Speeches by Provost Lauren Robel

Envisioning Our Future Together:

State of the Campus Address

March 25, 2014
President's Hall in Franklin Hall

I want to thank my colleagues on the Bloomington Faculty Council, and our President, Herb Terry, for this invitation to address our community about the state of our campus.  Welcome to all the members of our faculty, our staff, our students, our alumni, and our friends, and thank you for coming today to think with me about the future of our campus.

A week ago, I returned to Seoul and Shanghai to meet with faculty, deans, and presidents of partner institutions.  I had just been in Korea in December, and returned so quickly because the opportunities for faculty and students were so compelling.  It is always a privilege to represent our campus and Indiana University abroad, particularly when, as I was on this trip, I am working with Gwyn Richards on behalf of the glorious Jacobs School of Music.  The many years of committed global engagement, from Herman Wells through Michael McRobbie (in India even as we speak), make Indiana University a trusted, respected, and highly valued partner in international collaborations.  The quality and integrity of our programs and our faculty are known throughout the world. 

And as always, our graduates provide the strongest and most moving evidence of our reach and reputation, and of the lasting impact of what we do.  In December, I was honored to visit with over 200 Korean alumni from every school on this campus.  Our alumni in Korea are in important positions in government, business, law, nonprofits, and on the faculties of every major university.  At Sookmyung University a week ago, I listened to almost a dozen alumni of Education, Music, the College, and Information Science who now serve on the faculty as they recounted the kindness and mentorship of faculty members, the enduring relationships with their cohorts in graduate school, and the blossoming of research that they had begun while here in Indiana.  At Sungkyunkwan University, IU Foundation President Dan Smith and I worked with alumni faculty from the School of Informatics and Computing on possible collaborations in teaching and research.  We had dinner with alumnus Jae Ha Lee, Deputy Dean of the Global School of Business, which has had a longstanding and top-ranked dual degree program with the Kelley School of Business, and a first-in-the-U.S. joint degree with the Maurer School of Law. 

At Seoul National University, world-renowned pianist Ick-choo Moon, a graduate of Jacobs, graciously accompanied Dean Richards and me to listen to students perform and to talk with his dean about possible collaborations.  We had spent the previous evening with Professor Moon as a half-dozen Jacobs alumni, composers and artists all, spoke fondly of memories of practice rooms and challenging faculty members and lives changed by their time here—of a world made more beautiful and musical by what they learned and became in this place.  One of these graduates had come to dinner directly from the airport, having arrived only moments before from taking her daughter to audition in Bloomington.

In Shanghai, I finally met a longtime hero of mine, Tongkui Ju, a 1949 graduate of the Maurer School of Law.  I have corresponded with Mr. Ju for years, and President McRobbie had awarded him the Thomas Hart Benton medal last year.  To be able to listen to his story in person, and to hear how his Bloomington education combined with the opening of China to rescue him from the banishment of the Cultural Revolution, was particularly moving.

Wherever I went—indeed, wherever I go whether in Indiana or overseas—our alumni are witness to the alchemy that takes place in our classrooms, recital halls, and laboratories.  Their lives are a powerful confirmation of the importance of what we do here and of the very human connections that make this residential and research-driven campus so intellectually potent.

Our campus is on the cusp of its third century.  At its founding in 1816, our state had the foresight not only to create a system of public primary and secondary education, but also to understand the need for a public university.  When it opened its doors in 1820, the tiny seminary that would become this great public university might not have envisioned Ick-choo Moon or Tongkui Ju.   Indeed, it might not have envisioned a president from Australia! But in the world our graduates will face in 2020, and the one in which our state competes and participates today, these global connections are essential.  The State of Indiana maintains offices in Shanghai and Taipei, Berlin and Nagoya, in recognition of this global reality.  Our university has developed a well-deserved international reputation in area and language studies that has matured into a new School of Global and International Studies. One in four of our students has an overseas experience while enrolled here, making us fifth in the country in study abroad and among the country’s top producers of Fulbright Student Program grant recipients. Our graduates’ commitment to overseas service places Indiana University Bloomington among the top 25 U.S. universities for Peace Corps volunteers.  It is fair to claim that our global expertise is now one of the central assets we bring to the state and the nation—and to our students.  It is part of what makes us distinctively who we are, almost 200 years after our founding.

It is not only our cosmopolitanism that is distinctive, of course.  It is also our long commitment to the stewardship of a beautiful built and natural environment, played out most recently in the renovation of the Old Crescent buildings such as Owen and Franklin Halls for academic purposes and by the sustainability report adopted by our campus several years ago.  It is the far-sightedness with which we have amassed a technological infrastructure that is internationally benchmarked to enable sophisticated research and media preservation.  It is the ambition and courage of the major academic reorganizations inspired by the New Academic Directions report, which have touched almost every part of the campus.   It is the breadth of our educational programs, over 350 of them spanning the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and the professions.  And it is the diversity and intellectual vitality of our Big Ten campus, which supports the development of lifelong connections to our university and our state.

It was with the faces of our students and graduates, and this long and particular history, firmly in mind that I asked 167 faculty, staff, and students last August to take on a task of enormous importance to our future.  I asked this diverse, smart, and community-minded group to imagine how we might ensure the value of our campus as we cross the threshold of 2020.  What, I asked them, is the most compelling case for the residential, research-intensive campus today, and how does Bloomington make that case in a particular and powerful way?  And importantly, how can the campus best support excellence in the next chapter of our history?

In the months since these wonderful colleagues assembled, I have discovered that last point, about the role of the campus, needs explication.  We are rightly accustomed to thinking of the Bloomington campus from our particular standpoints within a school, a department, or the College.  Indeed, we typically think of it from our particular classrooms, studios, and laboratories.  Much of the power of an excellent university is found in the access it gives great minds both to resources for discovery and creativity, and to smart and motivated students.  Our graduates talk about having been a student of Menachem Pressler, or being from the lab of Richard DiMarchi, or having worked in the Archives of African-American Music with Portia Maultsby, or done field work with Ruth Stone.   As members of this university community, we hold some truths to be self-evident: That great faculty drive great programs; that they are driven to answer important questions and create powerful work by the knowledge that comes from deep roots in a discipline or practice; and that they derive profound satisfaction—even joy—from the success of their students in mastering those disciplines and practices, and furthering them in their lives. 

We can both deeply believe these self-evident truths, and also recognize that we have opportunities to build from them, and to provide our students and the world with more collectively than we can individually.  We understand this interdependence well in our immediate neighborhoods.  I depend, for instance, that my law school colleagues will have taught students about the paths into the federal courts before I teach them how the deep structure of constitutional federalism plays out there.  My law school colleagues and I are intertwined, dependent on each other to assure the coherence and effectiveness of each student’s education.  And we are all dependent on the collective work of the faculty, staff, and students, who select the cohorts of students who will study at the school, craft and empower their experiences outside the classroom, advise them about their paths through the school and into the world, and keep them connected once they have graduated.

So too with the campus.  It is through the campus that we act collectively to assemble and orient the undergraduate class. Through the campus, we are collectively responsible for a thousand common areas, libraries, cultural spaces, residence halls, and student organizations, where our students are formed just as surely as in our classrooms.  Through the campus, we support our students’ health and well-being, ensure the quality of their advising, and guide them into their majors.  We typically depend on schools and departments to support faculty in their individual endeavors, but through the campus, we support efforts to work together in research, across disciplinary and school lines, when questions call for that kind of cooperative effort, as they increasingly do.   And we call on the campus to support our efforts to recruit the best faculty, and to provide the sense of a broader community, pulling together to ensure their success in their careers.

With the utmost respect for the work that we do in our most immediate neighborhoods, these 167 colleagues have invited us to raise our gaze to who we are collectively and where we can be better together. Their imagination and dedication to a common vision for our future is inspiring.  Their work, assembled in the reports of 11 teams, is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of core values, or of every principle we hold dear.  Rather, their work points repeatedly to opportunities to collaborate on common goods and needs; to leverage our diverse strengths; to embrace grand challenges; to highlight programmatic initiatives that transcend schools; and repeatedly, to work together to achieve diversity in our student body, faculty, and staff. Indeed, every one of the reports stressed the importance of diversity, and one of the teams was devoted to identifying creative ways to pursue it at the undergraduate level. 

These reports, distilled to a set of objectives and actions, were presented to the campus community as a draft strategic plan for comment early this month.  I have received well over 200 written comments and have read and considered every one. I have also visited with numerous constituencies, from the College and Kelley Policy Committees to the Graduate and Professional Student Council, to the Sustainability Advisory Board, to listen to reactions, thoughts, and concerns and explain the concepts and ideas in the draft.  I have been impressed with the seriousness and good will evident in these conversations and comments, and grateful for the opportunities to speak with so many members of our community individually.  The draft presented to the campus has been improved immeasurably by this campus engagement.  It will be enhanced by measurable metrics before it is submitted to President McRobbie on April 15.

The campus strategic plan addresses each of our major areas of work, including the experiences of our undergraduates; the quality of our graduate programs and faculty; our research; our global efforts; and additional collaborative program initiatives.  I want to stress that it is not a plan for the College, or the individual schools, nor does this plan imagine reallocating resources away from the schools, each of which has or will have its own plans.  Rather, it is a plan for the allocation of time, energy, and resources at the campus level.  In the remainder of my time, I will outline the major ideas of each of these sections and chart the path forward from here.

1. Undergraduate Life

The undergraduate life section of the campus plan challenges students directly.  It asks them to take responsibility for—to imagine and create—an experience that ignites their intellectual curiosity and academic mastery.  And in recognition of the fact that those with college educations are our world’s leaders, it asks them to build their capacity for courageous, empathic, and ethical leadership. 

In return, it commits the campus to ten objectives that support that mastery and capacity, enhanced with the special qualities that are distinctive to this campus.  The central theme of this section of the plan is a commitment to our students’ active engagement and agency in their futures and to their academic and career success.  For instance, it stresses that in all renovations of our campus spaces, from residence halls to classrooms to the Union, we will prioritize designs that support this engagement.  This commitment could mean investing in the kind of technology that links the new Kelley or Jacobs buildings to the world, or that allows our faculty to identify the most productive curricular paths through learning analytics.  It will mean assuring that our teaching, such as our learning management system, is cutting-edge—a commitment I know Vice President Wheeler is actively working to fulfill.  It certainly means a rigorous look at all student-facing services and programs, from the residence halls to the IMU, to ensure their alignment with the core academic mission.  And it has already led to major investments in advising.  Those investments include campus-wide technological systems that support academic advising and career advising, and wonderful work by the career advisors on common definitions and metrics for student and employer contacts.

It promises students access to those curricular and co-curricular activities that consolidate and reinforce their classroom learning, such as overseas experiences, undergraduate research opportunities, living-learning communities, internships, and service learning—the kinds of experiences best supported through a residential campus.  It commits us to their health and safety through support for efforts like the Culture of Care, which has engaged students in the bystander intervention that helps them be each other’s best protection. 

It also commits us to opening routes for students to take the fullest advantage of the rich resources available on our campus by assuring them access to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning opportunities and a new set of pathways that span the liberal arts and the professional schools.  It encourages every school and the College to be creative in imagining additional certifications and masters’ degrees that may well combine expertise and courses across school boundaries.  For instance, the new Media School is working with the School of Informatics and Computing on a certification in digital media.  It is easy as well to imagine a certification in security issues that involves contributions from the School of Global and International Studies, Kelley, Informatics and Computing, SPEA, and Law.  All of the schools are working now on such possibilities, and they will open new doors for our students.

Indeed, the plan contemplates actively recruiting students who could use the credits they have brought with them from advanced placement and advance college project work to pursue such additional certification, and supporting them financially as they do so.  As most of you know, our state has worked to support students’ completion of college through active transfer and high-school credit policies.  Those policies have resulted in many more students arriving on our campus with sophomore and even junior status.  Most of these students are not interested in accelerating their graduation; rather, they are interested in broadening their educations.  These pathways permit them to do so in ways that present employers with additional and valuable credentials.

Two proposed campus-level initiatives also focus on heightening the impact of campus assets and programs that span multiple schools on behalf of our undergraduates.  We have extraordinary resources on this campus in humanistic and artistic expression and inquiry.  These include an already world-class cinema, an art museum with some of the best collections of any campus in the United States, performance venues, galleries, and an incomparable school of music.  With intentionality and coordination, we could commit to our students, whatever their schools, leaving us as passionate advocates for humanistic and artistic expression, curation, and stewardship—a lifelong gift we would give our students and the communities they join on graduation. Similarly, as I travel overseas, I see a strong interest in the liberal arts developing in countries without strong liberal arts traditions.  Many students come to us from those countries, often to gain a professional degree.  Could we make available to them additional certification in the liberal arts education for which our country is justly celebrated?  The plan contemplates such a certificate.

The plan also commits us to showcasing our assets in science, technology, informatics, and mathematics in support of a scientifically literate citizenry.  Just this fall, the campus publicly launched a terrific initiative, the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology, that unites women faculty, staff, and students from all parts of the campus to support women interested in careers in technology.  The Center organizes and makes accessible our resources in this area, and has already attracted hundreds of interested women to its salons and programs.  The campus plan hopes to spark a similar set of conversations and heighten visibility around our programs in science and technology more generally.

Finally, the undergraduate life section continues our emphasis on the affordability of an IUB degree.  It does so both through continuing the excellent financial literacy efforts, spearheaded by MaryFrances McCourt, that have already had measurable impacts in reducing the amount of loan debt of our students, and by raising funds to reduce the debt burden of every student with demonstrated financial need.

2. Graduate Education

The graduate education report continues the emphasis on student success, advising, access to high-impact practices such as overseas study and internships, and timely completion that characterize the undergraduate report.  In addition, the graduate education section points to transparency around the quality and results of our graduate programs, through the development of a graduate program data dashboard.  And it recognizes that some areas of expertise distinctive to Bloomington are capable of delivery to those who cannot come to our campus.  Just in the past few weeks, we have seen the Kelley Direct online MBA ranked first in the nation by US News, and fifth in the world by the Financial Times.  Similarly, the School of Education’s online master’s program was ranked second in the nation in U.S. News. By fall of 2014, almost every school will offer some of its distinctive graduate programs online with the same kinds of assurances of quality that mark our existing programs. 

3. Research

The research team focused on the concept of Grand Challenges: big, bold, important initiatives that attack ambitious questions that require multidisciplinary approaches.  Examples of such Grand Challenges include the Brain Initiative, supported by NIH, DARPA, and NSF; or NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.  The research section of the report suggested having faculty identify one Grand Challenge that requires collaboration each year for the next five years, and providing resources to hire and equip the faculty and post-docs necessary to support that inquiry.  Faculty who have commented on this part of the draft plan have been broadly supportive and have already suggested a number of challenge areas, including climate change, food security, and aging.  I would like to suggest that we also consider how we might use our resources to have a large and measurable impact on our immediate neighborhood, by identifying ways we can have a measurable impact on the health, educational achievement, and economies of the counties surrounding our own. 

The research team also proposed that we identify two current or emerging disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas during each of the next five years where we might become national or international leaders with strategic investments, and partner between the campus and the schools and College to make the investments needed to attain distinction.

 Finally, recognizing that answering big questions often requires inter-institutional collaboration, the plan commits us to rigorously positioning ourselves as a preferred collaborator.  This positioning requires that we review all our compliance and financial policies to ensure we are within national norms; create searchable databases that make our strengths easily identifiable to potential partners and funders; and engage the Vice President for Information Technology early and often in all relevant research initiatives.

4. Faculty

Four simple but powerful ideas dominated the thinking of the faculty group.  The first is that we focus on how faculty thrive at each stage of their careers and provide timely support at each of those points to permit them to do so.  This idea has already begun to be implemented.  Claude Clegg, an accomplished historian, has agreed to join the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs in a new position designed to implement this idea, and Christiana Ochoa, a valued and thoughtful colleague in human rights and development from the law school, has been lured to the office as well by the possibilities opened by this report.  In addition, Professor Eileen Julien has become director of a newly-recommissioned Institute for Advanced Study, with a charter to support the research needs of newly tenured associate professors.  A focus on faculty flourishing includes the need to invest in academic leadership and faculty excellence through professional development, such as is now available to untenured faculty through the campus membership in the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, in all of the academic appointment categories on the campus.  And it begins with a commitment to family-friendly policies and programs, which enhance one of Bloomington’s strongest assets as a community.

The second idea involves academic citizenship and the need for effective and engaged partners in shared governance.  I have asked the Bloomington Faculty Council to consider the recommendations of the faculty report on governance and report back to us by the end of next fall semester, and it has graciously agreed to do so.

The third idea involves alignment in recruitment and retention across schools.  Such alignment starts with the insight that we can accomplish more if we know each other’s hiring priorities and help each other pursue teaching and research across school borders, and look for opportunities to hire in clusters.

The fourth idea is accountability for excellence in all that we do.  This commitment is important to all of our constituencies, and is one we should be able to make with confidence and assurance.

5. International and Global Initiatives

The two groups that looked at our international and global initiatives both started by recognizing the depth of our historic commitment to being both a preferred global destination for students and faculty, and an engaged partner with institutions overseas.  The group focusing on students recommended, centrally, that we ensure that our student support services are keeping up with our popularity among international undergraduates, so that future provosts visiting international alumni continue to hear glowing reports about their experiences in Bloomington.  It also recommended a serious attempt to catalogue and support the internationalization of the curriculum, to ensure that we are using to the highest educational benefit the enormous international diversity of the campus. 

In many areas, our programs are truly imaginative and innovative in providing student opportunities for overseas engagement.  Could we highlight these opportunities through an IUB International Corps that engages all of the schools in an effort to send our students into internship and service opportunities abroad?

Finally, the report supports the efforts, spearheaded by the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, to open gateway facilities in selected countries overseas, such as the one in India, to allow easier connections with our alumni and to provide programmatic opportunities for our students.

6. Program Renewal and Outreach

Finally, the plan continues the work of New Academic Directions by encouraging further efforts at program renewal in the areas of health sciences and design.  Indianapolis will continue to be the center of Indiana University’s health sciences efforts.  But we have opportunities for further development and distinction in this area, highlighted by the School of Optometry, by the creation of the School of Public Health, the expansion of the Medical Sciences program, the presence of a highly-subscribed program in nursing, and terrific programs in the College in Speech and Hearing and Psychological and Brain Sciences.  And a team working on an initiative in design continues its work this semester, with merger discussions underway between the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design and Studio Arts in the Hope School.


This is an ambitious agenda, one that will keep us busy for the next five years.  We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to all of the members of these creative and hardworking teams, to the members of my staff who supported their efforts, including Deborah Kremer, Catherine Dyar, and Karen Easter, and to Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives Venkat, who coordinated this whole effort. 

What will our campus look like in five years if we adopt this plan?  I will leave that to your imaginations.  But at the very least, we will surely be a community that understands and values the benefits of working together towards common campus goals.   This process has brought out the best in a great many faculty, staff, and students, who have, through their work, made doing so appear both desirable and achievable.  I will be honored to devote myself to making their vision real for our campus.