“Make no small plans for Indiana University,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in his first-ever State of the University speech Tuesday, echoing the words of former IU President Herman B Wells.
The speech was aimed at faculty and staff but should be of great interest to students as well. The tone was largely optimistic. In his address, McRobbie spoke about the construction or planned construction of buildings throughout the University for business, information technology, life sciences and the arts, and the need to expand research.
Most importantly, McRobbie was fairly frank about IU’s prospects given the current financial crisis. He admitted that while the past year was the best ever for external research funding, government funding could be scaled back.
He also acknowledged that returns on endowments – a major source of income for the University – could go down.
Many universities have had to cut back so far. Boston University’s president recently announced he would freeze hiring and stop all building projects that had not already been approved. Attempting to tighten the state budget, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter tabled all taxpayer-supported construction, stalling several campus building projects.
In his speech, McRobbie applauded those in charge of IU’s financial security, such as the University Treasurer MaryFrances McCourt and IU Vice President and Chief Financial Office Neil Theobald. So far, as IU has avoided the fate of some other universities, that applause is probably deserved.
It appears that the University is being managed with a good deal of perspective. McRobbie acknowledged that hiring in non-faculty positions would have to be slowed. He also claimed he would still put effort into improving IU’s international experience as well as certain scholarships.
IU will probably have to make cuts. McRobbie hinted that sustainability will probably not be a top spending priority. In the past we applauded McRobbie’s decision to approve new proposals designed to increase sustainability, save money and allow greater cooperation between administration, academics and campus utilities.
It would be unfortunate if a program that seems to be already lacking administrative support gets pushed into the background.
McRobbie’s plan to engage in “relentless but responsible optimism” might yet guide the University through this mess.