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Commentary: IPFW should break free from I and P

Where should I go to college?

That was the question I was facing in early 1980 during my senior year at Harding High School. My first choice was Indiana University.

My older brother, whom I looked up to, graduated from there, and I rooted for IU's athletic teams, especially its basketball team.

But there was one obstacle – money. My dad, who didn't finish his college education at Butler University, encouraged me to go to college, but told me I had to pay for it.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have tried harder to obtain some student loans or apply for a scholarship that could have helped get me to Bloomington. I had decent grades.

I also had about $3,000 saved from a summer job I had at the old Lutheran Hospital on Fairfield Avenue.

But instead of pushing my parents to let me attend IU, I chose IPFW.

It's hard to believe now, but in the fall of 1980, one year of full-time classes cost about a thousand bucks at Coliseum Boulevard and Crescent Avenue.

I had the money, at least to start with.

So, I began my journey into higher education, a journey that took much longer than I ever expected. More on that later.

I embraced the Mastodon way of life. No, I didn't go to any frat parties, though they actually existed.

Instead, I did what many, if not most, IPFW students did. I worked – on and off campus.

When I wasn't in class, I was working about a mile down Coliseum Boulevard at the McDonald's across from Glenbrook Square.

I wasn't the most disciplined working student by any stretch. When my Spanish professor told me I got a C the second semester, I was actually somewhat relieved. She gave me that look as if to say I could have done better. And although she was right, I didn't tell her I was often emptying hamburger grease into a receptacle at midnight the night before my 8 a.m. psychology class – a class I had trouble staying awake in, and not because of the prof.

Somehow, I got through it all. But don't get the impression that college life was pure drudgery. I made some good friends and listened to some great professors – Louis Cantor, Cliff Scott, William Klemme and Steve Hollander, just to name a few.

I wrote for the student newspaper, the Communicator, beginning a career in journalism – a career I'm still in today. I was eventually named the Communicator's editor-in-chief, a job that paid well enough that I was able to leave McDonald's.

I eventually graduated with no student loans to pay, but not in four years. I left before finishing school to accept a job at an area newspaper.

When I returned to Fort Wayne to work at The Journal Gazette in the early 1990s, my wife persuaded me to return to IPFW and finish my degree in communications/radio-TV-film. Chancellor Mike Wartell handed me my diploma while my then month-old-son, Joel, slept in my wife's arms during commencement at Memorial Coliseum.

Since then, IPFW has grown in many ways. I've seen many students who would have had no problem getting into the larger, perhaps more prestigious universities choose IPFW. And there has been talk of giving the campus more autonomy.

I know I'm in the minority when I say this, but I've always felt IPFW should someday break away from its parents. Many people tell me they prefer getting an IU or Purdue diploma. Both schools are great institutions of higher learning, but I never felt any connection to Bloomington or West Lafayette while at IPFW.

I actually ended up with a degree from Purdue, but I'm an IU fan. And I felt as much a part of IU as Bob Knight did – after he was fired.

My son is now a sophomore at IU in Bloomington, a place he chose. I'm paying for most of his education, though he'll eventually be paying off some student loans.

In the end, I'm proud of what I accomplished at IPFW, and I hope IPFW will continue to grow and establish its own identity.

Jim Chapman is night city editor at The Journal Gazette, where he has worked as a reporter and editor since 1990. He is also an IPFW graduate.