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Regional Campuses meeting
1 p.m. Wednesday, Room 450 C, IUPUI Campus Center, 420 University Blvd., Indianapolis; webcast at //

The future foretold?

When the General Assembly’s regional campuses study committee meets Wednesday in Indianapolis, area lawmakers hope to focus the discussion on needed governance changes involving IPFW.

But the panel would serve Hoosiers well by addressing a more immediate question: Have decisions about IPFW and other regional campuses already been made behind closed doors?

Specifically, have those decisions been made by a small circle of powerful businessmen? Email conversations revealed by an Associated Press public records request last month paint a disturbing picture of well-connected brokers crafting plans at an upscale Indianapolis restaurant.

Here’s how one described Indiana’s current regional campus system, along with his thoughts on what it should become:

“As to the extension campuses, (1) if they are going to exist, only one school should have them – and that should be IU; (2) they shouldn’t exist – they are a remnant of the 1960s deal between (Purdue President) Fred Hovde and (IU President) Herman Wells and have no place in the present system EXCEPT as a nefarious and quality dragging vehicle for generating local political support for IU and Purdue; and (3) All but the following should be absorbed into the Ivy Tech system: IU SE at New Albany, Purdue Fort Wayne, and IUPUI should become stand-alone universities. At IUPUI, the medical school should remain part of IU, all other graduate programs should go with the new Lugar University, including the law school, informatics, (School of Public and Environmental Affairs), etc.”

The plan could be dismissed as one person’s view except for the fact that the view belongs to Mark Lubbers, husband of Indiana Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers. Mark Lubbers shared his detailed plan in an email sent to Todd Huston, then-chief of staff to state Superintendent Tony Bennett and now a state representative and College Board executive; Mark Miles, now CEO of Hulman & Company; and Al Hubbard, an Indianapolis businessman who served in the administrations of President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush. Their email conversation became public because Huston used his Department of Education email account.

Their communications could be dismissed as harmless posturing, but their ambitious policy discussions already have been fruitful. In another series of email exchanges in 2010, they mapped out a plan for passing a school voucher bill that played out almost to the letter in 2011.

Teresa Lubbers is a member of the Regional Campuses Study Committee and, arguably, the most powerful voice in Indiana higher education policy. Daniels, with ties to each of the four involved in the discussions, now leads Purdue, where policy changes could have profound effects on IPFW and the other regional campuses administered by Purdue-West Lafayette.

As the General Assembly prepares to address governance of its regional campuses, Hoosiers have a right to know who is defining the future of Indiana higher education. Does that future belong to a handful of powerful business interests or to the taxpayers who support it and the students affected?