Photo by Ray Steup
Photo by Ray Steup
FORT WAYNE — The image of a tombstone engraved with a portrait of a mastodon and the accompanying headline, “Death of a university?” in the Communicator, the student newspaper at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, summed up the feelings of many on campus to proposed changes in its governance.

But it may be the governance plan itself that is on life support.

The suggestion that the campus be split into two separate and distinct entities, with IU controlling health sciences in addition to its med school and Purdue getting everything else, is encountering widespread opposition.

Along with the significant internal shifts in oversight and responsibility, the name of the main campus probably would change; the brand that has evolved over half a century would change; the shared community identity would change.

Ultimately, the decision is up to the boards of the two universities.

IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein and Professor Andy Downs, members of the working group that devised the plan, both voted against it. The IPFW faculty senate voted unanimously to urge the boards of trustees to reject the separate campus idea, which also most notably would transfer the Purdue undergrad and graduate nursing departments and all the IPFW health sciences programs to IU.

Many faculty members, particularly those without tenure or not on a tenure track, have hesitated to publicly criticize the governance ideas, although privately they are livid. A survey conducted by Downs, a political science professor and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, found a “large majority” of faculty members were opposed.

Some people associated with the governance discussions had suggested the General Assembly might intervene in the waning days of its current session and amend an existing bill to add something addressing the IPFW controversy.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said March 1 he knew of nothing like that in the works. But he believes the universities eventually “may have to take a little step back from the idea of separating. We all want this to work.”

Check, but not mate

In any event, the process that got off the ground a year ago — when the General Assembly designated IPFW a “multisystem metropolitan” university campus and tasked the Legislative Services Agency and a working study group to develop a plan to implement that vision — appears to have stalled.

The plan was revealed in mid-January. An oversight team made up of leaders from IU, Purdue and IPFW met once that month at the West Lafayette campus and has not met since. IPFW’s official representative is Vice Chancellor Carl Drummond and Purdue’s is Provost Debasish Dutta. Although IU President Michael McRobbie sent someone to that meeting, he has still not designated a specific representative.

Without an IU representative, the high-level oversight committee, which was supposed to appoint other teams to review the 22 suggestions in the governance report, has done nothing.

Repeated requests to IU for information on the status of that appointment were not answered.

The package of proposals was offered to the working group to vote on as a whole. Individual items were not presented for a vote.

“My ‘no’ vote was not a vote against the entire set of recommendations. I think there are some very exciting opportunities there,” Carwein emphasized.

All of the other members of the study group voted “yes.” The other members were: Michael Berghoff, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees; Dr. Mike Mirro, an IU trustee; Bill Cass, a former IU trustee and member of the IPFW Community Council; Julie Griffith, Purdue representative; Mike Sample, IU representative; and John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and a member of the IPFW Community Council.

Status quo

While IU and Purdue each control the curricula of the degree programs they offer at IPFW, Purdue has the management oversight for the campus. The split of offerings and students between the two universities is about 50/50.

“The problem was that because they were 50/50, there was no real clear accountability and ownership,” Sampson said.

The Indiana University School of Medicine-Fort Wayne is IU’s entirely and is not part of the shared governance arrangement, although it occupies space at the IPFW campus.

For most of its process, through early November, the study group looked at more conventional ways to achieve the Legislature’s goal of creating a “multisystem metropolitan” campus in Fort Wayne, Downs said. The goal was to provide it with a level of autonomy that would be greater than the regional campuses in the Purdue system — something more akin to the structure of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

Under IU’s governance, IUPUI is considered a metropolitan campus, not a regional campus, which means it also can engage in the kind of research programs that otherwise have been restricted to a main university campus.

Thanksgiving surprise

When the group resumed its work after Thanksgiving, however, everything changed. Members received a new draft of governance proposals, produced internally, that led with the idea that the two university operations be separated, with each to focus on its own strengths.

“To call it unexpected was an understatement,” Downs said. “Prior to the unveiling to the working group … the idea that IPFW would be split, that it would become essentially an IU health sciences campus and a Purdue everything else campus, was not the subject of conversation.”

The suggestion to split the universities came from the IU side of the group, Carwein said.

“That was not a recommendation that Purdue made,” she said. “This was not an idea that Purdue put on the table.”

IU is known for its strength in medicine. So, as part of the separation, IU cherry-picked the undergraduate nursing department — a dependable revenue generator with high growth potential — for itself.

“It’s one of our largest programs, it’s one of our highest producing programs,” Carwein said. “These are the students who graduate in four years, as opposed to many of our other students who take longer. And in terms of impact on the local economy — my gosh — these students are employed before they ever graduate.”

The suggestion that the graduate and undergraduate nursing departments be split was an immediate bone of contention, however, and the proposal was modified to include the transfer of all nursing and health sciences programs to IU.

A needed fix

While some, including Downs, would argue that creating two separate operations in Fort Wayne would not meet the legal definition of “multisystem,” Sampson said it’s the word “metropolitan” in the definition that is the key.

“I think we’re getting way too hung up on ‘multisystem.’ You’ll have two systems there being operated, and Purdue and IU will invest in what they own. It was clearly a way forward, an opportunity we didn’t have before,” Sampson said.

“It’s an opportunity that both IU and Purdue have committed to support if we can work out the details. I think it’s an open door. If we turn it down, we pass on investment to the region. If we decide not to take this up, we’re essentially telling IU and Purdue we don’t want their support on investing in new programs — biomedical engineering, making us a hub of innovation for medical devices, increasing our advanced manufacturing skills and focus based on Purdue’s strengths, and turning away new med school investment, which would be so important, a really unique opportunity. We have two very powerful health care systems here who are going to be very interested in seeing IU Med School-conducted research here on our campus.

He continued: “We were making no progress in the last decade. The system they have been working under has multiple problems identified by the campus and by community leaders, and if we are going to address those problems we have to do things differently. If we continue to operate under the same system, I suspect we’ll continue to get the same results and have the same frustrations.”

What’s next?

Almost everything in the governance proposals, other than separating the universities, can be done under the current shared governance structure, Downs argued.

“Why do the split when everything else is possible under shared governance?” he said. “What is so wrong with shared governance that it must be blown up in order to get to these other things?”

In addition to the nursing proposal, Carwein’s other major concern with the plan is that it offers no specifics with regards to funding.

“They’re unfunded mandates. There is no identification anywhere of sources of funding,” she said. “The things that are being talked about are going to take lots and lots of dollars to build.”

In the end, it may be the squabble over the nursing programs that writes the ending to the story. That appears to be the linchpin of IU’s desire to move forward and, without it, sources have suggested, the entire proposal may be unacceptable to IU.

IPFW, on the other hand, would like to see the suggested move of the nursing programs taken off the table before it proceeds with any other discussions, Carwein said.

Sampson would hate to see the whole plan die because of problems with one piece of it.

“We worked too hard and too long to identify what the challenges are, and to not pursue them is something I think we would look at with some regret. ” he said. “I think it would be a shame if we tell (IU and Purdue) we’re not interested in having this discussion.”

Just about everyone agrees on one thing: It will be a long time before the questions are resolved. The Purdue-IU management agreement under which the campus operates expires at the end of June, and will have to be extended a year — or perhaps even two or three.

© Copyright 2019 KPC Media Group, Inc.