Indiana University President Michael McRobbie’s State of the University address combined details of recent successes with perspective about the university’s role in the state’s history and future.
It was an elegant blending of the past, present and future, with one omission.
McRobbie rightfully touted the bold academic moves that have seen the establishment or transformation of eight new schools in Bloomington and Indianapolis over the past five years. He linked the current activity to the vision of IU’s 10th president, William Lowe Bryan, whom he called “the greatest academic builder in IU’s history.” The schools of medicine, graduate studies, education, social work, nursing, business, music and dentistry were established by Bryan.
He lauded the faculty for its many contributions, including its ability to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money to support research. He gave credit to IU’s 14th president, John Ryan, noting that at IU’s 150th anniversary in 1970, Ryan built on Bryan’s theme of building a “complete university” by giving credit to the faculty. “While our definitions of ‘completeness’ may have well grown beyond anything President Bryan could have imagined, IU’s enormous accomplishments in teaching and research, which lie at the heart of our institutional missions, remain grounded in the exceptional faculty effort, and that of the dedicated staff members, on each of our campuses.”
He noted, proudly and rightfully, record levels of private philanthropy and evidence of IU’s commitment to educating more Hoosiers, stating, “For all of the many things a premiere public research university like IU does, students are its reason for being, and student success is at the core of its mission.”
He touted increased minority enrollment, which has been a focal point since he became president. He pointed out IU’s success in helping students hold down their debt load, which has been reduced by nearly $100 million in the past four years.
He gave appropriate and often under-emphasized attention to the character and ethos of Indiana University, which were built over time through doing things the right way in culture-building areas such as physical beauty, commitment to art and “more ephemeral things such as its great traditions and its matchless heritage.” We would call this rather abstract but real asset “the IU Way,” which would include thinking big, encouraging innovation, protecting academic freedom, embracing inclusion, treating faculty, staff and alumni well and making it easy for people to be proud of their association with the university.
McRobbie went on: “This character and ethos complements, enriches and elevates all that a student learns in a classroom. The more that students are part of it and experience it, the richer and more inspiring it is, the more they will benefit from an IU education. It can rival in importance the classroom and laboratory. The preservation and enhancement of this character and ethos, then, is a duty entrusted to us all. As part of IU’s bicentennial, we must rededicate ourselves to this duty.”
He added that factors such as physical appeal, a welcoming nature, outstanding amenities and services, beauty and a stimulating environment will attract and retain students while building loyalty and affection among faculty, staff and alumni.
As a corollary to this, he talked about the importance of preservation, restoration and repurposing historic buildings, as well as protecting IU’s recorded heritage through digitization.
“As we prepare for Indiana University’s third century of service, our mission must be — as it has always been — to confirm our traditions of excellence in our fundamental missions of education, research and service, and by doing so, ensure that Indiana University will be a leader among the great universities of the 21st century.”
Meshing history, current advances and the future plans covered almost all the bases.
The only thing missing was a nod to former president and chancellor Herman B Wells, which would have been appropriate in a speech that included as much as it did about character and ethos, traditions and history, and the importance of faculty, physical beauty and preservation.