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Several current and former university officials talked of changes within the governing structure that could give IPFW more independence, while maintaining the value of diplomas from the state’s two flagship universities.

Officials suggest autonomy, not independence for IPFW

– Those speaking at a legislative study committee Tuesday regarding IPFW’s future seemed to agree that a complete separation from Indiana University and Purdue University would be going too far.

Instead, several current and former university officials talked of changes within the governing structure that could give IPFW more independence, while maintaining the value of diplomas from the state’s two flagship universities.

“There is recognition that quality matters,” said Vic Lechtenberg, acting provost at Purdue University. “Not all institutions are perceived in equal value. It’s very important to earn a degree but it’s also important to recognize that Purdue and IU have franchise value.”

IPFW’s connection to those two universities was the topic before the Select Commission on Education, chaired by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, a 1964 graduate of IPFW.

He said that the IPFW regional campus is sometimes treated as a stepchild and would like to move up to a better status.

IPFW is among the largest public universities in the state with an enrollment this year of nearly 14,000 students.

Purdue University currently provides administrative oversight of the regional IPFW campus with students able to get degrees from both Indiana and Purdue depending on the program.

Local legislators for years have made a case that IPFW doesn’t get adequate funding and support from the main West Lafayette campus.

Tim Sands, acting president of Purdue, said the university had already started an internal review of the regional campuses a few months ago but are holding off on decisions until Gov. Mitch Daniels officially takes office as the next president in January.

New IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein attended the meeting on her first day on the job. She told the group she has experience with five different campus structures during her career. And she said that a major draw for her to take the job was the involvement of both IU and Purdue in the partnership.

Carwein then listened to a lengthy presentation given by her predecessor, Michael Wartell. He was pushed into retirement as IPFW’s chancellor this year after 18 years because he turned 65 and met other stipulations.

He began his comments by saying he wasn’t motivated “by the shabby treatment afforded me by Purdue,” but instead for the students and the community in northeast Indiana.

Wartell spoke of how isolated IPFW is from the Purdue Board of Trustees, saying the chancellor isn’t even allowed to have direct conversations with the board – instead having to go through the president.

He pointed out that no board members have any connection to regional campuses, except maybe for a visit for one meeting once every four years and they turn down many other invitations.

Wartell said that early in his career he believed leaders at the main West Lafayette campus simply were indifferent to the regional campuses.

“Now I think they see regional campuses as competition for shrinking dollars,” he said.

Wartell suggested three structural changes: include graduates of regional campuses on the Purdue Board of Trustees; include board subcommittees for each regional campus; and create a separate chancellor for the West Lafayette campus so the president can act on behalf of the entire university, not the main campus.

Wartell conceded there are pitfalls to making IPFW an independent campus and said he believes structural changes can move IPFW forward.

Andrew Downs, presiding officer of the IPFW Faculty Senate, said he graduated from the campus and his father also was a professor there.

“I’ve been listening to this discussion about independence for a couple decades now,” he said.

Downs suggested several administrative changes that could aid in IPFW’s growth and autonomy. The options included giving the campus the ability to have doctoral programs without going through the West Lafayette campus; allow the chancellor to deal directly with the Board of Trustees; and formalize a process for IPFW to opt out of Purdue policies or rules.

Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, said the discussion “got the ball rolling,” and he thinks legislative efforts to give IPFW more independence will continue in the 2013 session.