IPFW’s hybrid governance system has served it unevenly for 50 years – benefiting the campus at times, hindering its progress at other times. A proposal to designate it as a "metropolitan university" within the Purdue University system, however, promises the first formal framework for IPFW, as well as granting it some new authority.
Purdue President Mitch Daniels, following up on a January request to the Commission for Higher Education, last week offered a "definition" of how the new status would work.
"We believe the definition accommodates the educational needs of the northeast Indiana region, affirming that IPFW’s primary mission remains undergraduate education, while also ensuring it has the flexibility to respond to its growing and changing economy through the provision of related master’s and professional doctorate degrees," he wrote last Monday in a letter to the higher ed commissioner, Teresa Lubbers.
Daniels also encouraged continued review of the performance-funding formula the commission uses to reward some state universities in producing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, and to recognize IPFW’s efforts in that area.
The definition doesn’t fully embrace recommendations made by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership last fall, and it doesn’t address the base-funding shortfall IPFW has long suffered relative to other state universities. But it still represents progress in specifying that a metropolitan university has the following:
• The authority and flexibility, through Purdue procedures, to offer master’s and professional doctoral programs.
• "Access to selected Purdue West Lafayette Ph.D programs which can accommodate students who need to spend most (but not all) of their time in the area served by the metropolitan university."
• The authority to add residential housing "commensurate with the needs of students taking courses on campus," instead of arbitrarily capping the number at 10 percent of enrollment.
"The work is not done yet, but I would say it’s moving the campus governance in the direction we had hoped," said John Sampson, the partnership’s president and CEO.
The partnership’s August recommendations called for IPFW to be overseen by Indiana University, arguing that it has the infrastructure to better oversee a regional campus. It also has oversight of the state’s only other metropolitan university, IUPUI. Sampson noted Friday that IU’s interests at IPFW are not addressed in Daniels’ letter, but he praised him for his support and responsiveness.
IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein said the proposal allows significant new authority in offering doctoral programs, as well as consistent governance.
"As we began to look for documents (regarding IPFW’s governance), we found there weren’t any that existed that described it," she said, noting the current management agreement with Purdue expires in June. "For the first time, we have something that says, ‘This is, indeed, how we operate.’ That’s important because presidents change, boards change, chancellors change."
Northeast Indiana lawmakers – the best advocates for the Fort Wayne campus – can help ensure the effort isn’t sidetracked after the commission takes up the proposal. They can demonstrate resolute support for IPFW by insisting it is treated fairly in the two-year budget now in the works. In doing so, they will signal clear expectations for a new metropolitan university status – one that will allow consistency, flexibility and authority over IPFW’s next 50 years.