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IPFW realigns with region’s economy

January 12th, 2017

Governance change renews its role

By John Sampson | For The Journal Gazette

A historic moment occurred on the campus of IPFW when Purdue University President Mitch Daniels and Indiana University President Michael McRobbie stood together with Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long to announce a significant change in the future governance of our metropolitan university.

The board of trustees of both of these world-renowned universities voted to approve the realignment. The revised campus governance brings IPFW into the general and broad oversight of the Purdue system, and IU assumes specific responsibility for nursing, dental, radiography and other health science programs, including the existing four-year med school.

How we view and what we do about the announced realignment of IPFW will be largely influenced by our individual and collective attitudes. Make no mistake, the announcement is historically significant and will matter in many ways to the future of the campus for students, graduates, administration, faculty and northeast Indiana employers.

Keep in mind, the cornerstone of northeast Indiana’s economic development strategy has been formally centered on talent development, attraction and retention since at least 2009, when the Lilly Endowment invested $20 million in our region’s Talent Initiative.

The importance of IPFW to the economic growth of this region cannot be overstated and has been formally recognized since the inception of the Talent Initiative.

About $5 million of the original grant was committed to IPFW’s wireless communications lab and systems engineering programs. These programs were critical for the defense and advanced manufacturing employers and directly supported by companies in those industries.

While not claiming objectivity, I am claiming unequivocal support of the university, having devoted untold hours to the resolution of the long-standing frustrations with governance that have complicated and constrained campus administration for decades.

Bottom line, the efficient operation of IPFW is a direct contributor to the economic growth of this region and is even more important today than it was when we began the formal talent efforts in 2009.

More recent developments:

2013: Regional Partnership, Northeast Indiana Works (NIW) and the Regional Chamber (RC) of Northeast Indiana provided skills and degree requirements of regional employers to the strategic planning process.

2014: Partnership, NIW and the RC co-funded independent analysis in the IPFW Roles and Governance Study presented to the Indiana State Budget Committee in August. The study and recommendations were endorsed by the boards of the Partnership, NIW, RC and Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

2015: The Indiana legislature designated IPFW as a “Multi-system Metropolitan Campus” with regional research capabilities, commissioned the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) Working Group seeking recommendations on governance, and restructured the Community Advisory Council.

2016: The LSA Working Group issued recommendations leading to the Purdue and IU Trustees’ approval of realignment of campus governance.

The recommendations of the LSA Working Group were not designed to simply achieve clarity and more accountable governance for the sake of governance alone. The realignment, as well as the persistent efforts of the IPFW administration, has been to improve enrollment, student success and alignment with the skills and degree requirements of regional employers.

So what have we achieved?

  • The metropolitan designation removes the “glass ceiling” of a regional designation on advanced degrees and applied research.
  • The realignment targets Purdue investment in developing fundamental coursework and programs in biomedical engineering as well as taking full advantage of their expertise in advanced manufacturing at the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Center in West Lafayette. These are programs with the potential to be extremely beneficial to Northeast Indiana industries.
  • The realignment unleashes the expertise and investment of the IU School of Medicine at Fort Wayne in health and biomedical research and advanced degrees in these areas. Undoubtedly, this is an opportunity for collaboration between Purdue and IU.

We should not overlook the significance of the two presidents’ public appearance for a joint commitment to IPFW and this realignment alongside of Sen. Long and Chancellor Vicky Carwein. Their combined presence in the face of certain opposition represented years of dialogue between them and the trustees in response to our region’s focus on our Big Goal of increasing educational attainment in the region and unleashing the potential of our metropolitan campus.

The rest now depends on us and our attitude toward the challenge of change before us. Will we see this as a threat or opportunity?

Recent news coverage leading with “Divided IPFW” and “Separation Anxiety” would seem to steer us to concerns on the tactical mechanics of realignment to the exclusion of the reasons for it. In either case, will we commit to make the best of this huge moment in history to move the campus and our region forward? What will regional leaders in 10 and 20 years report on the results of our efforts? That is now entirely up to us going forward.