It’s time to elevate IUPUI into the world-class institution it is on the brink of becoming and that Indianapolis needs—and that should start by rethinking the downtown school’s identity.
For years, university and community officials have quietly debated the best road forward for what officially launched in 1969 as a combined Indiana University and Purdue University campus.
IU and Purdue had actually been teaching classes in Indianapolis for decades, but in 1968, then-Mayor Richard Lugar declared that Indianapolis needed a “great state university.”
Since then, IUPUI has grown in acreage, enrollment and status, evolving into—as it describes itself—“Indiana’s premier urban research university.”
But it’s not enough to be “Indiana’s premier” anything.
To grow and thrive, Indianapolis needs a research university that is considered premier nationally. One that attracts the best and brightest faculty and staff and the best and brightest students. One that produces groundbreaking research and patents and spins off startups that create jobs and new opportunities.
That might not be possible as IUPUI, a place with a confusing name and even more confusing identity. A school controlled financially by Indiana University but with Purdue prominently in its name. An institution seen by too many people as a compromise campus.
So should IUPUI be spun off into its own school—Lugar University, as some have suggested?
Should it become solely an IU campus—Indiana University Indianapolis?
Could it become the home of Indiana University, a school with a Bloomington campus?
We’ve heard all of these ideas and more. And we don’t have the right answer. But fortunately, now is a great time to start a serious conversation about IUPUI’s future.
A new IU president, Pamela Whitten, starts on July 1. She comes into the job with fresh eyes but with Big Ten experience, meaning she understands the needs of a school like IU and its potential impact on a state, but she doesn’t carry the baggage that comes from having been in Indiana for decades.
At Purdue, President Mitch Daniels is a former governor who knows the needs of Indiana and Indianapolis as well as anyone. Whitten will likely find no better partner for trying to determine what’s best for the IUPUI campus, even if that means finally removing the Purdue name from a school in which it no longer has much investment.
But that conversation needs to begin quickly—before Whitten becomes entrenched in the status quo or Daniels retires, opening the door to someone who might not understand the needs of the city of Indianapolis so well.
We know change is difficult—and change at universities is particularly hard. There are so many important stakeholders—students, faculty, alumni, donors, public officials and communities.
But we believe Indianapolis needs a stronger university in its downtown—in the seat of Indiana government—to be a catalyst for growth and to help the state and its people prosper. And we think Whitten and Daniels are the leaders to make it happen.•
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