"Imagine What the Future Holds: The Installation of Michael Harris as Chancellor of IU Kokomo"

Havens Auditorium
IU Kokomo
October 22, 2010

Introduction: Reflection on Kokomo

In 2002, longtime Kokomo resident and reporter for the Kokomo Perspective Tom Hamilton wrote of his hometown:

“Growing up in Kokomo, Indiana, is an experience a person can never forget. . . .  To try and explain the magic of the 1940s and ‘50s would take a genius. . . . Time did not exist and we were sure that things would never change. . . .  We thought the mighty W.H. Turner Co. and Montgomery Ward and the S.S. Kresge five and dime were all here to stay.  . . .  We loved uptown Kokomo and it was ours alone.”1

As we celebrate the installation of Michael Harris as chancellor of the Kokomo campus of Indiana University, it is important to remember how much the City of Firsts has changed over the years and the great love that people have for this special community.

The Power of Education

As much as it has changed, this is a city that has always believed in the power of education. In fact, the first efforts to bring higher education to Kokomo came soon after the city was incorporated in 1855. Over the years, those efforts have included the Indiana Normal School, Howard College, and Kokomo Junior College, which welcomed its first students in 1932, at the heart of the Great Depression.

Starting in 1945, Indiana University officially became part of that effort with the establishment of the IU Extension Center at Kokomo. As with any good story, this one is a bit more complicated than that. IU’s teaching presence in Kokomo actually dates back to 1920 when a visiting professor from IU Bloomington travelled to Kokomo to teach classes through IU’s Extension Division. This division—and IU’s extension centers—ultimately became the regional campuses we know today.

A History of Leadership: IU and the Kokomo Campu

The history of those campuses is a history of leadership and partnership across the university and across the state. That history includes IU Professor Albert Woodburn, who first taught extension classes in Indianapolis, Chicago, and Louisville in the late 1800s. It includes the first director of the Extension Division Professor John J. Pettijohn and directors Robert Cavanaugh and Smith Higgins, a name familiar to many of you. That history also includes the first vice president for regional campuses John Ryan, who later served as IU’s 14th president. And now that history includes John Applegate, who recently accepted the position as vice president for university regional affairs, planning, and policy.

That impressive history of leadership has been equally vital here on the Kokomo campus. In 1945, Virgil Hunt became the first leader of IU’s Extension Center in Kokomo. The story goes that when Mr. Hunt showed up at West Taylor Street to begin his duties one evening, the door was locked, but he found an open window, crawled through it, slept on the sofa, and started work first thing the next day.2  Typically, we do not ask our administrators to go to such lengths.

Smith Higgins led the center in the mid to late 1950s and later helped transform IU’s extension centers into regional campuses.3

Victor Bogle followed as director and actually served as IU Kokomo’s first official chancellor when it became a regional campus in the 1960s.

Chancellors Hugh Thompson and Emita Hill both oversaw periods of dramatic growth for the campus, expanding community and international partnerships. Like her predecessors, Ruth Person led the campus during a period of significant growth, including the dedication of Hunt Hall, a tribute to the campus’ first leader.

And I cannot fail to mention Stuart Green, who so ably provided interim leadership prior to his recent retirement, and whose own career spanned the great period of growth for the Kokomo campus.

All of these leaders, along with countless faculty, staff, and students, transformed this campus into what it is today. They helped build an intellectual community that is a vital part of this civic community. And each one, in different ways, has embraced Tom Hamilton’s idea with which I began: that this town and its history are something all of us should cherish.

Introducing Michael Harris

Today that strong leadership continues as we officially welcome and install Michael Harris as chancellor of the Kokomo campus of Indiana University. Having begun his duties on July 1st of this year, Michael really needs no introduction. He has been a dynamo since day one. In fact, you can see highlights of his first day on YouTube!

But let me take a few moments to share some of Michael’s background and accomplishments.

Michael comes to Indiana University from Kettering University where he served as senior vice president and chief ranking academic officer. His list of achievements there are impressive, ranging from expansion of professional development and international activities to developing new academic programs and strategic planning. Kettering University President Stan Liberty described Michael’s accomplishments at Kettering as “truly remarkable” and praised his effectiveness and skill in building relationships both inside and outside of the academy.4 Of course, we have already seen those skills at work here in Kokomo.

Before his tenure at Kettering, Michael was Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Public Policy at Ferris State University in Michigan, and prior to that, he served as Associate Provost and Professor of Political Science at Eastern Michigan University. One of his former colleagues, who now serves as president of a Minnesota university says of Michael that he “is smart and he works hard. He is courageous and his courage is matched by his integrity. He is passionate about what he does but supremely ‘steady’ in a crisis. His practice is informed by deep study and he offers his best thinking to his peers for critique. His humor and wit are fueled by a well of experience in and with many cultures.”5

That well of experience includes Michael’s early years in South Africa and his time growing up in Israel, about which he will say more in just a moment. Michael earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Israel before coming to Indiana University where, I am proud to say, he earned his doctorate degree in public policy. Vice President for International Affairs Patrick O’Meara actually served as his dissertation advisor.

Michael has received numerous awards for outstanding teaching and for exceptional service to his campus and community. In 2003, he received an honorary doctorate in educational administration from Ave Maria University in Florida. He has presented lectures across the country and around the world on student performance, educational reform, and public policy.

I could continue, but I suspect that Michael himself would advise that we keep our eyes on the future and continue moving forward. So by way of closing, let me turn to the words of someone who represents a tie between the great history of this campus and its future.

Bill Hunt, who is with us today, remembers stories about the challenges his father Virgil faced when he founded the IU Extension Center in Kokomo sixty-five years ago, challenges like the great influx of students funded by the G.I. Bill, and the impending end of the booming wartime economy. Virgil Hunt was challenged to recruit faculty and begin offering classes in only two weeks, and he succeeded.

Bill says, “Michael’s challenges are no less daunting.  By taking on the mission of regional transformation, he has already demonstrated both vision and courage . . . and that IU Kokomo can and must be a driver of that transformation in partnership with all of the educational providers in the region.”6

In just a few words, Bill has captured the energy and spirit of partnership that Michael has already brought to his chancellorship.

Imagine what the future holds.

Source Notes

  1. Hamilton, Thomas D.  Images of America:  Kokomo, Indiana.  Chicago:  Arcadia, 2002.  Page 7.
  2. Richardson, Dow.  Going to College at Home:  Forty Years of Higher Education in Kokomo, 1945-1985.  Manchester, IN:  IU Publications, 1985.  Page 10.
  3. Ibid.  Pages 40-41.
  4. Liberty, Stan.  Recommendation Letter for Michael Harris used with permission.  10 Mar. 2010. 
  5. Potter Earl H.  Recommendation Letter for Michael Harris used with permission.  5 Mar. 2010. 
  6. Hunt, Bill.  Electronic correspondence with R.S. Wood used with permission.  13 Oct. 2010.