A New Way to Think About IPFW

26 Mar 2017 9:27 PM | Kara Hackett

The last several years, IPFW has been making headlines. There have been protests to save programs like women’s studies; there was the big news about the university’s leadership split, and now the school is getting a new name.

The list goes on and on.

But chances are—unless you’ve been following the stories closely, or talking to someone at IPFW—you might be confused about what’s actually happening and whether it’s good or bad for our region.

So after doing a little digging, interviewing, and piecing together the local news myself, I wanted to give you a framework to think about the changes: what is happening, why some people are upset, and why there is reason for hope (in my opinion).

Of course, how you interpret what I say is up to you. But, theoretically, you can use this to better understand the issues, and make an educated judgment for yourself.

What’s happening

Let’s start with what’s happening.

With all of the news coverage about IPFW, you might assume that things are really going downhill. But that’s not exactly so.

Actually, according to IPFW Director of Public Relations, Kim Wagner, the headlines you see are part of two separate changes: one internal and one external.

The internal change is the result of the USAP, or the University’s Strategic Alignment Process, to eliminate or merge programs that aren’t graduating enough students.

Programs like women’s studies have been moved under different departments (now under political science), and other programs like geosciences have been eliminated completely to help the university save money.

However, these changes are not part of the external change that is now happening with IPFW’s leadership.

“That’s one of the things I try to make really clear to start with,” Wagner said. “There are two separate processes, and it has been causing confusion for people.”

The second, external change that has been in the news recently is IPFW’s split in leadership and its renaming.

This external change is the result the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) study and report mandated by the Indiana General Assembly in 2015.

The Assembly basically ruled that a group of IPFW stakeholders needed to study the university’s governance models, and make recommendations for its future to curb declining enrollment.

The stakeholders group consisted of IU and Purdue trustees, community members and faculty members who met from 2015 to early 2016. Then in January 2016, they presented their recommendations to the university, and they recommended that the university split.

IU decided to take control of the university’s health sciences programs, and Purdue basically took everything else.

“Because IPFW has been a Purdue fiscally managed campus for over 50 years, it was just easier for IU to say we want to focus solely on the health sciences, and let Purdue take over the majority of programming, including humanities,” Wagner said.

So starting July 1, 2018, IPFW will no longer exist. IU will operate a small health sciences satellite in Fort Wayne, and the main IPFW campus will become a Purdue University satellite—one of three Purdue satellites in Indiana.

Wagner said the Fort Wayne university’s name will be decided when the Purdue Board of Trustees votes on April 21st. However, the running favorite in a community survey was Purdue University Fort Wayne. The mascot will still be the Mastodons, and Wagner said the faculty and staff will remain the same; they just might transfer from IU to Purdue and visa versa.

The school is also ensuring current students that they will graduate under the university that they intended to graduate with when they enrolled.

Although there are still a lot of questions, both universities have put together a joint steering committee that is working though the split, piece by piece.

How people feel

When IPFW’s split was first announced, there were many reasonable concerns among students, graduates and the general public.

Purdue isn’t known for its humanities like IU is, so there were questions about why IU didn’t get those programs instead. On top of that, the school is losing 50 years of history by changing its name and leadership, IU donors might not want to fund a school that is now run by Purdue, and the once-hopeful plans for an independent Fort Wayne University are now down the drain.

“Now it’s just another Purdue satellite campus,” was how one IPFW grad put it to me.

But if you step back and consider the potential for Purdue’s Fort Wayne satellite, you might find that the move gives Northeast Indiana some of the distinction that we crave.

A case for hope

If you ask me, hope for IPFW lies in its music department.

Right now, Purdue University is the only Big Ten school that doesn’t have a music degree program, so when IPFW becomes a full-fledged Purdue satellite, students who want music degrees will come to Fort Wayne, potentially funneling young, creative talent into our region.

“It excites me for a lot of reasons,” said Dr. Gregory Jones, IPFW’s department of music chair who will head up the new program. “We will be the only program granting a Purdue music degree for the first time in history, and that’s cool.”

On top of that, Jones sees newfound potential to upgrade IPFW’s Department of Music to a School of Music with its own reputation, no longer in the shadow of IU’s Jacob School of Music. 

“IU is a very well respected brand in music, but we aren’t the Jacobs School; we are our own unity, and I’d like to have our own reputation,” Jones said. “IU definitely didn’t want us getting any bigger or start offering a graduate program because it didn’t want internal competition. Now that we’re part of Purdue, we’re not competing against ourselves anymore, and I consider that to mean that there are more opportunities.”

John O’Connell, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, said three things need to happen for the future Purdue Department of Music to become a School of Music. It needs more tenured faculty, expanded facilities and a graduate program. The first goal is a graduate program.

To get there, Jones sees opportunities for community funding as well as leveraging the department’s current connections with regional assets like Sweetwater Sound and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

If Purdue University Fort Wayne can make a name for itself in the world of music (and not just ride on IU’s reputation), then it might be a good thing that IPFW split up after all. And since the split is a done deal at this point, I say: Let’s accept it, and make it the best we can.

If you truly believe IPFW is a vital regional asset, then consider supporting its music program.


HereSay, in partnership with YLNI, is a bi-weekly blog about our say on what’s happening here.  It is written by YLNI member Kara Hackett, and the opinions are her own. Photo by Matt Thomas. HereSay@ylni.org

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