IPFW’s commencement exercises Wednesday night marked a beginning not only for the graduates but also for a regional campus at a pivotal moment in its nearly 50-year history.
Lawmakers preparing to study its role in the state’s higher-education spectrum should hear from northeast Indiana residents of the important role the campus plays both in quality of life here and in the regional economy.
Months of anguish over a budget crisis – exacerbated by state funding that has historically shortchanged the university – were eased in the Indiana General Assembly’s closing hours. Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, secured $4 million for IPFW’s operating budget over the biennium.
The one-time boost doesn’t address the campus’ standing as 14th lowest among 15 state institutions, but it helps in the short run and also stands as a signal that the Senate leader is looking out for the university’s interests.
In addition to Long, IPFW has a champion in Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn. As chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, he is pushing for changes to the governance system controlling IPFW.
After hearings last fall revealed little interest in ending the Purdue and Indiana University affiliations that have allowed IPFW to flourish, Kruse has turned the discussion from independence to changes that will give the regional campus greater control over its development.
In recognition of the upcoming interim study committee and a review of Purdue’s own regional campus system, the Purdue Board of Trustees opted last week to adopt a one-year interim management agreement instead of the usual five-year agreement. The IU trustees are expected to follow their lead in June.
If we started from scratch today and built a regional campus system, what would it look like? Kruse asked of the upcoming interim study. The panel will include not just legislators, but also representatives of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, both flagship universities and the regional campus. A report is due before the legislature reconvenes.
The interim study committee should consider governance changes supporting IPFW’s development and perhaps restructuring to allow for greater authority in establishing degree programs.
With that authority, IPFW could establish a much-needed Doctor of Nursing Practice professional program. It’s a logical step given the university’s partnership with the IU School of Medicine’s Medical Education Center on the Fort Wayne campus.
Other university functions require fine-tuning as well, including a study of promotion and tenure procedures.
The goal should be to make changes that won’t be apparent to students but will expand opportunities for them to advance professionally. Those same opportunities will benefit the region. Northeast Indiana residents should be prepared to weigh in as the next chapter in IPFW’s history is considered.