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Indiana University Northwest

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Chancellor William J. Lowe's Installation Address

Lowe Installation Speech


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Emily Banas
Office of Marketing & Communications

Charles Sheid
Office of Marketing & Communications

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Good afternoon and thank you, President McRobbie and members of the Board of Trustees, for the opportunity to serve as Chancellor of Indiana University Northwest.  I am grateful for the trust and confidence that this appointment represents and I embrace the responsibilities that come with it.  It is an honor to represent the academic traditions and service commitments of Indiana University in Northwest Indiana.

Sincerest thanks, also, to the many distinguished guests with us on campus today, from Northwest Indiana and Indiana University, and I am both thankful and humbled by the many people who wanted to be part of this important day in the life of IU Northwest.  There are family members to acknowledge, beginning with my wife, Pamela, my daughter Siobhan and her husband Jeff and my four brothers who all made their way from New York to be here today (John, Tom, Bob and Ed).  When I was calling round to my brothers last March about accepting the position, I think that they all made a similar remark.  Both our parents passed away in the last several years and they reminded me that Mom and Dad, who were deeply committed to education and learning, would have been very proud and happy today.

I must also acknowledge my friends and former colleagues from Metropolitan State University, University of Detroit Mercy and Chicago State University for being with Pamela and me today.  Many thanks also to everyone who worked so hard to plan and prepare this day for us: the campus Installation Committee (particularly the co-chairs, Dr. George Bodmer and Kathy Malone); Robin Roy Gress for her indispensible support in Bloomington; and all of those who converted our gymnasium into an auditorium. Thank you, all, for joining our IU Northwest community today.  It is a privilege to welcome you.

The occasion of a formal Installation does, of course, confirm somebody in a new job, but it should also be a threshold for reflection and reaffirmation, for our campus and the many constituencies who support us in the larger Northwest Indiana community.  It brings to mind something that I learned from my relationship with Trinity College, Dublin: that, as members of the College, we are all stewards (trustees, if you like) for that for which the college stands: its heritage, its academic values and, of course, its future.  I am very proud to serve as Chancellor at IU Northwest and I accept this role in behalf of our entire campus community.  We are committed to the “Principles of Excellence” that President McRobbie has framed, which is how we deliver on Indiana University’s promise to the people of Northwest Indiana of a superb, successful academic experience.  Nothing else will do and, in these first few months, I have enjoyed getting to know the colleagues who are essential to making our Mission, Vision and values a reality for our students and other constituents every day.

I have had a long career in the cities of the post-industrial north of this country and Pamela and I are very much enjoying living in the region and meeting our new colleagues and friends.  The welcome has been nothing short of wonderful and we are glad to be accepted as Hoosiers. We prefer life in urban environments that are diverse, exciting and culturally- and artistically-rich.  The future of cities and their urban-and-suburban regions matters to us because it is in our urban areas that we get a very clear view of the complexities and challenges in our future.  So it makes a difference that IU Northwest is not only a campus located in a city but a campus with an urban mission and agenda.  Pamela and I regularly remark to each other that we already feel like this is a community in which we belong.

It is energizing to meet this diverse region on campus every day among our students.  IU Northwest and its students tell us a great deal about the future of comprehensive higher learning in the Twenty-First Century.  The diversity of our students, across many dimensions, makes us distinctive, even among Indiana University regional campuses:

  • Just more than two-thirds of our students are women.
  • Almost 75% are considered underrepresented in higher education.
  • More than 40% are students of color.
  • The average age of an IU Northwest student is 26.7 years, which suggests significant numbers of “adult” learners.

But several other figures, perhaps, tell us even more about our learners.

  • Nearly 30% of undergraduates are transfer students.
  • 40% of our students attend part-time.
  • And more than 85% of our students report that they hold jobs.

These figures tell us that adulthood does not have much to do with a particular age anymore and we must have a broader, more adaptable understanding of who are our “adult learners”.  It is the demands of career, family and other “adult” responsibilities, commitments and opportunities that define adult life and, increasingly, affect the academic careers of our students, whatever their ages.   Highly-motivated, hard-working adult learners may be mid-career professionals or recent high-school graduates who must work to make their college attendance possible and, very often, fulfill other family responsibilities.  We must recognize the ways in which our students, particularly those at a campus such as IU Northwest, occupy significant adult roles.

Now, my own experience as a college student does not appear to have much in common with that of so many of our IU Northwest students.  But I had an early experience of a dedicated, successful adult learner, before it was popular or profitable.  My Dad started college at the City University of New York five years before I went off to Michigan State.  He enrolled for one course at a time and Dad, my brothers (John and Tom) and me were all in college at the same time.  Dad finished his Master’s degree, for which he insisted on writing a thesis, the year after my Ph.D. was conferred.  Of course, Dad would have fallen afoul of the six-year degree-completion standard.  But he was persistence-to-degree-completion personified and a proud, accomplished graduate of City University.  We will always be very proud of him.

Stories like my Dad’s and those of the students I have met over the years help to explain why it is so important to be sure that we measure and account for their academic accomplishments in adaptable and authentic ways.  We need measures that tell the whole story about our students because younger and returning “adults” will and must be an ever-larger proportion of the students we serve.

Other experiences, such as my time at Metropolitan State, give me a strong sense of connection to IU Northwest.  A couple of brief stories help to make the point about IU Northwest’s distinctive mission and role and should sound familiar here.  A colleague at Metropolitan State, Professor Monte Bute, is a relentless sociologist who wrote a letter to one of his students that found its way into a Twin Cities newspaper.  The correspondence was sparked by a class discussion of why some college students attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities or Macalester College (or IU Bloomington) and others enroll at Metropolitan State (or IU Northwest).  Monte talks about the different life circumstances that get in the way of students either immediately attending a residential university or being able to stay there to complete their degrees, circumstances that have little to do with their potential for academic or career success.  To Monte, it is disrespectful to do anything but set the academic bar high and recognize that our students “deserve excellence in teaching and high standards for learning as well”.  The message for us in Northwest Indiana is that the excellent teaching and student learning that define the high quality of the Indiana University academic experience must be the same everywhere in the University.  As President McRobbie recently reminded us, Indiana University students represent and learn from many examples of excellence among them.

One of our Community Faculty colleagues at Metropolitan State (Erik Larson, whose day job is teaching at Macalester College), wrote about what he admired at Metropolitan State, “which might be best described as knowing one’s students and aiming just a bit higher (while discreetly giving them the boost to help their grasp catch up to their reach)”.  That is one of the best definitions of what it means to be student-centered that I have encountered and the meaning will be clear to our faculty of teaching scholars and all the other IU Northwest colleagues who work so hard to create a successful academic experience for our students.  These stories put specifics around our Mission, Vision and values.  And talking with IU Northwest graduates, I find that our commitment to their success elicits the same word that I often heard from Metropolitan State alumni.  They describe their IU Northwest experience as transforming, which is what it looks like when we are responding to Monte Bute’s challenge and fulfilling our Mission, to deliver Indiana University’s high-quality learning and outcomes.

Historians write about change and these stories mark cumulative changes that have been in motion (if, sometimes, inconspicuously) over time, will continue and probably accelerate.  IU Northwest is a good place to assess the implications for Twenty-First-Century comprehensive higher education because the changes are here with us now.  A regional campus such as IU Northwest is a prime example of Indiana University’s already impressive capacity to respond to these changes.  As a historian, it is exciting to be both an observer and participant.  By embracing our regional Mission and role, we substantively engage the futures of comprehensive higher education and Northwest Indiana.  So it makes a difference that those of us at IU Northwest know why we are here and love what we know.

Another reality for our students and their families is that, even though Indiana University tuition continues to be very affordable, our students have high levels of financial need.  The most recent figures show that more than two-thirds of our students take out loans and the awards of Federal, need-based Pell grants have doubled, as our enrollments have grown.  So private giving to support scholarship funds must be a high priority.  Pamela and I want to do our part and, today, we are endowing a $25,000 scholarship fund, our first scholarship here at IU Northwest, to support our students’ academic success and we encourage other friends of our campus to join us, through their own scholarship gifts that enable our students to achieve their academic goals.

The pressures that affect our students and how they mold the academic experience to their needs reflect the larger environment.  Particularly in these difficult economic times, there is great concern about preparation for postgraduate employment, among students, their families, employers and the State of Indiana.  IU Northwest’s programs certainly serve that purpose: through our accredited School of Business & Economics, the health and public service professions served by our College of Health and Human Services (enhanced in innovative ways by the forward-looking partnership with the IU School of Medicine-Northwest Center on our campus) and the School of Education.  We also have strong fine and performing arts programs that provide versatile career preparation and support IU Northwest’s leadership in the vibrant cultural life of the region.  But Indiana University does more than that here.  Vice President John Applegate’s regional campus Blueprint calls for a “modern liberal education”, which is consistent with Indiana University’s Mission commitment to degree programs that are firmly grounded in the arts and sciences disciplines that underwrite the more specific skills and knowledge of the professions.  Liberal learning furnishes the skills and perspective that enable Indiana University graduates to navigate life’s transitions, think innovatively, reason ethically and provide leadership in a professional world that demands adaptability, imagination and the ability to learn continuously (and quickly).  Liberal learning also equips us to live rich, satisfying adult lives, including our roles as informed, engaged citizens.  IU Northwest’s commitment to that “modern liberal education” is embedded in our Mission, academic values and programs.

These reflections about our students and our academic programs share the common theme that changes of many kinds make up a permanent feature of the social, economic, political and cultural landscape in which we all live and work.  It is hard to think of a time when planning, for any organization, has been more important or challenging.  2010 also signals the beginning of the next planning cycle for IU Northwest, when we think together, as a campus community, about anticipating and responding successfully to often-dynamic change.  As we begin the planning process, we are confronted with important questions about growth and investments that, in President McRobbie’s words, “protect and strengthen the academic core” that is the basis for delivering on the University’s academic promise in Northwest Indiana.  We will also be aligned with the University’s “Principles of Excellence” and the Blueprint process that recognizes the regional campuses as a distinctive and integral component of IU’s statewide role.

The first part of our planning exercise will be a survey and scan that includes campus colleagues, members of the larger Northwest Indiana community and that critical group of friends and supporters who, in a real sense, are both an internal and external constituency, our alumni.  We want to know what these stakeholders think about the major trends that will affect IU Northwest and the implications for planning and priority-setting.   A priority that I brought with me is a commitment to community and civic engagement.  IU Northwest has, over the last half-century, developed deep community-based connections that demonstrate that the campus is a critical part of the future of Northwest Indiana and the City of Gary.  But I have learned very quickly that the expectations and the needs in our region for even greater engagement are very high.  The recent State of the Workforce Report by the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board points up the range of demographic and economic stresses that are shared by Northwest Indiana communities, particularly in the urban-industrial communities of Northern Lake County.

In the regional setting, IU Northwest is important as a thriving campus and point of access to the Indiana University academic experience.  A colleague at Metropolitan State and Gary native who grew up near the campus, Dr. Daryl Parks, describes IU Northwest as a “lighthouse”.  But we also bring intellectual and human resources (including our students) to the task of building Northwest Indiana’s future. I am very serious about my commitment to community-based engagement and I think that my IU Northwest colleagues are too.  We commissioned focused research this past summer, to better understand community-based interests and how we can respond. A discussion based on those findings in a “Campus-Community Conversation” is an integral part of today’s events, with the help of the chief investigator, Mr. Jeff Johnson.  We understand that the only basis for community-based engagement is true partnership, where all participants join as equals and everyone’s interests and contributions are respected.  Also, the very high expectations for IU Northwest among current and potential community partners make it critical that community-based engagement be an integral part of campus planning.  We must plan carefully, to be sure that, as a campus, we have the resources and infrastructure to deliver on the commitments that we make.

Northwest Indiana, all of it, is our community and Indiana University and IU Northwest have skin in this game for the long term.  Already, I have met new friends and colleagues throughout the region who are working for a successful future.  And, if, during my visits round the region, I have encountered a common theme about how to collaboratively direct community-based resources, it is the need for all of the players to support the schools. Along with my fellow chancellors and presidents, I serve on the region’s Quality of Life Council and I have quickly come to value the Council’s leadership in encouraging all of our community leaders to think and act regionally and inclusively, to improve Northwest Indiana’s economic, environmental and social future.  It is a necessary approach that I look forward to advancing in every way that I can.

So there is not a shortage of challenges, but I can only be encouraged by the enthusiasm and energy that I have found among campus colleagues and partners in the Northwest Indiana community.  We will work hard and creatively to succeed in this new environment, in behalf of our students and our region.  I am very proud to join my colleagues, on campus and in the community, in this important work.

So thank you, once again, for being with us today at IU Northwest and all the best.