Dear Friend of Indiana University:

Another academic year is upon us, bringing with it the attendant excitement and energy associated with our vital mission to educate thousands of students and serve the residents and economy of the state of Indiana.

Approximately 115,000 IU students started classes last week on all eight campuses across the state, on par with recent record highs for enrollment. And while more than three-quarters of our students are residents of Indiana, this year’s student body is nonetheless quite diverse.

IU students hail from each of the state’s 92 counties, as well as from 47 states. Additionally, IU is home to over 8,000 students who traveled to Indiana from one of 116 countries around the globe to receive a truly world-class education.

In Bloomington, we welcomed what is expected to be our largest and most academically accomplished freshman classes (view the move-in video) in the campus’s history. Among the nearly 7,900 freshmen, more than 1,000 were admitted to IU’s Hutton Honors College, while the average high school grade-point average of 3.76 and combined SAT/ACT scores of 1218 are both records.

Important as well, we continue to build the racial diversity of our student body. Minority students represent a record 15 percent of this year’s entering class in Bloomington and 23 percent on our Indianapolis campus.

No summer slowdown

As our campuses once again become a beehive of activity, I am reminded of what has truly become an outdated notion that universities essentially cease operating during the summer months. While the summer does afford the opportunity for many of our faculty and staff to focus on research as well as taking some well-deserved time off to recharge and relax, it is nonetheless a busy time for many as we continuously work to serve our students and the state.

For example, nearly 41,000 students attended class at one of our campuses this past summer. The summer months also are extremely busy from a facilities and infrastructure perspective as we try to make the most out of the relative calm to complete road and construction projects. Perhaps the most obvious signs of that work can be found in Indianapolis, where the new University Hall administrative and academic facility was completed over the summer, and in Bloomington, where our stunning new Global and International Studies Building opened just last week. Work also has been completed on the first phase of an overhaul of the primary academic and administrative building at IU Kokomo, where students, faculty and staff will welcome updated offices and classrooms among other upgrades.

Additionally, two exciting new projects that will change the landscape of the Indianapolis and Bloomington campuses received approval from the Board of Trustees at its most recent meeting this month.

The IU School of Dentistry in Indianapolis, which educates more than three-quarters of the dentists in Indiana, will undergo a $21.6 million expansion that will add 45,000 square feet of much-needed clinical space for the 136-year-old school, whose current facilities date back to the 1930s. The renovations, which are scheduled to be completed in time for the university’s Bicentennial in 2020, will be funded through private and university sources; no taxpayer money will be used.

In Bloomington, design approval has been given for an outdoor amphitheater to be used as a performance space and gathering spot. The project, which was first envisioned decades ago by then-IU President Herman B Wells to be built on the site where the Lilly Library now stands, will take advantage of a beautiful setting on campus just behind the Bryan House and will be designed to incorporate an existing stream and all the trees in the area. This facility, being completely funded by a donor gift, will round out our already outstanding array of performance and creative spaces on the Bloomington campus. With, its completion IU may well be unique among American universities by having superb facilities dedicated to supporting the full range of the performing arts.

Also this month, the IU School of Medicine, which continues to strengthen its statewide reach, received approval from the Trustees for the design of a new medical education facility that promises to transform downtown Evansville. The 150,000-square-foot, four-story facility, which also will house programs offered by the University of Southern Indiana and the University of Evansville, will be an invaluable resource to the residents of southwestern Indiana and northwestern Kentucky by training much-needed physicians and other health care workers, and it will considerably expand IU’s presence in that city.

We are very grateful to the General Assembly for approving nearly $20 million in funding for IU’s portion of this project and are hopeful that the State Budget Committee will release the appropriated funds at its next meeting in October. Should that happen, we are prepared to break ground this fall and anticipate the facility being completed by the end of 2017.

Engineering, School of Art and Design hit key milestones

There were other major developments over the past few months as IU continues to reshape the educational experience our campuses offer to reflect the needs of today’s — and tomorrow’s — global society.

For example, I am extremely pleased to share the news that IU Bloomington will offer its first degree programs in engineering beginning in the fall of 2016. This focused program in intelligent systems engineering will be housed in our outstanding School of Informatics and Computing on the Bloomington campus and will draw upon our considerable strengths in computer-related disciplines as well as in scientific fields such as chemistry, biology, and psychological and brain sciences, among others.

With the start of this program, IU Bloomington fills a void in its academic portfolio; indeed, IU Bloomington is currently the only university among the 62-member Association of American Universities that does not offer engineering. More importantly, the creation of an engineering program fills a demonstrated need in southern Indiana, where leading employers such as Cook Group and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center have a demand for more trained engineers. We are especially appreciative of the support of business leaders across the state, including those at Cook, Crane, Eli Lilly, First Internet Bank and Cummins, who have lent their support to our efforts to create this program and who will serve on an advocacy and advisory board for the program.

The creation of an engineering program is part of the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, which includes fostering a culture of “building and making” as one of eight institutional priorities over the next five years. As part of furthering that goal, I am delighted to report that the IU Board of Trustees has endorsed a proposal to create a School of Art and Design on the Bloomington campus.

The proposed new school, which will be housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, will bring together the courses of study within the departments of studio art and apparel merchandising and interior design. The goal is to combine the campus's strong programs in visual art, design and merchandising in a technology-rich environment that encourages collaboration and interdisciplinary learning and graduate students with skills that are increasingly in demand today. The school will be based next year in historic Kirkwood Hall, which is being renovated as an important component of returning the Old Crescent area of the Bloomington campus to its academic roots.

Reaffirming our leading role in philanthropy and research

The end of our 2015 fiscal year on June 30 brought to a close an extremely successful year for donor support, research funding and economic development for the university. In fact, IU enjoyed one of its best years ever in all three areas, highlighted by our second-best year for external research awards and a record-setting year for patents awarded to IU faculty and IU-supported business start-ups.

The university received $541 million in external funding to support research at IU last fiscal year, which was our best year ever apart from $610 million in 2010 that included a large amount of federal stimulus funding to combat the Great Recession. All our faculty, students and staff who contributed to this outstanding result deserve our heartiest congratulations.

IU was also awarded 183 patents, more than any other university in Indiana. In addition, start-up companies based on IU-licensed technologies received more than $100 million in funding and earned IU nearly $7 million in royalty income.

Our alumni and other outside funders continue to be enormously generous in their support of IU. In fiscal year 2015, IU received $416 million in philanthropic grants and pledges for the year. Indiana University is deeply grateful to all who have contributed so generously in this way to support our vital academic mission in the state and nation.

Strengthening our commitment to controlling student debt

As I have shared in a previous update, the Board of Trustees approved a tuition freeze for Indiana resident undergraduate students in Bloomington for the next two years, while at the same time approving modest tuition increases at other campuses and for other groups of students. This is the latest action we have taken over the past few years to help control costs for our students, of which we should all be proud.

On the topic of student finances, I am also extremely pleased to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to help our students decrease their level of borrowing. Our latest data indicate that student borrowing has fallen by a remarkable $82 million compared to three years ago.

This is a reflection of a broad set of financial student literacy initiatives we have undertaken over that period, including the institution of a student “debt letter” that details borrowing levels and expected payback costs. The debt letter has proven to be a simple but effective tool for helping our students make informed decisions about their borrowing. Our outstanding student financial services team deserves a great deal of credit for this and other efforts to help our students navigate and better manage their finances. I am also proud of the fact that, as a result of our success in this area, all public universities in Indiana will be required to provide similar letters to their students under a state law that took effect in July.

IU welcomes two veteran leaders into new role

I would like to note two administrative leadership changes that took effect this month, both which involve outstanding academics and administrators moving into new roles.

Fred Cate, a distinguished professor at the IU Maurer School of Law and one of the nation’s pre-eminent scholars on cybersecurity and related issues, was named vice president for research, succeeding Jorge Jose, who will return to the faculty as the Rudy Professor of Physics at IU Bloomington, after five years in that role. Fred has been appointed for a two-year term and will focus his work on leading the launch of the university’s Grand Challenges research initiative and conducting an in-depth review of the vice president for research office’s role and responsibilities. Jorge deserves our gratitude for his efforts to help IU increase research funding during his tenure. 

Nasser Paydar began his duties as chancellor of IUPUI two weeks ago after an outstanding tenure as executive vice chancellor at the campus for the past three years and in other senior administrative roles in the university. He succeeds Charles Bantz, who did a marvelous job as chancellor for the past 12 years and who will join the faculty after a well-deserved sabbatical.

I also wanted to take a moment to note the news today from our partners at Indiana University Health that Dan Evans will be stepping down as CEO in the spring, to be succeeded by Dennis Murphy, who is the chief operating officer at the health system. Under Dan’s leadership, IU Health has been a vital partner with the university—particularly the IU School of Medicine—as we continue our work on a shared vision of dramatically improving health outcomes for Hoosiers.

I want to thank Dan for his outstanding work and close collaboration, and congratulate Dennis, an accomplished health administrator who is a superb choice to succeed Dan, on his new role.

Major scientific discovery

Research and scholarship discoveries are made on a regular basis in the laboratories, classrooms and offices across IU. Still, one recent brilliant scientific discovery in paleobotany is worthy of being singled out for praise.

An outstanding team of scientists led by David Dilcher of IU’s Department of Geological Sciences seems to have discovered the earliest form of ancient flowering plant life so far identified—one that emerged about 130 million years ago, hence providing a further key step in understanding the evolution of life on earth.

This finding was published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications, the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. This epochal result has attracted worldwide media attention, including just last weekThe New York Times. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Dilcher and his colleagues on this spectacular result. This is the sort of outstanding achievement one expects from researchers in a world-class university.

As you can see, it was anything but a quiet summer around IU. As a result, we bring great momentum into the new academic year, and I am enthusiastic about both the short- and long-term future of the university.

Our ongoing success would not be possible without the outstanding work done every day by our talented faculty and staff and, of course, the unwavering support of our alumni, partners and friends around the world.

To all of you, I want to express our deepest gratitude on behalf of Indiana University. Here’s to another great year in 2015-2016!

Yours sincerely,

Michael A. McRobbie