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Last modified: Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Endurance, Excellence, and the Energy of Change at Indiana University"

The Inaugural Address of Michael A. McRobbie

Inauguration of Michael McRobbie

University Marshal Ed Marshall, left, and Laurie Burns McRobbie, right, place the jewel and chain of office on the shoulders of Indiana University's 18th president, Michael McRobbie.

Print-Quality Photo


The inauguration of a new president marks a most auspicious moment in the life of a university. This moment rests on the threshold between the past and the future and is charged with the energy generated by change. It is a moment to look back to our past excellence, reaffirm our fundamental missions, and chart a course for the coming years in a present that is rich with opportunity and challenge.

As we do so, we are aware that ours is an ancient enterprise. Although some may claim that universities are impervious to change, their very histories suggest otherwise. In fact, universities are among the most adaptive institutions in human history.

From the ancient learned institutions of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, emerged the great medieval universities of Europe: Oxford, Cambridge, and the Universities of Bologna and Paris. That these institutions have remained in continuous operation for almost a millennium emphatically confirms the enduring and adaptive nature of the educational endeavor we celebrate today.

Like that of its antecedents, Indiana University's history is a story of change in response to the demands of the time. Never was this more true than during the days of Herman Wells. Though his tenure spanned a golden age for American universities as a whole, and for IU in particular, we must not imagine Chancellor Wells captured in amber, a treasured relic of the past. Rather, he was a man of enormous energy and understanding who never stopped trying to make Indiana University even greater. We must keep alive and constantly renew his vision of the undaunted pursuit of academic excellence in teaching, discovery, and creative activity.

IU, then, is not an institution that is a stranger to change. Its history is one of endurance, adaptation, and renewal.


As a great public university we have two fundamental missions: education and research.

Indiana University seeks to provide the best possible education to all of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. It is an education in both breadth and depth, grounded in both the practical and the transcendent, and providing a command of the analytical and the expressive.

We also seek to conduct path-breaking research and scholarship of the highest international standards from the most theoretical to the most applied.

These have always been the missions of great universities from Nalanda University founded in India in the 5th Century B.C. until now. They will, no doubt, be the missions of great universities far into the future.

Of course, our two missions—education and research—mutually reinforce each other. The best education is informed by those immersed in and passionate about their own scholarship; the best research and scholarship is stimulated and rejuvenated by youthful minds full of curiosity and enthusiasm.

We are also a public university supported by and with a responsibility to the citizens of Indiana. They expect us to provide a great education to their sons and daughters; they expect us to do the best research and scholarship; and they expect us to be engaged in the life of the State. Therefore, engagement is a third mission, and it grows out of excellence in education and research. To be properly engaged, we must excel at our two primary missions.

My vision for Indiana University should be neither surprising nor controversial: it is to confirm our traditions of excellence in our two fundamental missions of education and research, and by doing so ensure that we will be a leader among the great universities of the 21st century.

We are already a great university. Our greatness has been built by the 17 presidents who preceded me, and by the tens of thousands of our extraordinary faculty and staff. Our greatness is measured in our over 500,000 living alumni. But as higher education becomes ever more competitive, we must strive for excellence in all aspects of our two fundamental missions. Everything—everything—we do concerning these two missions must be seen through the prism of excellence. Everything—everything—we do must be judged by what it does to make us greater.

Our success in these missions will ensure the success of our engagement in the life of the State—whether it be the IU physician bringing the latest breakthrough from the School of Medicine to the bedside in a Clarian hospital, or the IU-trained teacher helping improve the reading skills of school children in Gary.

We are a large and complex state-wide university. We must ensure that an IU education is not only excellent, but also accessible and affordable to every citizen in the State, no matter where they come from, no matter what their background, and no matter who they are. Our institution, in race, gender, and income, should better reflect the full diversity of our state. As Interim President Jerry Bepko put it, "IU is an institution that is committed to providing access and opportunity for the broadest range of learners."

Under successive presidents we have carried out much of the strategic planning needed to achieve our missions of excellence. Some of this planning has been implemented and some awaits implementation.

My objective in this speech is thus a practical one. I will describe the goals and the first initiatives I will take based on this planning. Together we can realize these goals. Together we can create a 21st-century university in which the impulses towards discovery and learning in their many and varied forms can flourish. Ours are goals of change and renewal—but they are goals focused with laser-like intensity on academic excellence.


Many things make a university a world-class institution of research and education, but none is more essential than a world-class faculty. To borrow a phrase from President Ehrlich, this is an environment where "teacher" is among the highest of accolades. We must renew our commitment to supporting our excellent faculty.

Forty years ago, the Board of Trustees recognized the importance of great faculty when it created the title of Distinguished Professor to honor and help retain IU's most outstanding teachers and scholars. The critical importance of the recruitment and retention of excellent faculty was also recognized by President Brand and the IU Foundation in its record-setting campaign. That campaign helped build the number of endowed positions from around 70 to its present total of over 400, at last count, the highest number in the Big Ten.

It is now time to build on those foundations. We must reinforce the title of Distinguished Professor to underscore its recognition of distinction by ensuring that in the future its conditions are in line with other titled professorships. This signals the critical importance that IU attaches to having an outstanding faculty. If we are to strive for excellence, we must recognize and honor it in our midst.

I am announcing today, then, the establishment of new professorships at Indiana University, to be called—fittingly—the Herman B Wells Presidential Professorships. These titled positions will be used solely to recruit new faculty who are at the pinnacle of their professions, such as Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and elected members of the National Academies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We must aim high in recruiting senior scholars, and the Wells Presidential Professorship will be a critical tool for making that possible.


Supporting faculty excellence also requires a renewed commitment to building collaboration and cooperation among our campuses. As President Herbert said, "The collective strengths and characteristics of our campuses define who we are as an institution." I intend to build upon these strengths.

This is especially true with regard to the partnership between our two research campuses in Bloomington and Indianapolis.

I have already carried out other initiatives in this area. I announce today the establishment of a $1 million intercampus research fund. This further expands and deepens cooperation and collaboration between the campuses. Faculty from the regional campuses will be encouraged to participate as well.


At the same time that we recognize excellent teachers and scholars, Indiana University must take a leadership role to improve our students' educational achievements at all of our campuses. Our regional campuses have a vital mission to provide educational opportunity to IU students who balance work, family, and education. As Chancellor Wells explained, this statewide system, together with other institutions of higher education in Indiana, brings four years of college training within twenty-five miles of 95% of all Indiana high school graduates.

We already have many initiatives underway to enhance our statewide efforts to serve non-traditional and underrepresented students. For example, both IUPUI and IU Northwest are working to improve graduation rates among African American men. IU Kokomo encourages students who are a few credits short of a degree to return and complete their education. IU Bloomington has made substantial investments to increase diversity and equity and to support underrepresented students through programs such as the Hudson-Holland Scholars, the Pell Promise, and the 21st Century Scholars Covenant. We are working to ensure that the gates of educational opportunity remain wide open to all of the sons and daughters of Indiana.

Today, I call on all IU campuses to add to these successful programs to help students complete their degrees. We will do this by establishing the Degrees of Excellence initiative designed to increase graduation rates on all of our campuses. Over the next five years, Degrees of Excellence will call upon each campus to set aside 5% of our existing non-academic budgets for initiatives targeting degree or program completion or financial aid. Under it, the very successful Pell Promise and 21st Century Covenant programs established at Bloomington will be extended, where possible, to all campuses. Taken together, this will represent a base investment of $4 million in efforts to help students earn a degree more quickly. This will also help re-align existing resources with our key priorities, thus increasing administrative efficiency.

Finally, we will work in closer partnership with Purdue University and Ivy Tech in those parts of the state, such as Gary and Richmond, where we can collectively bring greater educational opportunity to the citizens of Indiana.


Our efforts to improve graduation rates are closely linked to campus life. Today's students have more choices than ever before in pursuing a college education. A crucial element in these choices is the quality of the student learning and living environment. If we are to attract and retain the best students in the state and the nation, we must ensure that both environments are of the highest quality.

In recent years IU Bloomington has done much to improve and modernize the learning environment. However, the living environment, specifically student housing, has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. To remedy this situation, we plan to upgrade all of the residence halls at IU Bloomington over the next 15 years. In December, I will take a plan to the Trustees to immediately commence renovating and developing the first 2,000 rooms into more contemporary accommodation. This renovation will complement our new student housing completed or underway at IUPUI, IU South Bend, and IU Southeast.

In the development of both the learning and living environments at IU, we will be guided by the report of the student-centered VOICE initiative which I announced a month ago. This initiative allows students to provide their views about what they believe will constitute the living and learning environment of the 21st century.


To be one of the great public research universities of the 21st century, our faculty and students must have the tools. They must have the facilities and the space to support learning and research.

In August 2004, I received a report I had commissioned that stated that a shortage of space was "possibly the biggest single impediment to IU reaching its full potential as a research university." It stated that we would need about 5 million square feet of space—that is space equivalent to more than 10 buildings the size of the Indiana Memorial Union—over the next ten to twenty years.

The time has come to address more fully this problem.

A month ago, we took the first step when I announced that Indiana University would create an integrated master plan to guide future university development.

We are very grateful to the Indiana General Assembly for their support for facilities over nearly two hundred years. Their support is essential in addressing our facility needs, now and in the future, and especially in the repair and rehabilitation of our existing facilities, and the operation of all of our future academic facilities.

But it is simply impossible for the state to fund all of our needs for space if we are to join the very top tier of the 21st century's public research universities. We must rely in a much more substantial and sustained way on our own resources and the private generosity of the university's alumni and friends.

Today, I announce the next step in addressing our pressing space needs: construction priorities of up to a $250 million dollars for an initiative to construct new buildings and facilities in Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University will initially do this with a matching gift program for this new construction.

Tomorrow morning I will meet with the Board of the Indiana University Foundation. I will seek their help and counsel in raising the matching funds for this initiative. The Foundation, under Curt Simic's outstanding leadership, has been tireless in raising funds for IU. Individual members of its Board have been extraordinarily generous. I have every confidence that they will ensure that we achieve the ambitious yet essential goals of this and other initiatives I am describing today.

This space initiative will commence with new buildings, facilities, and classroom space for the arts, humanities, and social sciences; international studies, the life sciences, and economic development—all areas of highest priority for Indiana University. We plan to break ground on all of these projects within five years. The space needs of a number of the professional schools will be evaluated next.

This initiative will be on top of the half billion dollars of construction we presently have underway or planned and further support we will be requesting from the General Assembly over the next few budget cycles. By early next decade then, our goal is nothing short of having nearly a billion dollars of new construction underway, providing the essential space and facilities to support world-changing and life-enhancing research, education of the highest quality, and innovations to fuel the State's economy.


These new spaces open wide vistas of opportunity for all of our faculty and students whose important work adds to IU's many intellectual accolades. We have a magnificent tradition of excellence in the life and health sciences—from Nobel Prizes for fundamental discoveries about the basic building blocks of life itself, to cures and treatments for deadly diseases such as cancer. We also have a superb tradition in the social sciences, where complex legal, ethical, social, and cultural issues concerning the life sciences are studied, and in entrepreneurship through the Kelley School of Business.

It is this tradition on which we sought to build and for which we sought support through our life sciences initiatives during the last session of the General Assembly. It is this tradition for which we will again seek support with renewed vigor during the next legislative session. We will widen this initiative to more fully involve health sciences, a natural extension that includes research into preventable diseases that impact many Hoosiers, and we will give special attention to health disparities among low income and minority populations.

This initiative will also strengthen the life sciences economy of the state through discovery, innovation, and development of new treatments and even cures for diseases that have long plagued the human race. An even stronger Indiana life sciences economy is vital to the state's prosperity as we transition away from our reliance on heavy manufacturing and agriculture. It means more jobs and better jobs, but it also means better public health in a state that lags in most measures of wellness.

We must also acknowledge the extraordinary support we have received over the last seven years from the Lilly Endowment, which has provided over $200 million for life sciences research at Indiana University.

To most effectively harness the full potential of Indiana University, we must join the talents of our life scientists in Bloomington and Indianapolis, as we detailed in our Life Sciences Strategic Plan.

Essential to this effort is Clarian Health, a partnership of Indiana University and Methodist Hospital that includes Riley Hospital for Children and that was formed in 1997. One of the largest health systems in the nation, Clarian helps brings the expertise of the IU School of Medicine faculty and clinicians to nearly every corner of the state. It contributes daily to the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers. Our extensive network of partners in medical education also includes Wishard Hospital and the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, as well as health care facilities across the state.

In Indianapolis just over 600,000 square feet of new space for teaching and research in the life and health sciences have been constructed or are under construction. In Bloomington, two days ago, we dedicated Simon Hall, the first new building for science to have been constructed on this campus in 45 years.

But if Bloomington is to fully contribute to the life sciences initiative it needs more research and teaching space, as it does in so many other areas. To help meet that goal, Indiana University will construct a third building for multidisciplinary life sciences research, which will build on Bloomington's traditional strengths in this area in accord with the priorities of IU's Life Sciences Strategic Plan. This emphatically underscores the seriousness of our commitment to our life and health sciences initiative.

In Indianapolis, our technology incubator, the Emerging Technology Center, is at capacity. We will carefully assess the feasibility of establishing an additional incubator or multi-use facility focusing on life sciences start-up companies and including IUPUI's Innovation Center.


Engagement in the economic growth of Indiana is, as President Brand repeatedly put it, "an obligation" for Indiana University as a public university.

Our contributions to the economic development and vitality of our state can be seen in countless ways, and they are directly linked to the education and research missions of the institution. Our goal is to provide an excellent education that is both responsive and relevant for our students throughout the state as they prepare for an ever-changing workforce and world or for further study. Likewise, research at IU leads to breakthroughs in basic science of the most fundamental kind, opening our eyes to new aspects of the moral and metaphysical universe. It also leads to new inventions, attracts private investment, and creates new high-wage jobs for Hoosiers. We have seen tremendous growth in technology transfer with hundreds of patent applications, patents, invention disclosures, and intellectual property licenses.

Indiana University's new medical education centers in South Bend and Fort Wayne along with business incubators and tech parks in Kokomo, Richmond, and New Albany demonstrate the impressive depth and breadth of IU's institutional impact across the state.

But we cannot stand still. Our newest economic development initiative, unveiled today, is called Innovate Indiana. It will consolidate all of the university's economic development activities and in turn provide a single point of contact for our partners. It will invest in and coordinate IU's economic development activities across the state. It will re-invigorate our efforts to turn the innovations of our faculty into new products, services, and treatments, and will help better connect the business community in Indiana, the nation and the world to IU.

The first major initiative under Innovate Indiana will be the construction of a new Indiana University incubator facility in Bloomington at 10th and the Bypass. We will also explore the possibility of a further facility in Indianapolis, as I described a moment ago.


The renewed energy we will bring to our statewide engagement will be matched by the energy that animates our glorious tradition in the arts and humanities. That tradition is based first and foremost on the eminence of our outstanding scholars. From language and literature, to the fine and performing arts, they have established IU's programs as among the finest in the world. They have also contributed immeasurably to providing a true liberal education to generations of IU students.

It is our intention to build on this remarkable legacy, and to expand even further our ability to pursue research and education in international affairs and foreign languages and cultures in the humanities and social sciences. We will construct a new sorely-needed international studies building at IU Bloomington that will house many of our leading departments, programs, and centers in these areas. This building will also contain major new classroom facilities specially designed to support education in these fields. We will also launch planning for facilities at IUPUI to support IU's international strategy.

IU's reputation in the arts and humanities is also based on the superb facilities, championed by successive IU presidents.

The magnificent Auditorium in which we are now gathered opened in 1941 with the vision and determination of President Bryan and Chancellor Wells. Appropriately, it is the location of tonight's inaugural concert.

Nearby we have the Musical Arts Center, home annually to close to 1000 operas, ballets, symphonic concerts, and other musical events, performed by the students and faculty of IU's peerless Jacobs School of Music.

Behind me is the modern Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center and the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, which—along with the Latino, Asian, and Native American centers—celebrates the rich diversity of American culture and heritage.

Behind you is IU's treasured art museum designed by one of the leading architects of the 20th century I.M. Pei. In another week we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its opening.

Also close by, our libraries are dominated by the massive collection of the Wells Library and the masterpieces of the incomparable Lilly Library.

If we cast our vision even further, we will see the vibrant arts community at the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI, and the regional centers of art and culture at all of our campuses around the state.

Our magnificent facilities serve our communities. They are for the humanist and the artist the equivalent of the laboratories or the supercomputers of the life scientist or the computer scientist.

But there is one art where IU has, for decades, had a superb scholarly reputation but where it has no facilities. This is film. To address this need, we will immediately begin the conversion of the old University Theatre, just yards away from us, into a state of the art facility that will fully support the scholarly study of film in its traditional and modern forms. It will also provide a vital tool for the education of generations of IU students as a venue for the exploration of the humanities, world cultures, and social sciences through the lens of film.

This exploration will draw upon our remarkable cinematic collections including our Black Film Center Archive, the David Bradley Film Collection, and our general library collection, which together contain tens of thousands of items. The conversion of the University Theatre will also allow us to provide additional classroom facilities to support the study of theatre and drama in a renovated backstage area.


Indiana University is a truly international university. President John Ryan described IU as a "University . . . not bounded by campus or national borders. It is to be found where it is needed, where it is welcomed, where its faculty teach and study and serve—indeed where they come from".

Looking beyond Indiana's physical borders, in a flat world, a more uncertain world, and a more competitive world, the best programs in most professions and disciplines will increasingly require a period of study abroad. In turn, students will demand this as part of a world-class education. Already 20% of students at IU Bloomington have studied abroad by the time they have graduated. In the future we will need to support many more IU students studying abroad.

To increase further the number of IU students participating in study abroad programs requires targeted funding and new and expanded relationships with foreign universities.

To find this funding, we must once again turn to our friends and supporters. When I meet with the IU Foundation Board tomorrow morning, I will ask for their assistance in raising a major new endowment to support scholarships for studying abroad by IU undergraduate students. This builds on Ed Hutton's remarkably generous gift, which we celebrated just yesterday. This will also ensure that scholarships are available to allow low income and minority students to participate in these vital opportunities.

The extraordinary economic growth and development in Asia provides rich opportunities to expand and deepen our relationships with the best universities there. Study abroad opportunities at such universities will help prepare our students for the global future and will also serve the interests of the state of Indiana. My first visit abroad as President will be to China next month.

We will also work to strengthen our traditional relationships with universities in Europe, and seek to identify new opportunities in Africa like IU's exceptional Nobel Peace Prize- nominated AMPATH project carried out in collaboration with Kenya's Moi University. We must also look for new opportunities in Central and Latin America, and in the Middle East. We look to our own history of change and renewal as we approach these global horizons.


My theme has been one of the pursuit of academic excellence and the change and renewal in which we must engage to sustain and ensure it.

I accept these challenges with enthusiasm, though I harbor no illusions that they will be easy. I ask every faculty member, staff member, and student, every alumnus and friend of IU, indeed every citizen of Indiana to join me in this pursuit of excellence.

We must re-dedicate ourselves to our core missions of education and research and to our engagement in the future of the State.

As Winston Churchill put it, "We must strive to combine the virtues of wisdom and of daring. We must move forward together, united and inexorable."

I want to conclude, then, by reflecting on our broader purpose, perhaps our deepest purpose.

Imagine a future world where there is abundant and cheap information technology playing a productive part in every aspect of society.

Imagine a world where the promise of the genomic revolution has come to fruition, where fully personalized medicine is a reality and disease and illness have been conquered.

Imagine still further a world where the promise of clean and renewable energy has become a reality, a world where food is plentiful, where the grip of poverty has been broken.

Such a world sounds utopian. But each of these goals is, at root, the aim of all of the researchers in the areas I have mentioned today: the life and health sciences, technology, environmental science, many of the social sciences, and others.

What problems are left, then, with which our scholars can engage?

The deepest problems of them all - the nature of consciousness, of the good, of justice, of truth, of beauty. The profound questions of the great religions. The endless cycle of artistic creation. The deepest questions of mathematics. The nature of scientific laws. And what some philosophers have called the fundamental problem of metaphysics: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

These eternal questions have been confronted by some of the greatest minds of the human race.

They have been the proper preserve of universities since the scholars of Nalanda gathered for study, since the Library at Alexandria saw the likes of Euclid and Archimedes. They are the kinds of questions that universities will try to answer centuries from now; and they are the kinds of questions that the faculty and students of Indiana University try to answer every day. They are questions that form the very heart of a liberal education.

So with one eye on these eternal questions, and with one eye on our weighty duty as a public university, let us move forward together and redouble our efforts to ensure that Indiana University will be one of the greatest universities of the 21st century.