IU’s contributions on a state and national level were a driving theme Tuesday in Provost Lauren Robel’s 2017 State of the Campus Address.
Robel detailed some achievements by researchers, administrators and students on the Bloomington campus in the past year and outlined how they fit into the Bicentennial Strategic Plan, which was introduced in her 2014 speech. Despite the positive focus of the speech, the event was not without its speed bumps.
Students Against State Violence protesters advocating for a sanctuary campus resolution stood in front of the podium in President's Hall almost ten minutes into the provost’s speech. They unfurled a banner that read “Sanctuary Now!” and help other handmade signs. They stood silently for another 20 minutes before one protester attempted to turn the event into a press conference by asking the provost how she would respond if immigration enforcement conducted a raid on campus that day.
The provost offered to continue the conversation after finishing her address, but the protesters continued to question her. However, after scolding by a member of the Bloomington Faculty Council and threat of arrest by the IU Police Department, the protesters exited President’s Hall and the speech continued.
“If you’re willing to stay with me, I’m happy to continue,” Robel told the crowd, which erupted into applause. “And I’ll talk faster.”
The protesters had begun their questioning as the provost was listing cultural initiatives like First Thursdays and China Remixed, a festival celebrating the global contributions of Chinese artists. In their questioning, they asked why she touted international initiatives if she could not declare the University to be a sanctuary campus.
Robel is no stranger to sanctuary campus activists. At a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting in January, the sanctuary campus activitsts were given much of the speaking time to express their concerns and grievances. A February forum on campus climate and the fears of undocumented students featured the provost among other top administrators.
After Tuesday’s address, Robel said she understood the protesters. Her only wish was that people would understand the reality of the situation without panicking before seeing proof of an impeding immigration raid. She emphasized support for students covered by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals provision, which protects people who were brought illegally to the United States as children.
“We watch this so closely at the campus level and care so deeply about the safety of our students and faculty,” Robel said. “The DACA program is intact. Nothing has changed with that at this point.”
Before and after the interruption, the provost listed new developments that fit into the Bicentennial Strategic Plan. After an assessment of needs for IU’s 11 surrounding counties, the University determined ways to assist southwest-central Indiana in the challenges it faces, she said.
Looking to the future, the provost spoke about the addition of the IU Center for Rural Excellence. The center was outlined on a projected slide to have six guiding pillars, including educational attainment, economic development and health.
After the address, Robel said she wished there was more opportunity to compliment achievements made by students, since much of her speech spoke of research initiatives, administrative efforts and renovations to campus. Apart from administrative evidence of IU’s service to the community, the provost’s speech also went over the IU Corps initiative, also in the strategic plan.
IU Corps is an attempt to quantify the community service students provide to any area off campus. In the past, the provost said part of the idea’s origin lies in the quantification of legal services law school students provide because the provost is a lawyer and law professor.
“Together, we are a strong and a necessary force for good in this world,” Robel told the crowd at the address’s close. “It’s an honor to serve this extraordinary place, and it’s a privilege to be in a position to say thank you to the outstanding people who are devoted to it.