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Limiting research limits IPFW’s chance to attract best faculty


With tenure a faculty member receives the opportunity to teach, study, and serve for the duration of her/his professional career in a community which protects academic freedom, provides adequate material rewards, and encourages intellectual growth. The university, for its part, benefits from the confident and disciplined pursuit of excellence undertaken by tenured faculty.

– From the criteria for tenure and promotion at IPFW

For faculty at IPFW and other regional campuses, it’s a matter of academic freedom. For residents of northeast Indiana, it’s a question of attracting the best-qualified faculty to the region’s only public four-year institution of higher education.

A policy statement adopted recently by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education would limit research “to scholarly activity related to faculty teaching responsibilities and research related to local and regional needs.” But when faculty members at IPFW and the other regional campuses in the state objected, ICHE Commissioner Teresa Lubbers insisted the statement wasn’t meant to limit research to the flagship Indiana and Purdue campuses.

“If it’s the word ‘limit’ that’s causing trouble, we’ll just remove that word and replace it with ‘focus.’ … We didn’t mean to be doing anything substantive in any way,” she told The Journal Gazette’s Julie Crothers.

But words matter. Actions taken by the commission charged with overseeing Indiana’s public universities should be considered substantive. Faculty at IPFW and elsewhere are right to be worried that their academic work and worth is diminished by the commission’s choice of language. The authority to engage in research in their respective fields of study is a cornerstone of academic freedom, a concept that might not carry weight in most fields but is vital in academia.

Academic freedom grants the authority to engage in necessary research. Limiting – or even focusing – research on local and regional needs boxes faculty into a small space. Some disciplines – engineering, for example – might have obvious local applications. But research in mathematics doesn’t easily lend itself to a regional focus. Research restrictions would serve as a disincentive for outstanding faculty to accept a post on a regional campus.

Moreover, important work on national and international topics has been done by faculty here. To cite just a few: Karen L. Ericson of the Department of Chemistry contributed to research on Vitamin B-6 and Type 1 diabetes in young women. Jeffrey J. Malanson of the Department of History has researched and written extensively on presidents in early American history. Associate Professor Nancy Jackson, an expert in music therapy and its application in managing pain and controlling emotions, has presented at international conferences.

More than professional interests are at stake. IPFW must be able to attract the best faculty so it can continue to attract top students.

What biology student wouldn’t want to study under Professor Frank Paladino, an international expert on marine sea turtles?

No one in northeast Indiana questions IPFW’s record in identifying and meeting local and regional needs. Its Centers for Excellence, in particular, are responsive to the needs of the local economy and workforce, but the region’s largest four-year institution must have the freedom to attract and retain top talent – in both faculty and students – if northeast Indiana is to thrive. The Commission for Higher Education must offer unequivocal support for academic freedom here and at regional campuses across the state.