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IUPUI chancellor making his mark on urban campus

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A little more than a year into his term as chancellor of IUPUI, it’s clear Charles Bantz hit the ground running—or skating, as it were.

Observers say Bantz has done an admirable job getting to know the campus and the community, and he’s using that knowledge to make sure their paths remain intertwined.

“He is able to look ahead, to move the university to where it needs to be in the future,” said predecessor Gerald Bepko, now director of the Randall L. Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at IUPUI. “It’s like ice hockey—the best players can skate to where the puck will be. Charles does that. He has really taken hold of all the issues that are likely to bubble up in the chancellor’s office.”

Indeed, the new chancellor appears to have feet big enough to fill the skates Bepko left behind after 17 years in the office. Even as he laced them up, Bantz was lining up in the attack zone.

At his installation ceremony in December, he invoked “the power of two”—symbolic of the universities that form IUPUI—to set some ambitious goals for the urban campus.

If Bantz gets his way, IUPUI will double its impact on the community by the end of the decade, doubling bachelor’s degrees, research funding and civic engagement along the way.

“The commitment is there,” said Bantz, who came to Indianapolis from Wayne State University in Detroit. “We want to improve the quality of life in central Indiana. … We listened to what the needs were, what the strengths of the campus were and tried to project how we could make an even greater contribution.

“It’s a push, but I think we need to push ourselves. That’s what goals are about.”

And IUPUI isn’t exactly starting from scratch. Work started before the chancellor even arrived, since the school’s existing strategy focuses on the same issues.

“He took a pattern of development and some general goals and said, ‘Let’s put together something more concrete so we can stretch ourselves here,’” Bepko explained. “I think that’s good. … That’s what we ought to be doing. When I saw him putting it together, I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”

Results are likely years off, but the effort is already well under way. Small groups spent months working on recommendations for possible strategies and committees are forming now to figure out specific courses of action.

School leaders are trying to answer questions ranging from the simple (how to measure civic engagement, for example) to the substantive (what areas of research to emphasize).

“We’re moving ahead,” Bantz said.

That doesn’t surprise U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker one bit. A member of the search committee that recommended Bantz for the job, she’s pleased with his progress so far.

“He has some wonderfully creative ideas about how to lead the campus and what direction to go,” said Barker, also a member of IUPUI’s board of advisers. “And he brings a very high level of enthusiasm for doing it. Charles is not a caretaker chancellor by any means.

“We said all along we wanted to find the right person for the job. Charles Bantz is the right person.”

After 30 years in higher education—half of that in one leadership position or another—Bantz’s credentials are “extraordinary,” Barker said. But he brings personal strengths to bear as well.

She and others rattle off glowing descriptions of a man who clearly loves what he does: enthusiastic, engaged, articulate, attentive, inspiring, inspired.

“He has stirred up a lot of energy on campus,” said math professor Bart Ng, president of the Faculty Council. “He’s able to see the important issues he needs to deal with … and has a sure sense of where he wants to go.”

“I’m proud to have him as part of the leadership team at the university,” concurred IU President Adam Herbert. “He brings a vast reservoir of professional experience, and I thoroughly enjoy working with him.”

Bantz has made a concerted effort to see and be seen around town, too. He and his wife of 20 years, professor Sandra Petronio, have painted the town red and gold. Among the highlights: a Pacers game, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performance and a trip to Conner Prairie.

A scholar’s life seldom includes as much play as work, Bantz said, but community involvement is part of the job description for the leader of an urban school. His civic commitments already strain his bulging schedule: Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Indiana, Indiana Sports Corp. and Indianapolis Downtown Inc., among others.

“Everything makes sense for me and IUPUI,” Bantz said.

The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Clearly, he understands his role in the community and has accepted it with enthusiasm,” said chamber President John Myrland. “He came in and essentially said, ‘I’m an empty vessel. Fill me up. How can we help?’”

That’s the idea, said Bepko, whose own civic involvement is almost legendary.

“The community expects the chancellor to be engaged, know a lot of people and know what the critical issues are,” Bepko said. “He can use that knowledge to guide the university and think strategically about how it can serve the city and the state.”

Bantz understands.

“There are no great cities without great universities,” he said. “We have to stay connected with the community, with government, with business. … We have such a role in supporting Indiana’s future.”

His grand plans for the university are intended to strengthen that tie.  Since the bulk of IUPUI graduates stay in Indiana, awarding 5,000 bachelor’s degrees a year should make a difference. And increasing research funding to more than $500 million a year could help spur economic development.

Improving civic engagement could have the most obvious impact, as students and faculty do more to apply their lessons and expertise to real-world situations.

“We have this terrific asset and it’s only going to become more valuable,” Myrland said. “What they do is so valuable—not just educating students, but generating ideas, encouraging collaborations. We have such an advantage having IUPUI right here.”

And Bantz is another advantage.

“The future of Indianapolis and the future of IUPUI are intertwined,” said Scott Evenbeck, dean of the University College on the Indianapolis campus. “Leadership is critical. We have to have somebody who can articulate that and find ways to build on it.

“We have always defined ourselves by what we’re going to be, not what we have been, and that is very important. I think Charles is doing a great job keeping us on the right path to being what we need to be.”•
 

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