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Challenges awaiting next IPFW leader

August 2nd, 2017

By Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

The next IPFW chancellor will be challenged to address shrinking enrollment and budget issues and to unify the school after a turbulent few years.

In fact, variations of the word “challenge” come up quite often in what amounts to a job application by the candidate with the most knowledge about the university: Carl N. Drummond, IPFW's current vice chancellor for academic affairs and enrollment management.

Having more than 20 years with the school – 17 as an administrator – would seem an advantage for Drummond. But, school observers say, an argument can also be made that the school could use fresh eyes as it looks to the future.

Drummond, the only internal finalist, faces three other men with impressive credentials making them viable candidates. They are Edwin Daniel Hirleman Jr., Purdue University's chief corporate and global partnerships officer; Martin Abraham, provost and chief academic officer at Youngstown (Ohio) State University; and Ronald L. Elsenbaumer, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Several on campus, including current IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein and Health and Human Services Dean Ann Obergfell, said the candidates are strong. Andrew Downs, an IPFW political science professor and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, agrees.

“For a lot of people who will look at these individuals, they will say, 'four whites guys who are from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) backgrounds,' and that is true,” Downs said. But there is diversity, he added.

Drummond's background is in geology, Hirleman's is engineering, Abraham's is chemical engineering and Elsenbaumer's is chemistry, according to curricula vitae provided to the chancellor search committee. Obergfell said it's not surprising that a school associated with Purdue would attract STEM candidates.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels will choose the next chancellor. Drummond and Hirleman made appearances on campus last week. Abraham and Elsenbaumer will appear next month.

There was concern among some on campus that a business person good with community relations but with little knowledge of running a university would be selected, Downs said. That isn't the case.

“They all have spent basically their careers in academia. They all spent time ranked as professors. They've held administrative positions,” he said.

In his curriculum vitae, Hirleman said that during his career, he has relished educating a diverse student body, including underrepresented minority students, and sees similar opportunities at Purdue Fort Wayne. He points to his leadership in building teams to lead programs, a college, university entities and community and global organizations. He also realizes the fiscal constraints inherent in the chancellor job.

“University leadership is about influencing a community, including students, staff, faculty, alums, donors, friends, industry, and sponsors to join as partners working toward a common goal,” he wrote. “And a builder's success must be appraised in terms of the sustaining impact of the handiwork.”

Abraham notes that he has twice managed organizations in transition, as graduate dean at the University of Toledo and as founding dean of the STEM College at Youngstown. He points to his “critical role” in bringing a manufacturing innovation institute to Youngstown that former President Barack Obama highlighted in his 2013 State of the Union address.

Abraham refers to efforts that have turned YSU enrollment around after declines since 2011. He points to expanding the enrollment base from largely local to one that's more regional.

Elsenbaumer says his school is committed to providing education to a larger percentage of the state's diverse population. UTA is majority-minority, with 39 percent white students, he wrote in his letter to the search committee. Improving recruiting, retention and graduation rates “are core missions at UTA and are areas for continued improvement at PUFW.” He says first-year retention rates at his school have risen 10 percent in four years. Graduation rates also have improved.

“Continuing to offer new degree programs at PUFW allows students to build their own academic major that address new and upcoming career opportunities for students. Expanding innovative new programs will help keep the curriculum current and highly attractive for the next generations of students to come,” Elsenbaumer wrote.

Drummond has been deeply involved with the IPFW realignment, which will split the school into two campuses, with IU focusing on health sciences and Purdue assuming all other programs as of July 1, 2018. How his inside knowledge of that often-controversial process and the school's inner workings might play in selecting the next chancellor is unknown.

“Some people would say, let's go with internal, especially given the turmoil we have here right now,” Downs said. “But at the same time, because he is stuck thinking in ways of the past, it would be very easy to make a argument that we need fresh eyes.”

Obergfell, who will lead the new Indiana University health sciences campus when IU and Purdue end their IPFW alliance next year, has a similar take.

“I think it's an advantage because he knows the university. He knows the system. He knows the community. I think that's his advantage,” she said. “It might be a disadvantage because we've been in this kind of – I don't like to use the word turmoil, but that's sort of what it is – over the last few years. So, I don't know if that's a disadvantage.”

Drummond declined to comment, saying in an email that Daniels would make a decision that's in the best interest of the university.

Carwein said in an email that “the next chancellor has an extraordinary opportunity before him to develop innovative programs and partnerships that can distinguish the institution and set it apart from all others.

“The future of Purdue Fort Wayne is bright and full of opportunity and four strong candidates have emerged to lead the institution into that future. I ... look forward to seeing the new initiatives and many successes that lie ahead.”

Chancellor forums

The IPFW chancellor forums are open to students, faculty, staffers and administrators. Remaining forums are:

Aug. 7, 10 to 11 a.m., Walb Classic Ballroom: Martin Abraham, provost, Youngstown State University.

Aug. 22, 10 to 11 a.m., Walb International Ballroom: Ron Elsenbaumer, interim provost and senior advisor to the president for entrepreneurship and economic development, University of Texas at Arlington.