Red hedge clippers stuck out of IU groundskeeper Devin McGuire’s left pocket as he sat in the back row of the Frangipani Room on Tuesday. White stains covered his green uniform pants.
He heard everyone was invited to IU President Michael McRobbie’s fifth State of the University address and happened to be close by.
“I love the way IU has been growing for centuries,” McGuire said. “I’m happy for the president’s ability to run the University.”
But mostly, he said he wanted to hear McRobbie’s take on blue-collar wages.
“Being blue collar, I would like to see IU’s blue-collar wages come up to the median of the rest of the Big Ten,” he said. “I’ve heard we’re in the low end of the Big Ten, and I know of a higher end. It’d be nice to be somewhere in the middle.”
Shortly after 2 p.m., McRobbie approached the microphone, standing before a red IU background on the Frangipani stage.
His eyes flicked toward the audience every few seconds as he read an 18-page script.
In the next 40 minutes, McRobbie covered the issues of declining state funding, rising tuition and student debt, IU’s role in the life of the state and questions about the basic value of education in a 5,669-word speech.
State support for IU Bloomington has decreased by 30 percent in constant dollars during the past two decades, and 18 percent of the current year’s budget funding comes from the state of Indiana, compared to about 50 percent two decades ago.
“In fact, if state funding continues to decline at this rate, and IU’s non-state revenue increases at just the rate of inflation, it will fall under 10 percent not long after IU’s bicentenary in 2020,” McRobbie said.
IU and IU Health collectively act as the largest employer in Indiana, providing jobs for more than 40,000 people.
“Over the course of the last three years, 17 startup companies have been established based on IU faculty research, with seven in the last year alone,” McRobbie said.
Despite the lack of state funding, McRobbie said IU has made great strides to become more efficient.
“The fact of the matter is that over the past two years, we have succeeded in reducing our ongoing base budget by $36 million,” he said.
But the reductions should not limit the University’s quality of higher education, he said.
“Not only could higher tuition rates price students out of a first-class education, but they could also price first-class education out of existence as the public increasingly turns to lower cost and lower quality options,” McRobbie said.
The reality, however, is that many of IU’s in-state students pay less-than-advertised tuition rates due to significant scholarship and grant aid.
“In fact, three out of four in-state students at IU Bloomington receive some form of financial aid,” McRobbie said.
As for upcoming projects, McRobbie said the first major project to revive the Old Crescent area of campus into a lively academic hub will begin in the next few months, the Cyberinfrastructure Building at Tenth Street and the Bypass will be dedicated in October, and IU is currently making progress on the IU Jacobs School of Music Studio Building at the corner of Third Street and Jordan Avenue.
“Every single one of these projects in some way contributes to our fundamental goal of excellence in education and research,” he said.
Though IU is facing a multitude of challenges, McRobbie said anything can be accomplished with the efforts of everyone on campus.
“With all of us working together, we can shape our response to that fundamental question about what it means to be one of the best public universities in the 21st century,” he said.
Leaning back in his chair, McGuire scratched his chin.
He placed his hands behind his head, elbows out to the sides, and stretched his legs beneath the chair in front of him.
The president hadn’t addressed what McGuire came for, but he said the speech was positive overall.
“I’m a groundskeeper,” McGuire said. “From what I understand, we’ve now determined the University’s new direction, and now that we know what that is, we can begin to move forward.”