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LETTER: In defense of McRobbie's legacy



fall2020letter

Responding to the Sept. 14 opinion column, I disagree with the suggestion that President McRobbie “ignored student needs” and that such decision-making cost him his “legacy.” 

Painting with a broad brush, the column cites a single March 2007 reference to then-IUSA President Henke’s “disappoint[ment]” regarding the prospective elevation of McRobbie as the categorical perspective for poor student reception of his appointment. This is decent sleight of hand but confuses being and time. McRobbie’s record on student engagement following his hiring is the appropriate standard for evaluating that claim. Scant evidence, however, follows.   

One glaringly absent place to start would be the Vision of the Ideal College Environment (“VOICE”) study commissioned by McRobbie. Although the columnists can be forgiven for not unearthing a study completed twelve years ago, it is important to frame the beginning of McRobbie’s term through this lens. Two months after beginning his presidency, in Sept. 2007, he charged students with a novel and sweeping mandate to help him “craft a vision of the ideal college living and learning environment for the 21st century.” 

Fortunately, through McRobbie’s focus on expanding the university’s institutional memory via digital archives, the IDS and students everywhere can read the report here

The piece also faults McRobbie for not keeping regular presidential office hours. Ironically, the VOICE Report concluded in part that “[f]aculty should be more demanding in office hour participation” to increase student engagement on campus. This suggests it is students who do not attend hours, not the other way around. In my experience, McRobbie and staff from his office were always available to meet with students. McRobbie participated actively in regular Dean’s Advisory Board meetings, he made time for luncheons with student government leaders and remains responsive to communications sent to him including into my years as an alumnus. 

The real critique offered seems to be that McRobbie is not Herman B Wells. Indeed he is not. 

I wonder if Wells, the Boone County native focused on growing IU’s relationships abroad, could have imagined that his successor would be an Australian national, now naturalized, with a computer science research focus. I suspect Wells would be pleased to see how McRobbie has led his alma mater into its third century, where it is, without question, well-positioned for the future. 

In terms of legacy, the record is already strong in McRobbie’s favor, and the passage of time will only help. 

Luke Fields

B.S. ’09, B.A. ’09, J.D. ‘12

IUSA President 2008-2009

Fields is a senior associate attorney in the special matters and government investigations practice of King & Spalding LLP in Washington, D.C. He writes only in his individual capacity.

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