IU may launch Indy school focused on philanthropy

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Administrators at Indiana University and IUPUI want to create a philanthropy-driven school in Indianapolis, and they might do away with another widely recognized school in the process.

Faculty of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, or SPEA, at IUPUI soon will decide whether to merge with the Center on Philanthropy. The merger would eliminate SPEA on the Indianapolis campus and replace it with a new school of public service.

Patrick Rooney Rooney

“Once it is launched, the new school will immediately become a strong and recognized center of excellence on the IUPUI campus,” according to a proposal from SPEA’s deans and Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy.

The new school would combine SPEA-IUPUI’s roughly 900 students with the Center on Philanthropy’s $66.5 million endowment. (The Center on Philanthropy would become part of that new school, and SPEA in Bloomington would remain in place.)

The result, proponents hope, would be a highly ranked and unique academic institution at IUPUI.

But the prospect of erasing SPEA from the local campus doesn’t sit well with everyone.

“I think the SPEA brand is a valuable brand,” said Samuel Nunn, a professor and director of the Center for Criminal Justice Research at SPEA in Indianapolis

Nunn said SPEA’s national reputation was solid when he entered academia in the late 1980s, and it continues to help his program land research contracts.

The merger would not eliminate any teaching or staff positions, according to the proposal.

In fact, the new school would count on significant growth in enrollment and private support. The proposal contemplates that, within five years, the school would land a major naming-rights gift and create endowed chairs and degree programs, especially at the doctoral level.

philanthropy tableStartup costs from the university would be about $1 million, according to the proposal.

Twenty-two voting members of SPEA’s local faculty were expected to settle on ballot language and a voting date by Feb. 24. Faculty approval would be the first of many steps, which ultimately end with the Commission on Higher Education. The soonest the new school could launch is 2013.

Momentum building

Even if SPEA professors kill the current proposal, the idea of creating a school around philanthropy at IUPUI is gathering steam.

“The time is right to establish a School of Philanthropic Studies at IUPUI,” Chancellor Charles Bantz said in an e-mail relayed by a spokesman. (Bantz was out of town and not available for an interview.)

“As a world leader, it will provide invaluable education, research and service for the public service organizations that play a vital role in meeting critical needs locally, across the state and throughout the world,” the e-mail said.

The Center on Philanthropy, founded in 1987, currently operates as a research center under the School of Liberal Arts.

The center produces the widely cited Giving USA study, and it has trained thousands of fundraising professionals. It also created the world’s only philanthropic studies doctoral program, which is awarded by the School of Liberal Arts.

The center’s financial clout grew considerably in 2006, when Lilly Endowment granted $40 million for its endowment.

Eugene Tempel, the center’s former director and current president of the IU Foundation, began pushing to turn the center into a free-standing school more than a decade ago. IU President Michael McRobbie listed a philanthropy school as one of IU’s new initiatives during his state-of-the-university speech in September.

Rooney declined to be interviewed, but he said in an e-mailed statement that a new school that builds on the center’s expertise would “represent a natural next step.”

The university is creating other new institutions, including a School of International Studies in Bloomington and schools of public health in Bloomington and Indianapolis.

At the same time, state budget cuts and practical limits on tuition hikes mean IU has to become more efficient. The Center on Philanthropy would probably be too small to justify the administrative overhead of a full-fledged school, unless it’s married with other programs.

Nunn thinks that’s a driving force in the merger proposal.

“I think the university administration’s pushing this idea because they’re interested in eliminating small schools,” he said.

SPEA is also a relative lightweight on the IUPUI campus. Its budget is projected at $9 million for 2011-2012, making it larger than the schools of social work and education but far smaller than business and nursing.

Merged with the Center on Philanthropy, SPEA would be a medium-size school with a budget of $16 million.

Enhancing stature

College-rankings publishers view SPEA in Bloomington and at IUPUI as separate entities, and “nonprofit management” is the one specialty that ranks highly on both campuses.

SPEA in Bloomington ties with Harvard University for the No. 2 public affairs school in the country in U.S. News and World Report’s ranking. The nonprofit management specialty was No. 1.

SPEA at IUPUI ranked 45th overall, but its nonprofit management specialty is third in the country. In fact, nonprofit management is the highest-ranked program on the IUPUI campus, the merger proposal points out.

Graham Graham

The merger, which university administrators refer to as a “concept,” has been under scrutiny since last fall. SPEA Dean John Graham declined to talk about its implications for the two campuses, saying he didn’t want to be seen as advocating a position.

“The decision really is in the hands of the faculty,” Graham said.

If the merger doesn’t go forward, SPEA’s nonprofit management faculty, who already work closely with the Center on Philanthropy, could migrate to a new school, anyway, said Sheila Kennedy, director of public affairs programs at SPEA-IUPUI.

The merger might be the best way to prevent future bleeding, she said. “The decision facing SPEA is not status quo versus something new.”•

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