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Construction crews work on the Medical Education Building at IPFW in 2007. IPFW competes with the main Purdue campus for state money.

A more balanced team

Hoosier lawmakers looking for direction on the future of IPFW received two clear, credible messages at a Tuesday legislative committee meeting:

•There is little interest – or value – in separating the regional campus from the parent universities of Indiana and Purdue.

•Steps can be taken to improve relations between IPFW and Purdue – which administers the local campus – that would improve the educational environment.

Members of the Select Committee on Education heard from fellow lawmakers, Purdue officials and others during their hearing Tuesday. The most intriguing comments came from former IPFW Chancellor Michael Wartell, who didn’t mince words in matter-of-factly detailing the strained relations between the Purdue administration in West Lafayette and IPFW. Indeed, Purdue’s “shabby treatment” of Wartell, in the ex-chancellor’s words, spurred Tuesday’s focus on IPFW.

While there had been some earlier discussions about making IPFW an independent university, no one, including Wartell, advocated that move Tuesday. The value of an IU or Purdue degree is greater than one from a University of Fort Wayne.

But the agreement that gives Purdue complete control over IPFW is antiquated. In its earlier days, IPFW was a regional satellite campus, luring mostly non-traditional, commuting students as well as traditional students who would study a year or two locally before moving to the main campus.

Today, IPFW is a thriving campus of 14,000 – the fifth-largest public university in the state, larger than Indiana State University in Terre Haute – with residence halls, Division 1 sports teams and numerous bachelor’s and masters’ degrees.

So when IPFW is ready for a new building, it competes with Purdue, whose officials want that state money spent in West Lafayette, not Fort Wayne. IPFW’s success in adding structures is largely due to Wartell making his case to the area’s legislative delegation, essentially making an end run around the formal process involving Purdue’s requests to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education or State Budget Committee.

Wartell offered three simple suggestions for improving relations: Require some members of the Purdue board of trustees to be from a city with a regional campus, appoint board subcommittees for each regional campus and appoint a chancellor for the main campus answering – like the other chancellors – to the Purdue president. The first two ideas are practical, common-sense moves. Making the Purdue president and West Lafayette chancellor separate positions is an interesting proposal but probably not politically practical.

Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center on Indiana Politics and presiding officer of the IPFW faculty Senate, went into more depth, detailing problems and outlining recommendations.

They include:

•Allow the IPFW chancellor to speak directly to the Purdue board and to present plans for new degrees directly to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

•Recognize the faculty leaders on the regional campuses as part of the Purdue University faculty leadership.

•Include the IU faculty at IPFW when input is sought.

•Let IPFW rather than West Lafayette officials select who represents IPFW on systemwide committees.

Purdue administrators – with Mitch Daniels presiding after Jan. 1 – and the board should examine these and other possible steps to improve IPFW. They may resist giving up any power, but they must also realize that a relatively large university in the state’s second-largest city needs at least some ability to self-direct its operations and its future.