Student success, academic transformation, global engagement mark the years of IU's 18th president

When Indiana University's 18th president retires at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Michael A. McRobbie will be one of the longest-serving presidents in the university's 200-year history -- and one of the longest-serving presidents of a public higher education institution in the country. When his term ends, McRobbie will have led IU through 14 years of academic transformation, innovative research, international expansion, strengthened diversity and the uncertainty of a pandemic. He will also have served in senior positions for 24 years -- over a third of his life.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie during his inaugruation ceremony in 2007.    Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Under McRobbie's leadership, IU has better positioned its students for the 21st century through the creation of 10 new schools in areas of vital national importance, and that meet the key health and economic development needs of the state:

  • the School of Public Health-Bloomington
  • the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI
  • the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at IU Bloomington
  • the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI
  • the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at IU Bloomington
  • the School of Health and Human Sciences at IUPUI
  • The Media School at IU Bloomington
  • two Schools of Education, one in Bloomington and one at IUPUI
  • and the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design at IU Bloomington

This shift in the university's academic landscape is the largest change since the days of IU's 10th president, William Lowe Bryan.

McRobbie has also worked to ensure IU remains highly affordable, accessible and focused on student success. Tuition increases have been below higher education inflation levels the past five years. IU has pioneered path-breaking student financial literacy programs that are national models and have resulted in savings to students of more than $138 million since 2011. The university has also become more accessible, as reflected by record student enrollment at IU Bloomington and on other campuses during McRobbie’s presidency, while greater numbers of students have persisted to graduation, as reflected in record numbers of graduates.  

IU President McRobbie congratulates a student during the 2018 spring commencement ceremony at IUPUI. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

IU has also built on its longstanding reputation for momentous breakthroughs and innovations, in part through the support of record amounts of external funding for research and other activities. With McRobbie's vision, IU made its largest and most ambitious investment in any academic program in its history with Grand Challenges. The program includes the $50 million Responding to the Addictions Crisis initiative, the nation's largest and most comprehensive state-based response to the opioid crisis led by a university. IU has also brought its medical and research excellence to bear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with faculty, staff and students engaged in pioneering research to understand the public health and scientific impacts of the coronavirus as well as its broader societal implications.

McRobbie has ensured that IU's research, expertise, teaching and service reach beyond its campuses. This has been done, in part, through establishing IU Bloomington's Center for Rural Engagement in 2018, which has mobilized more than 4,900 students and engaged more than 12,100 residents with the goal of addressing challenges facing the Hoosier state's rural communities. His leadership has strengthened the partnership between IU and IU Health, through the establishment of the $400 million IU Health Regional Academic Health Center on the Bloomington campus. Working with multiple institutions, IU also played a key role in opening the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences in Evansville. The shared hub for health sciences education has the potential to transform health care in southwestern Indiana and drive economic development in downtown Evansville. 

IU President Michael McRobbie and First Lady Laurie McRobbie wave during parade
President McRobbie handing a box to an IU alum in China
People digging in the dirt with shovels

From top: IU President McRobbie and First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie during the 2016 IU Bloomington Homecoming Parade; McRobbie recognizes the leaders of the IU Alumni Association Beijing Chapter for organizing the IU is Global 2018 Alumni Conference and Reunion; Matt Bailey, Provost Lauren Robel, McRobbie and IU Health CEO Dennis Murphy break ground on the IU Health Bloomington Regional Academic Health Center.   Photos by James Brosher, Ryan PIurek and Eric Rudd; Indiana University

As a native of Australia who became a U.S. citizen while serving as IU president, McRobbie used his international experience to help IU advance its longstanding tradition of global engagement. He led the development of the university's first International Strategic Plan, leading to new partnerships with premier international universities. He also helped establish five IU Global Gateways around the world.

As president, McRobbie has prioritized study abroad for all IU students. Today, about a third of all IU Bloomington students will have had an overseas study experience by the time they have graduated. McRobbie has also made sure that when they are on campus, IU students are exposed to new ideas and people of varying backgrounds. IU's campuses have become more diverse under his leadership, with students of color now making up more than a quarter of the university's total enrollment. McRobbie recently announced immediate actions the university will take to further increase diversity, inclusion and social injustice.

McRobbie oversaw all of the planning for and ultimate historic celebration of the IU Bicentennial. IU’s Bicentennial Year, which began July 1, 2019, was celebrated throughout the most recently completed academic year. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of a number of Bicentennial events and programs, the thousands of events and programs that were held -- including a full slate of events on Jan. 20, 2020, the 200th anniversary of IU’s founding -- demonstrated how IU has served for two centuries as the "people’s university."

"I am honored and grateful to have led IU through its Bicentennial Year, and I am especially thankful to those whose dedicated efforts allowed us to complete most of the activities associated with this historic commemoration and celebration of IU's first 200 years," McRobbie said. "Given the successful conclusion of Bicentennial initiatives, announcing my retirement now will ensure that the IU Board of Trustees will have enough time to commence a search for my successor and identify the right individual to build upon and sustain the extensive gains we have made over the past 13 years."

McRobbie's retirement comes as IU endures one of its greatest challenges in the COVID-19 pandemic. Through his steady leadership, the university built on its longstanding excellence in online education to quickly pivot to virtual learning in the spring, ensuring the health and safety of the IU community. And with the guidance of other university leaders, IU's medical experts, the state and public health officials, McRobbie is working to ensure a safe return to campus for students, faculty and staff this fall through robust safety protocols and testing requirements.

McRobbie will continue to lead IU through an academic year unlike any other, ensuring the university remains in a position of strength as a new leader assumes the role of president in July 2021.