Telling the IU story in the university’s third century

Dear Friend of IU:

As I write to you today, we at Indiana University have just completed a whirlwind 10 days of activities and events that officially kicked off our yearlong Bicentennial celebration. The 200 Festival, which took place across all of our campuses, was a resounding success in honoring and highlighting IU's nearly 200-year history, exploring our extraordinary impact on our state and beyond, and recognizing the countless people who have contributed to the growth and development of one of our nation's leading public research universities.

The 200 Festival culminated in a dazzling Bicentennial Ceremony, one of the best university ceremonies I have been privileged to be a part of, which brought together about 2,000 IU faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, friends and supporters from across the state, nation and world. The ceremony was a truly spectacular showing of school spirit and Hoosier pride. It provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime moment to commemorate a historic milestone for our great institution, reflect upon how we arrived at this point and envision all that we hope IU will become in its third century. On behalf of everyone at IU, I want to thank all of those who came to the ceremony on a very busy weekend in Bloomington and all of those who took part in our many 200 Festival events and activities. 

I offered a few of my own reflections on IU's first 200 years and coming third century in my presidential address during Saturday's Bicentennial ceremony. In the speech, I described IU's growth from its first class of 10 students in 1825 to a "complete university" that — with the continued strong support of our state and numerous community partners — serves more than 100,000 students of all ages and from all backgrounds and, through its vibrant regional campuses and medical education centers, touches every corner of the Hoosier state. Indeed, all of us can be extremely proud of how IU's campuses have become part of the fabric of the communities they serve.

About 2,000 people attended IU's Bicentennial Ceremony. Alex Kumar, Indiana University

I also asked those in attendance to consider what then will define IU's third century.

IU's second century saw enormous growth in many areas, including its student enrollment, its research enterprise, its global engagement and its commitment to advancing the economic, cultural and social development of our state. It also saw IU lead the effort for equal education of men and women and end the scourge of segregation.

Still, we are living in an era of considerable distrust of higher education, stemming from great divisions that exist in our society, from those who feel they have been left behind and from national and global rhetoric that implies universities accept and even embrace these inequities.

As I said in my address, this will be a central challenge for IU's third century: to bridge the divisions that exist in our society, rebuild the public's trust in our purpose and shed, once and for all, the image of higher education as an "ivory tower."

IU's second century also saw the nation's great research universities become the world's finest and spearhead some of our society's most historic economic, cultural, medical, scientific and technological breakthroughs. But our universities' hold on its position of global leadership, once seemingly so unassailable, is no longer guaranteed. Federal funding for basic research continues to decline, failing to keep pace with inflation. And while state support for higher education in Indiana has exceeded that of many of our peer institutions, it too has failed to keep pace with inflation in recent years. Meanwhile, countries like China are making massive investments in their research universities, resulting in large, sophisticated and extremely well-equipped institutions that, not surprisingly, have risen dramatically in the world rankings. We simply cannot freeze or cut our way to continuing dominance. At the end of the day, our global competitiveness can only be assured through investment like that which is happening elsewhere around the world.

A student participates in an interactive exhibit at IU's All for You traveling exhibit. Eric Rudd, Indiana University

IU is acutely aware of all of these challenges that we face in our third century, and this awareness continues to drive our recent development. As I noted in my annual State of the University address last week, we have recently witnessed a record number of freshmen across all IU campuses; a record for minority student enrollment, exceeding 20,000 students for the third straight year; a dramatic increase in student financial aid and equally dramatic major reduction in annual student loan borrowing; a record number of students taking courses through our pioneering and powerhouse IU Online program; the largest-ever total for externally funded research in the university's history, totaling more than $680 million — much of which is dedicated to public impact-focused initiatives; and a record-setting Bicentennial Campaign of over $3 billion that has endowed more than 4,700 new scholarships and fellowships for students. Such success emphatically underscores our commitment to furthering our core missions of education, research and service and to ensuring IU remains vital and accessible to students from all over the state no matter their backgrounds.

As you can easily see, we have a great story to tell. Now is the time for us to tell it, which will mean shedding one last relic of our institutional identity that has endured through our first two centuries. While our Midwestern ethos of humility and quiet confidence helps define the essence of who we are, we have often allowed others to tell our story for us and thus, we have unintentionally become one of the best-kept secrets in American higher education.

Thus, as we establish a new social contract by bridging the divisions that exist in our communities, we will also begin to bear the torch of telling our own story, boasting about IU's strengths and successes, and measuring them against only the best standards.

This is our call to action in IU's third century.

A launching-off point

To this end, last week's highly successful 200 Festival could be viewed as the launching-off point for a new era of promotion of — and pride in — our institution.

Students bounce in the World's Largest Bounce House at the 200 Festival's Outdoor Festival. James Brosher, Indiana University

The highlights of this special kick-off celebration and headline Bicentennial event for the fall semester included:

  • A Faculty Research Day on each of IU's seven campuses across the state, showcasing the research and innovations of leading IU scholars and scientists and how their discoveries are making a major impact in improving lives in Indiana and around the world. Among these showcases, which were witnessed by hundreds of attendees, were an IU Research Unplugged event in Bloomington and the fourth annual IU Innovation and Commercialization Conference at IUPUI.
  • The dedication of a new IU Historical Marker at IU Kokomo celebrating the campus's beginnings 75 years ago at the Seiberling Mansion, where IU Kokomo's first classes were held. The ceremony signaled the start of this signature Bicentennial program, which will continue Monday, Oct. 7, when we honor the late Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom with a permanent place on the IU Bloomington campus. This eagerly anticipated event will occur almost 10 years to the day when Lin became the first and still only woman to receive the Nobel in economics.
  • The start of the Higher Education Symposium signature project, with a discussion of some of the most pressing issues facing higher education and the bold actions needed to solve them.
  • The launching of the Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit, which we are commonly referring to as the "Big Red Bus." The bus, which explores IU's impact on the state, will be touring across Indiana through August 2020, bringing the IU Bicentennial to all of the state's 92 counties. Here is a 360-degree virtual sneak peek into what Hoosiers will get to see on the bus, brought to you by IU's Advanced Visualization Lab.
  • The establishment of the new National Service Archives at IUPUI, a collection within the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives that tells the stories of civic service and volunteerism in America. An accompanying panel discussion on the past, present and future of national service and vital role of community service and volunteerism at IU included more than 120 guests, including IU's 15th president, Tom Ehrlich, and an inspirational swearing-in ceremony for new Indiana AmeriCorps members.
  • A book launch celebration to introduce three new publications in the Well House series, a signature imprint from IU Press supported by the IU Bicentennial. These excellent books are "The Lilly Library from A to Z" by IU Bloomington Professor Emerita of Spanish and Portuguese Darlene J. Sadlier; "The Spirit of Generosity" by Curtis R. Simic, president emeritus of the IU Foundation, and Sandra Bate, former director of marketing and communications at the IU Foundation and IU Alumni Association; and "Indiana University and the World" by IU Vice President Emeritus Patrick O'Meara with Leah K. Peck.
  • An inaugural Collections and Heritage Showcase where IU faculty and staff from across the university's campuses demonstrated how they are providing access to IU's unique and extensive collections — many of which are of major and historical importance — and using them in their teaching, learning and research.
  • The unveiling of the online platform for the Bicentennial Oral History Project, with several hundred interviews now live and many more to be made available on the web in the coming months.
  • The running of the 11th annual IUPUI Regatta — an event that has quickly become one of IU's great traditions. This year, for the first time and in honor of the Bicentennial, teams from all IU campuses across the state participated in the canoe race on the canal in downtown Indianapolis.
  • The hosting of a fun and spirited Outdoor Festival in Bloomington, where hundreds of students and members of the IU and local community enjoyed watching the IU football team battle Michigan State, shooting layups and taking photos in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, enjoying live music and jumping around in the world's largest bounce house.
The "Big Red Bus" will travel across Indiana through August 2020. Eric Rudd, Indiana University

And all of this happened in addition to our Bicentennial Ceremony, which featured, among other memorable moments, rare archival footage of IU, a rousing performance by the IU Philharmonic Orchestra, alumni greetings from U.S. Rep. Susan W. Brooks and actress Tan Kheng Hua from the blockbuster film "Crazy Rich Asians," and the world premiere of an original Bicentennial song from IU-born Straight No Chaser. As a fitting coda to the ceremony, Rudy Professor of Voice Marietta Simpson joined Straight No Chaser, the Singing Hoosiers and all in attendance in singing IU's official alma mater song, "Hail to Old IU." The song was first performed in 1893, and it has been sung countless times at Indiana events since. On Saturday, though, it may have never sounded better.

A final word

As we further celebrate the Bicentennial throughout this academic year and look forward with great anticipation to the 200th anniversary of the university's founding on Jan. 20, let us all give voice to IU's remarkable accomplishments.

Let us also take every opportunity to reflect on the rich history of Indiana's flagship public university and the legacy of its service to the state of Indiana, the nation and the world.

And finally, let us loudly sing the praises of the many individuals — including our worldwide body of nearly 700,000 alumni and our extensive range of friends and supporters — who have been the keys to our success and are the reasons why we are, and will forever be, the "people's university." 

With thanks, as always, for all that you continue to do for IU,

Michael A. McRobbie