU regional campuses have actually grown. More surprisingly, in northeast Indiana, small private colleges and universities (such as Saint Francis, Trine, Manchester, Huntington) have grown significantly. They have done so by aggressively offering courses that students are eager to take, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and pharmacy. We are fortunate that our region supports these quality schools and enjoys the programs that they are nimble enough to provide, but student costs are higher at private colleges than at IPFW. Our public universities should provide a full menu of offerings to serve those who lack the means to attend private universities. If we are to address student debt, public universities must be low-cost providers of higher education.

I can speak for Purdue University only indirectly by drawing on remarks made by the chair of their Board of Trustees, Michael Berghoff, himself a Fort Wayne native. Both universities have pledged to make necessary changes while holding existing faculty and staff harmless in the process with regard to employment and benefits. Purdue is willing to address the task and additionally to commit to support new offerings here, in course work that would link to the Warsaw orthopedic industry in biotechnology and in engineering courses relating to manufacture. In short, Fort Wayne finds itself in an unusual situation, one in which it enjoys the interest of a legislature focused on solving decades-old problems through a transformative solution; in which it enjoys the attention of the presidents of both IU and Purdue; and in which northeast Indiana can benefit from expansions that are good for both parent universities. The recommendations of the study group are sound and should be pursued by giving working groups of faculty, staff and administration the tools needed to move forward now.