When Interim Provost Michael McRobbie takes the reins from departing IU President Adam Herbert on July 1, he will immediately realize how vast the University has become.
And if he doesn’t, faculty members across IU’s eight campuses will be sure to remind him – particularly at places like IU-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Calling McRobbie’s reign “critical,” Bart Ng, president of the IUPUI Faculty Council, said that unless University officials remedy an ongoing power struggle between the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, the urban-based campus will likely experience independence within the next 15 years.
The relationship between IU-Bloomington and IUPUI has hardly been without hiccups during Herbert’s tenure. The Indianapolis campus has continued to garner national respect, causing high-ranking campus faculty to call for greater University consideration.
A subtle tension between the two campuses has been ongoing for years, as officials in both Bloomington and Indianapolis have tugged one another, vying for University influence.
Rosalie Vermette, IUPUI Faculty Council vice president, has found herself in the thicket of such campus power struggles. She said much of IUPUI’s faculty displeasure with the situation stemmed from the University’s 2005 IU Mission Differentiation Project.
In a report to Herbert in July of that year, IU-Bloomington was officially named the University’s “flagship campus.” Vermette believed the report dispelled notions that any or all of the University’s campuses would be considered equal. This now, as it was then, considered an unacceptable policy for most of IUPUI’s faculty.
Bloomington Chancellor Ken Gros Louis, who helped lead the project, said calling Bloomington the flagship campus was not an attempt to rank the campuses’ importance.
“We don’t want to be superior,” Vermette said of IUPUI’s intentions. “There are no goals to be better than Bloomington. We just want to be a contributor.”
Vermette cited much of the “advanced level” research that IUPUI conducts, particularly at the University medical school, to warrant increased statewide respect.
“This is a problem with the citizens of Indiana,” she said. “When you say IU, they think Bloomington.”
Perhaps learning from Herbert’s flaws, McRobbie has so far given the sense that his tenure will include a conscious effort to respect IUPUI. During his first news conference as IU’s president-elect March 1, McRobbie said he looks forward to working with the Indianapolis campus.
Both Ng and Vermette said they are optimistic about McRobbie, who seems to understand IUPUI’s situation, Ng said. Still, he added, McRobbie will be judged by his actions, not his promises.
“The next president needs to realize that there is opportunity there,” Ng said.
Those actions included supporting proposals from IUPUI faculty, regardless of what Ng called likely “political” objections by some Bloomington faculty. Often, this includes proposals for the development of new degree programs. He described the fate of a proposed graduate degree in health economics as something that could test McRobbie’s respect for IUPUI.
“I think the president-elect is a very visionary fellow,” Ng said. “He has a very broad vision, and I think he is very concerned with economic development.”
Whether McRobbie chooses to follow a path similar to Herbert’s in the way he deals with IU’s second largest campus will probably factor into the future of the institution itself.
If the University continues to follow its current path, Ng said Indianapolis’ break from the larger institution was less than 15 years away.
If the University acknowledges the urban campus as an equal institution with a different yet complimentary mission then any separation would be unnecessary, he said.
“It is really up to IU whether IUPUI will be independent,” he said.
But he said if IUPUI’s aspirations to continually develop go ignored, then IU could soon lose one of its biggest contributors.
“I do not think the pressure to separate will come from the faculty,” he said. “The city of Indianapolis and the people will wake up to the game the University is playing and will politically demand separation.”
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