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Last modified: Monday, April 28, 2008

McRobbie proud of first year as IU president

Bloomington Herald-Times
By James Boyd
April 28, 2008

It has been a busy year for Michael McRobbie.

This time next week, he will officially have survived his first academic year as president of Indiana University.

Looking back on a year that saw him propose several ambitious goals and projects, all while contending with what seemed to be an unending stream of athletics-related issues, McRobbie said Friday he was proud of where IU was, and where it was going.

Speaking on WFIU's "Noon Edition," McRobbie said the university is in the midst of some major construction projects, more of which will appear on the agenda at this week's Board of Trustees meeting.

"I outlined a pretty ambitious and aggressive agenda in my inaugural speech, and most, if not all, we've started to take action on," he said.

That includes the continued construction of several new academic buildings, in addition to the new music practice facility that will be paid for through a $44 million gift to the Jacobs School of Music via the Lilly Endowment.

In terms of arts and humanities projects, McRobbie said the university is making a nearly $100 million investment in IU's infrastructure.

"That's the biggest single investment in the arts and humanities for at least the last 50 years," he said.

From a guy whose background is more in microchips than Monets, McRobbie said he was an ardent supporter of moving IU's arts programs forward.

"I'm a science guy who goes to the opera and is an ardent book collector," he said.

Several questions focused on McRobbie's stance on sustainability. Following the release of a report from the IU Sustainability Task Force, some of the radio program callers wanted to know when the president would begin looking at implementing its recommendations.

McRobbie said it was important to not have a knee-jerk reaction but, rather, to have a well thought out, long-term solution that could lead to a more sustainable campus. He said this summer will be an opportune time to begin approaching the situation.

"Over the longer term, we'll start to address that," he said. "Most everyone understands that the model for parking and transportation that may have worked 40 years ago may need a serious overhaul."

He said he's asked IU's new master planner, David King, to begin addressing those issues.

One caller asked McRobbie his position on potentially restricting the use of cars on campus by underclassmen.

The president said he didn't want to get into specifics just yet.

McRobbie did say the Matching the Promise campaign is now at more than 80 percent of its $1 billion fundraising goal.

Within the next three years, he said, the university should be able to easily meet its goal. That money will go to providing scholarship and financial aid to lower-income students.

And what would a year-end review be without mentioning former IU's men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson?

McRobbie said the fiascos centered around the athletic department took up too much of his time and attention.

"First, Coach Hep passed away, and then we had to deal with the appointment of a new football coach," he said.

"That took a lot of time. I didn't think I'd have to be dealing with so much so quickly. Then you had the situation with our basketball program, which led to Coach (Kelvin) Sampson's resignation and the appointment of Coach (Tom) Crean. I hope we'll move into an era of stability in athletics."

What did he learn during that time?

"It brought home to me how essential it is for the athletic department to be a full part of the university and integrated into the university's priorities," he said. "The other thing it's reinforced is that we have to look upon all of our student-athletes as being that, student-athletes. They're here to get an education. The academic side of what they do is paramount, and we must never forget that."

McRobbie's agenda for the summer includes, as he put it, a lot of meetings and trips.

There's the vacation thing, too. He hopes to get away for at least a few days -- if not longer -- for some time off.

On the agenda for the next school year is a focus on sustainability and the potential to reduce health care costs for the thousands of university staff and employees.

McRobbie said he's eager to work with Clarian Health -- an IU offshoot -- to provide quality health care at reduced costs.

He said he's put the idea of creating an IU health clinic on hold.

"My view is that we can do that a lot better in a more efficient way," he said.