Contributing to a prosperous and strong Indiana

Dear Friend of Indiana University:

Indiana University’s long-anticipated Bicentennial Year has begun, and this will be my first update of this yearlong IU Bicentennial celebration, which commenced July 1. We are all delighted and look forward to a memorable and historic year.

As you may have heard me say before, a Bicentennial year only happens once in the history of an institution. This is truly a unique time to reflect on all that has made IU such a world-class teaching and research university and the extraordinary impact IU has had — through deep and sustained community engagement — on the people of Indiana, our nation and our world.

In the coming months, all of us at IU — as well as our nearly 700,000 alumni and friends living across the Hoosier state and beyond — will celebrate, chronicle, document and explore all that IU has achieved in its first 200 years. We will also explore and envision what Indiana’s flagship public university might become in its third century.

Even though the fall semester is still a few days away, we have already begun our Bicentennial activities. Indeed, we have wasted little time doing so. To this end, we were pleased to mark the historic occasion by announcing that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb had been awarded the university's inaugural Bicentennial Medal. We are looking forward to awarding many additional medals throughout the upcoming academic year to organizations and individuals associated with IU for exceptionally distinguished personal, professional, artistic and philanthropic accomplishments and to those who have served or supported the university with great distinction.

From left, IU Trustee MaryEllen Kiley Bishop, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, IU President Michael A. McRobbie and IU Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design lecturer Jeeyea Kim during a tour of Luddy Hall, home of the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, at IU Bloomington.  Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

We also paid tribute to the late Elinor "Lin" Ostrom, a pioneering, influential scholar whose life and career brought great distinction to IU, and who would have turned 86 years old this month. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Lin becoming the first woman — and the first political scientist — to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. As part of the IU Bicentennial, Lin's legacy will be honored in a number of permanent ways on our Bloomington campus, including with the commissioning of a statue of Lin, as well as a historical marker that will be dedicated to her and her remarkable career.

We will formally kick off our Bicentennial next month with an exciting collection of programs and activities planned for our 200 Festival. The festival will be followed by several other marquee events, including a special commemoration of IU's 200th anniversary and Martin Luther King Jr. Day across all IU campuses on Jan. 20, 2020; the Indiana Academies Symposium in Indianapolis on April 3-4, 2020, that will bring together the state’s leading academic associations; a Bicentennial Alumni Reunion June 1-6 that will highlight IU’s vast alumni network and the impact they have had locally, regionally and internationally; and a closing Bicentennial Celebration on June 6. You can find information about all of these events — and many more — on the IU Bicentennial website at

As you can see, there is much to look forward to. But the Bicentennial is already off to a rousing start, as reflected by several major summer-time announcements that once again confirm IU's status as one of the leading public research universities in the U.S. They also serve as a powerful measure of how IU continues to contribute extensively to a prosperous and innovative Indiana.

IU: the state's research powerhouse

We recently announced that in fiscal year 2019, IU researchers received a record $680.2 million in external funding for research and other activities. This is the highest total of external grant funding obtained by any research university in the state during the last fiscal year and the highest annual total in IU history.

The previous funding record of $614.1 million was set in FY 2016. This year’s figure is more than 12 percent higher than the total received in FY 2018, which was itself a near-record, and it represents an increase of nearly 45 percent since 2009.

IU received a record $680.2 million in external funding to support research and other activities in fiscal year 2019. Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University

The $680.2 million includes a record $378.1 million in federal grants and contracts, $53.6 million in awards from the National Science Foundation, and nearly $68 million in sponsored funding from industry. It includes a total of $208.3 million in non-governmental grants, which is also an IU record.

Additionally, IU received a record $234.9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the major federal government source of support for health sciences research in the United States. Much of this record funding is for medical research at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis, although important research initiatives are also underway at IU's eight regional medical education and research centers around the state. The university's largest single grant from the NIH, for $44.7 million, is supporting an IU-led, five-year national study of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

In FY 2019, the School of Medicine brought in a total of nearly $434 million in research funding from all sources, up from $355.1 million in the previous fiscal year.

More than 2,800 proposals submitted by IU faculty researchers were successfully funded during this past fiscal year. This number is only slightly below the previous record, set last year.

This is a truly extraordinary accomplishment, one that underscores IU's standing as the state's research powerhouse. It reflects the excellence and importance of IU faculty research in a funding environment that continues to grow increasingly more competitive. It also is testament to the thousands of IU faculty, staff and students who form the teams that develop the university's high-quality research proposals and whose ideas and work are being favorably judged by their peers around the nation and world at a time when only the most promising research proposals are securing support. The outstanding research being conducted by IU faculty, staff and students expands knowledge, drives innovation, creates new industries and jobs, leads to new treatments and cures for illness and disease, spurs economic growth, and supports a high standard of living.

This record success is also a result of the extensive investments IU has made over the last decade in new and renovated facilities, in programs and services that benefit our faculty and students, and, of course, in recruiting excellent new faculty.

I am sure the whole university community will join me in congratulating and thanking all those who helped make this record achievement in sponsored awards possible — including our outstanding research faculty, the research administration staff and the many students, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, who are engaged in research on IU's campuses.

Advancing cancer research

Any discussion about the success of IU's research enterprise — and the extraordinary impact it is having — has to include the university's comprehensive efforts to advance health care in the state of Indiana and around the world.

The IU School of Medicine has been dedicated to the public good in this way for well over a century. And for more than 25 years, the outstanding cancer specialists affiliated with the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center have helped revolutionize cancer research and treatment.

Holding a T-shirt celebrating the IU Simon Cancer Center's comprehensive designation is IU President Michael A. McRobbie, center. Those joining him include cancer survivor Jenny Brown, second from left; Douglas Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, fifth from left; Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett; Patrick Loehrer, director of the IU Simon Cancer Center; U.S. Sen. Todd Young; and IU School of Medicine Dean Jay Hess. Photo by Tim Yates, IU School of Medicine

It was at the Simon Cancer Center that a young Dr. Lawrence Einhorn developed a revolutionary approach to treating testicular cancer — a treatment that transformed the diagnosis from nearly 100 percent fatal to nearly 100 percent curable. The therapy developed by Dr. Einhorn, now an IU distinguished professor, marked the first cure for a solid tumor, and it has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of men.

IU's Hal Broxmeyer, also a distinguished professor, pioneered the use of umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and immune diseases. Cord blood transplants have since been performed tens of thousands of times throughout the world.

And today, IU is tackling some of the most pressing problems facing humanity — problems that can only be solved by teams of dedicated researchers working across disciplines — by investing in the Grand Challenges Program. Through the Precision Health Initiative, the first initiative funded in the Grand Challenges Program, IU Simon Cancer Center researchers are making enormous progress on developing curative therapies for multiple myeloma, pediatric sarcoma and triple negative breast cancer.

In many ways, the IU Simon Cancer Center represents the very best of IU, which is why we were enormously proud to announce this month that it has achieved the highest recognition from the National Cancer Institute: Comprehensive Cancer Center. With this elite federal designation signifying research excellence, it becomes the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Indiana and one of just 51 in the nation.

This prestigious designation demonstrates that IU remains at the forefront of innovation in cancer care. As we celebrate the university's Bicentennial and look to the future, it also signals that IU is reaffirming its commitment to bring the most promising and innovative therapies to Indiana and to eliminate suffering caused by a terrible disease that has touched nearly all of us in some way.

Our congratulations to Dr. Patrick Loehrer, director of the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, as well as to all of IU's outstanding cancer researchers for this well-deserved recognition.

A healthy IU

Much of the work done in IU's health sciences schools has impacts within the university community itself. IU has long invested in the health and well-being of its faculty, staff and students. IU Human Resources administers world-class health care benefits, while HR's wellness program, Healthy IU, offers courses, personal coaching and valuable information to help all employees live healthy and productive lives. Each of IU's campuses also provides cutting-edge facilities, services and programs as part of our commitment to the physical, emotional and mental health of our students.

IU is part of an exciting initiative called "All IN for Health," supported by the Precision Health Initiative. All IN helps Indiana residents improve their health by accessing the latest information on healthy habits and by engaging in medical research and participating in clinical studies at IU. This program includes a free mobile app with interactive features that reinforce well-established habits to improve health and reduce risk of serious disease. I encourage you to visit the All IN for Health website to learn more and to consider participating.

A magnificent new building for art, architecture + design

IU trustees recently approved the design and construction of a new building for IU's Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design. Remarkably, the building was originally planned for our Bloomington campus in the 1950s but then forgotten — based on a design by the late Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the greatest architects of the modern era.

This rendering shows the building design inspired by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

This new building is part of a landmark $20 million gift to the school from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, the largest gift in the school's history, and it will provide the school with space for lectures, workshops, student collaborations and offices in a central location.

The building's magnificent design is reminiscent of many other famous buildings designed by Mies, who is regarded as one of the founders of modern architecture. It is based on a little-known design by Mies, who in 1952 developed the concept for a glass-walled structure on the Bloomington campus.

The approximately 10,000-square-foot building will showcase Mies' renowned signature modernist and international style, which is evident in his two European masterworks for which he is perhaps most renowned: the temporary German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Spain (often called the Barcelona Pavilion) and the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, which was completed in 1930. Mies' style is also reflected in the skyline of Chicago, home to many of his most celebrated works and where he spent his three decades as an American architect and worked until his death 50 years ago this month. These include the residential towers of 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Federal Center complex, the Farnsworth House and Crown Hall, the home of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The new building for the Eskenazi School, which is expected to be completed in June 2021, will be located near the Fine Arts Building on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Jordan Avenue, adding to a visual landscape that includes the Global and International Studies Building, the Herman B Wells Library and the anticipated International Center building. With its modernist appearance, it will also strongly connect visually with the home of the Eskenazi School's J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program, now located in the historic Republic Building in Columbus. The Republic Building, with its painted white architectural steel and glass, was designed by Myron Goldsmith, who worked with Mies early in his career and participated in the design work Mies did for IU in the 1950s.

All of us are extremely delighted that the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design will have a new home in what promises to be an extraordinary structure, one that will support the growth of one of IU's newest schools, represent the remarkable legacy of generosity of Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, and serve as an enduring symbol of the very founding of architectural modernism.

The return of an epic opera

Finally, we recently announced that, as part of the IU Bicentennial, our world-renowned Jacobs School of Music will remount — for the first time in more than four decades — Richard Wagner's monumental opera "Parsifal."

From the 1940s to the 1970s, IU established a tradition of regularly producing "Parsifal." These productions are remembered as one of cornerstones upon which the Jacobs School's outstanding reputation is based, and the production helped draw worldwide attention to the school.

As I said in our announcement, there is perhaps no other school of music in the world that could perform this extraordinarily demanding opera, which was first performed by IU Opera Theater in 1949 at IU Auditorium and was last performed by the company in 1976 at the Musical Arts Center. Given its size, scope and notoriously difficult Wagnerian roles, "Parsifal" is rarely performed in the U.S., but IU's Bicentennial made for an appropriate time to undertake this new production and respond to the many alumni and friends of IU who have told us for many years that they hoped one day to see and hear "Parsifal" at IU again. 

We are extremely excited to bring this epic opera back to Bloomington and to the Musical Arts Center in November, and we look forward to audiences experiencing why it is considered one of the most unique, demanding and engrossing works in the operatic repertoire.

A final word

In 1820, Indiana University was founded on a commitment to the people of the state of Indiana that the civic, cultural, social and economic life of the state and its residents would be expanded and enriched by an exceptional public institution of higher education.

IU has consistently demonstrated this commitment through the outstanding achievements of generations of faculty members in a wide range of fields of inquiry; through the leadership of dedicated administrators and staff who have helped to guard and care for the overall and long-run welfare of the institution; and through hundreds of thousands of alumni and friends around the globe who are working in countless ways to improve the world for future generations.

As we embark upon the IU Bicentennial and what promises to be a truly memorable and historic academic year, let us take every opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary people, remarkable history, great traditions and matchless heritage that have made IU what it is today. And let us further build upon all of our recent accomplishments to keep IU on the course of greatness as it approaches its third century of excellence in education, research and engagement in the life of our great state, nation and world.

With my appreciation for all that you do for IU and my very best wishes for another successful year ahead,

Michael A. McRobbie