President McRobbie

IU must protect investment in its facilities, infrastructure

Note: The following op-ed appeared in the Indianapolis Star on May 27, 2011.

Visitors to all of our Indiana University campuses are always struck by their beauty. The landscaping and the architecture make for a wonderful setting for students to pursue their educational goals.

At IU, we take great pride not only in the beauty of our campuses but also in the remarkable facilities and infrastructure that the state has invested there on behalf of all Hoosiers. However, that investment, like the investment in a home, carries the responsibility to protect it and to keep it safe, functional and in good repair.  These facilities have been entrusted to us and we take very seriously our obligation to maintain them.

As buildings and facilities age, problems and repairs start to accumulate. Roofs need to be replaced, windows need to be sealed, sidewalks and steps need to be repaired, and a host of other upkeep items need to be attended to—as any homeowner understands. To ignore these needs would be unwise and imprudent, because what is not repaired now will have to be repaired later at much greater cost.

On our Bloomington campus, serious problems exist right now with our ability to adequately heat and cool our academic buildings. In addition, many of those buildings are very old, some over 100 years old, and they are in need of structural repairs and maintenance. Classrooms, laboratories, and other research space house expensive, highly technical equipment that must be protected from leaking roofs, temperature variations and other problems.

Across all seven IU campuses, we now have a backlog of needed repair and maintenance projects totaling more than $600 million for our 900 buildings and associated infrastructure. Many of these expenditures are needed to bring our facilities into compliance with new building codes and to ensure their safety for students and faculty.

That is why I have made the difficult decision to recommend to the IU Board of Trustees that we institute a temporary fee to help cover the cost of these projects.

At IU Bloomington, the fee would be $90 per semester, for full-time students in the 2011-12 academic year and $180 the following year. At IUPUI, it would be $80 per full-time student, per semester the first year and $160 the second year. Students at regional campuses would pay $30 per semester the first year and $60 the second year.

Many other colleges and universities are charging similar fees for repairs and maintenance. At IU, we have tried to get by without doing so, but it is no longer possible.

Over the past decade, the legislature has funded only about 20 percent of what the state has determined by formula that IU has needed for such facility maintenance.  The most recent state budget provides no funds at all for this purpose. Yet the need to protect the state’s investment in the buildings and infrastructure at IU remains and we have an obligation to address it.

This new fee, which will be eliminated when the state once again fully funds the formula for repair and maintenance, will provide only two-thirds of the funds IU needs for these repairs. So we are also implementing budget cuts, including last week’s announcement of the elimination of the School of Continuing Studies. And we will also be making prudent use of IU’s financial reserves for this purpose. 

Spending scarce resources on mundane things like repair and maintenance will never win a university president a popularity contest. There are no ribbon cutting ceremonies for a new roof or a replaced heating and cooling system. But it is work that must be done for the safety of today’s students and to ensure that future IU students will have the same outstanding facilities that the state has entrusted to us.