Excellence in an Evolving Environment

Alliance of Distinguished and Titled Professors Recognition Dinner
IU Bloomington
Tudor Room
Indiana Memorial Union
Bloomington, Indiana
October 3, 2011


Thank you, Mike. First, I would like to introduce my wife, Laurie Burns McRobbie. I would also like to recognize Chancellor Charles Bantz who is here this evening and Provost Karen Hanson’s husband, Professor Dennis Senchuk.

It is really a great pleasure to be here this evening for this annual event to celebrate the university’s finest faculty.  Let me thank both Mike Grossberg and John Nurnberger for their leadership of the Alliance.  Would you help me thank them both? I am also pleased to congratulate the newest members of the Alliance, and I look forward to their presentations later this evening.

Let me also add my welcome to Trustee Phil Eskew and Frankie Besch, who are with us this evening. I would also like to welcome former trustee P.A. Mack.  Would you help me greet them?

Tribute to John Ryan

At this Alliance dinner two years ago, we paid tribute to IU’s 16th President Myles Brand, honoring his great contributions to Indiana University and to higher education in general. 

Tonight we honor the memory of IU’s 14th President John Ryan, who passed away in early August.  An honorary member of this Alliance, John Ryan played a pivotal role in the growth and development of Indiana University and was a major figure in higher education nationally and internationally for more than half a century.

During his 16 years as president, he oversaw the establishment of regional campuses in Richmond and New Albany, and the creation of a number of new schools including the School for Public and Environmental Affairs, the School of Journalism, and the School of Optometry. The cultural life of the university expanded dramatically during his tenure with the addition of the Black Culture Center, the Latino Culture Center, and the addition of the magnificent new home for the IU Art Museum, designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1981.

But John also had a broader vision for the university, seeing the possibilities for IU as a great state university operating on an international stage at a time when few others were thinking in such terms. He was instrumental in formalizing IU's Office for International Affairs and under his leadership the university forged important relationships in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. It is testimony to the deep institutional and personal connections he forged around the world that colleagues from as far away as Turkey and Poland responded with tributes to him when he passed away.

I, too, enjoyed John's friendship and appreciated his wise counsel over the years. We spoke regularly about university issues, and I considered him a trusted friend. 

Indiana University has lost a visionary leader and great friend with the passing of Dr. John Ryan. He will be deeply missed.

Continuing Progress

The vigorous progress that the university experienced during President Ryan’s tenure continues today in the superb research taking place across the university.

For the first time in IU history, expenditures on research at IU—performed by you, our most outstanding faculty, and supported over recent years by record amounts of grants—have exceeded the $500 million mark in a single fiscal year. This figure represents, incidentally, an economic impact of over a billion dollars in the state of Indiana and thousands of jobs. Not only am I grateful for all that you have done to make such productivity possible, but the entire university community is as well.   

I have had the privilege over the past year to honor some of our finest researchers across the university.  In March, I awarded the President’s Medal to Renato Dulbecco at a private ceremony in California. Dr. Dulbecco received the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research that he conducted at Indiana University. This past April, I had the honor of awarding that same medal to Distinguished Professor of Physics Robert Pollock at the rededication of the Integrated Science and Technology Hall at the cyclotron facility. In early September, I awarded the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion to acclaimed Indian economist Narendra Jadhav, who earned his doctorate in economics from IU and currently serves on the National Planning Commission, the nation’s top policy-oriented think tank chaired by the prime minister. And just last month, I was delighted to recognize Distinguished Professors John Preer and T.K. Li with President’s Medals for their remarkable contributions to Indiana University and to their discipline.

As I mentioned last year, I continue to believe very strongly that more IU
faculty—faculty who have gained national and international prominence in their fields—deserve to be elected to the nation’s and world’s most prestigious academies and societies, and that more must be done to nominate them for such honors. Let me continue to encourage Alliance leadership and the Alliance steering committee to devise ways to continue to increase our national and international prominence through a coordinated effort of nominations to such prestigious academic societies. I look forward to further progress in this area. Some may dismiss these accolades as self-serving or rankings-driven, but such recognition demonstrates and confirms the high esteem in which our outstanding scholars are held by their peers here at the university, across the country, and around the world.

It is one of the glories of American higher education that outstanding scholars, individuals like you who have made an intellectual mark on the whole of their disciplines, have found an academic home in large state universities. These public universities—of which IU is a superb example—make the very best education accessible to students on a scale seen nowhere else in the world, and they are the engines of some of the best research in the world. This, as I said, one of the glories of public higher education in the United States, but it can also be a paradox. 

What it Means to be a Public University

In my State of the University address last week, I focused, in part, on what it means to be a public university in an era of declining revenue from the state.  As you know, universities across the country are facing this question and answering it in a number of different ways.  Part of our answer has been operating with greater efficiency across the university,  part of it is clarifying and focusing on core missions; and part of it will be uncovering new sources of revenue to meet the changing needs of the state.

Another vital aspect of our answer must be to reimagine this university for the 21st century.  I have asked people, if you were given $3 billion and charged with designing a university that offers today’s faculty and students the pedagogy, technology, and facilities they need for success in research and education, would it look like the Indiana University we have today?  The honest answer is no.  The academic structures we have reflect, at least in part, the accreted wisdom of many generations. We must embrace the changing needs of students and faculty in an increasingly globalized world, with opportunities, competition, and expectations that simply did not confront previous generations.

In this spirit, as you know, last year I commissioned the New Academic Directions report for the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses. Together with university reports on online education and benchmarking, and campus reports on teaching and learning, these take on the essential task of looking to the future. The recommendations in these reports have my broad support, as well as that of the Board of Trustees.

Much is underway; much is being considered. Just as I charged the committees I established last year to produce these reports to be bold in their thinking, I have asked all involved to look beyond what works now or what is familiar or what is convenient, and instead look towards what will make IU stronger in the future. This will be an inclusive and deliberative process. It will not always be easy, and it will not always be comfortable, but it is necessary.

I am not one who believes in change for its own sake. Our commitment to the value of the education and research we produce at Indiana University will never waver.  Our commitment to the academic standards that have been a hallmark of this university will never waver.  And our commitment to academic freedom will never waver.  These commitments are our enduring strength.  But we live in exceptionally challenging times, and the technologies, academic and administrative structures, and processes that served us well in the past will not necessarily serve us well in the future.


In my address last week, I asked what makes IU different.  Now, and for the past nearly two hundred years, the answer to that question is you.

You, our most distinguished faculty, are the reason over a half-million students accomplished what they did.  Hours with you in the classroom, the lab, on stage, in the practice room, transformed them into the leaders that they ultimately became. The knowledge that you create has transformed our society by generating new industries, improving public health, raising our standard of living, enriching our cultural lives, and improving society and the world in multiple ways. And the impact of your research and education is not confined within one state’s borders.  As Indiana benefits, so does the nation and often the world.

You—our most distinguished faculty—make this university great.

Thank you very much.