Bringing out the best in IU

Dear IU Student, Colleague or Friend of the University,

Today, we are rapidly approaching the close of a year that has been like no other at Indiana University. We have also successfully made it to the end of the fall semester without having to reverse course in any way — something even just a few months ago many believed was not possible.

Throughout the entire duration of the pandemic, we have had two overriding priorities: the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff who comprise the IU community, and maintaining the continuity of instruction, research and clinical operations. I can proudly report that we completed the in-person part of this semester, without ever compromising or affecting these priorities.

This has been due to the unflinching, dedicated and tireless efforts of literally thousands of members of the IU community across the state, dozens of campus and university committees, and the leadership of the university at all levels, who have continuously tackled the vast number of issues and problems that had to be addressed and solved given these priorities.

IUPUI students work together in a biomedical engineering class led by Kayla Maxey at the Science Engineering and Lab Building.   Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Thank you for all you have done

But, of course, we knew that ultimately the success of keeping IU safe and operating as normally as possible would depend on all of you — and you responded magnificently. To all of you, I want to express my immense gratitude and most grateful thanks — thanks for your strength and resolve, thanks for adhering to all of our health and public safety protocols, and thanks for routinely going above and beyond your normal duties to help keep IU safe and healthy. This is your achievement.

To our students: You have proved the skeptics wrong. You have stayed dedicated to your studies in spite of all of the challenges presented by the pandemic. You have brought spirit and life to our campuses, even though your fall semester was very different from the traditional IU experience. And you have embraced your new responsibilities with a combination of courage, kindness and an unwavering concern for others, making us all enormously proud.

To our faculty: In the spring, you collectively transitioned all classes from in-person to virtual instruction within weeks. In the time that followed — and during your preparation for the 2020-21 academic year — you invested countless hours in course design and planning to ensure that our students could receive the best possible education, whether they were learning in the classroom, in hybrid mode or virtually. Many of you performed these tasks while also engaging in research to address and ultimately eradicate the deadly COVID-19 virus, and many more did so while teaching and tending to your children at home or caring for other family members.

To our tireless and dedicated staff: Your efforts have been vital to IU's success in being able to continue our teaching and research operations. You have overseen the massive job of keeping our classrooms, buildings and other public spaces clean and sanitized; delivered important guidance and support to students and families, including your own; kept our critical world-class IT infrastructure functioning at peak efficiency; and served at the front lines of our testing and public health response. We would not be here without you.

IUPUI students, staff and faculty participate in mitigation testing at the Tower Garage. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

A winning public health effort

We are particularly grateful to members of IU's committee of medical and public health experts, the Restart Committee, chaired by Executive Vice President for University Clinical Affairs and Dean of the IU School of Medicine Jay Hess, which was formed in the spring. It has met constantly ever since, and it was responsible for producing the crucial science-driven report in May that has served as the foundation of IU's comprehensive public health strategy that followed, and that allowed us to conduct in-person instruction and research this fall in the safest manner possible.

IU's Medical Response Team, led by doctors Cole Beeler, Aaron Carroll, Lana Dbeibo and Adrian Gardner, deserves special thanks for the superb job it has done in running IU's mitigation testing, symptomatic testing and contact tracing programs. These ongoing programs together constitute one of the most comprehensive, robust, and efficient testing and tracing programs at any college or university in the country — and these programs and the people who have led and implemented them have been critical in helping IU successfully weather the pandemic.

In recent weeks, as Indiana and other states across our nation have reported record daily increases for the number of COVID-19 cases — and as many universities around the country have struggled to contain the virus and have had to abandon in-person classes — IU has been able to keep its COVID-19 cases and positivity rates manageable on our campuses. While we saw an anticipated spike in infections when the semester began, our numbers have regularly improved because of the unremitting efforts of the Medical Response Team, which included intensive and focused testing, contact tracing efforts to pinpoint and address areas of concern, and isolation and quarantine requirements and recommendations.  

By the end of the in-person part of the fall semester on Nov. 20, our mitigation testing positivity rates hovered around 1 percent or less. And, as a recent IU analysis indicated, our classrooms were among the safest places on our campuses — and our campuses, incidentally, among the safest places in the state — once again reinforcing our confidence in the effectiveness of the safety protocols we put in place to resume in-person instruction.

All the while, we continued to vigorously implement our public health strategy. As I shared in a recent video update, IU has dramatically increased its testing capacity by establishing our own COVID-19 testing labs in Indianapolis and Bloomington. Through our new IU Pandemic Response Laboratories, our medical professionals can presently process 25,000 tests a week. And this number will be scaled up to 50,000 tests per week by the beginning of the spring semester to address university-wide demands. The labs also deliver much faster turnaround times for test results — typically 24 hours or less — and these tests cost a 10th of the price of the previous commercial tests. Additionally, IU now offers students, faculty and staff the option to schedule a free COVID-19 test on either the IU Bloomington or IUPUI campus during IU's first-ever intersession, which began last week and continues through Feb. 7.

Members of the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers rehearse in the lobby of the Musical Arts Center at the Jacobs School of Music. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Reason for optimism 

Our ultimate goal, of course, is to return to the world as it was pre-COVID-19. Some recent steadily brightening rays of hope suggest that this may well begin to happen by the fall 2021 semester.

While it is too soon to make definitive projections — especially with our nation now facing a grave surge in COVID-19 cases over winter — we have seen very encouraging news on development of effective vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. (The IU School of Medicine is participating in the phase 3 trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine.) In fact, the FDA will meet Dec. 10 and 17 to review requests for emergency use authorizations for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively. If granted, these vaccines will begin to be deployed a few days later. It is expected that the first doses will be administered to front-line health care workers and that prioritized mass vaccination throughout the state can be expected to follow soon after.

While some uncertainty naturally remains around these vaccines and their deployment schedules, there is growing optimism that we are nearing a point when the majority of Americans will soon be able to be vaccinated, which, in turn, will dramatically reduce the spread of this deadly virus. In preparation for deploying the vaccines within the IU community, Lana Dbeibo, a faculty member in the IU School of Medicine's Division of Infectious Diseases, joined the Medical Response Team as director of vaccine initiatives.

All of this offers yet even more reason to double down in the coming weeks and months on the health and safety behaviors that have kept IU's campuses safe: wear a mask, physically distance from others, regularly wash your hands, check your temperature daily, watch carefully for symptoms, avoid contact with people who are sick and stay home when you're sick. These simple behaviors have been crucial to our success in continuing to operate as normally as possible during the pandemic.

This group of IUPUI students visited China in 2018 through a study abroad program. Photo courtesy of IUPUI Office of International Affairs

Furthering IU's proud global tradition

It is almost impossible to overstate just how much it will mean for us to return to normal operations, particularly for our students. Nearly every part of the university's operations has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it's athletics or recreational and sporting activities, concerts and shows, classroom and laboratory activities, some of the great traditional ceremonies of the university like graduation, and normal social activities with friends and fellow students. All of us look forward eagerly to returning to this world soon as vaccines start to have a major impact.

One area in which many students are enthusiastically looking forward to activity resuming is our study abroad programs, which were brought to a sharp stop by the pandemic. Over the past decade, the number of students who have participated in an overseas study experience has grown dramatically. And we are delighted to announce that, according to the latest Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange that has just been released, IU Bloomington has increased its ranking to a remarkable fifth nationally — out of more than 1,500 ranked universities — in the number of students who studied abroad in 2018-19, the academic year before the COVID-19 pandemic began. During that year, 3,244 IU Bloomington students studied abroad, an impressive increase of more than 6 percent, and, overall, 4,457 students from all IU campuses studied abroad that year.

Study abroad programs have become a central part of the undergraduate experience for thousands of IU students. Collectively, they represent one of IU's most impressive achievements of the modern era, enhancing the education of IU students from all backgrounds concerning the cultures and civilizations of other countries and contributing immensely to their future success in a world pervasively impacted by globalization.

Despite the pandemic, we have been receiving large numbers of applications from students to study abroad — as soon, of course, as it is safe to do so. But we are increasingly optimistic and very hopeful that starting next year — as the full weight and impact of the COVID-19 vaccines and other measures begin to be felt not only in the United States but also worldwide — IU students will once again be able to study abroad in numbers to rival recent years.

It is also essential to ensure that all IU students have the opportunity to study abroad, especially underrepresented students or those from low-income backgrounds who otherwise find it difficult to do so. To this end, I announced in my September 2010 State of the University Address the launch of a special $20 million fundraising campaign to support up to 400 student study abroad scholarships that was also to be matched by the university.

I am delighted to announce that this special campaign has just been successfully completed. The funds raised by it are already helping to expand study abroad opportunities for students across our campuses and programs, including those with financial needs. Indeed, in 2018-19, IU students received more than $5 million in dedicated study abroad gift aid — an all-time high. Longstanding support, in the form of grants, scholarships and loans, has helped ensure a doubling, since 2007, in the number of IU students who study abroad. This special campaign was also part of the unprecedented For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign, IU's first university-wide philanthropic campaign that raised nearly $3.9 billion to support the success of our students, our faculty and our research programs.

For over a century, IU has also welcomed international students from countries all over the world to study at IU. They have enriched IU through the diverse cultures and perspectives that they have brought to their campuses. As alumni, many have risen to positions of prominence in their home countries, and all remain passionate and dedicated IU alumni long after they graduate. Unfortunately, IU, like many other major research universities, has seen these numbers decline in recent years as the United States became seen as a less attractive destination for international students. We are hopeful, however, that this trend will soon be reversed.

Exploring America's Role in the World 

In light of the current restrictions on inbound and outbound travel, the IU Office of the Vice President for International Affairs has focused on offering a set of "internationalization at home" initiatives, which are adding international perspectives and participants to classes and events on our campuses. Our Global Gateway Network of five IU offices around the world has hosted a series of research webinars on transnational issues, and we have launched a Global Classrooms project linking classes taught on IU campuses with classes taught at our partner universities around the world.

IU also continues to host events focused on major international issues involving our faculty and students. Just last week, we welcomed some of our nation's foremost international experts to the sixth America's Role in the World Conference at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. This conference celebrated the extraordinary legacy of one of America's greatest statemen of the last 50 years, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, a distinguished scholar in the Hamilton Lugar School, a professor of practice in the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and senior advisor for the Center on Representative Government.

The conference featured a galaxy of major foreign policy and national security figures, all of whom paid the warmest tributes to Congressman Hamilton's indelible contributions to the nation. They included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, former Directors of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper and Dan Coats, and many others. All discussed the foreign policy and national security challenges of the incoming Biden administration, as America re-engages more actively with the world. IU's superb Hamilton Lugar students, by the way, play a major role in organizing this conference and introducing its speakers. And we expect to see many IU graduates at work in government and elsewhere as part of this re-engagement.

A sculpture of Elinor Ostrom sits outside Woodburn Hall at Indiana University Bloomington, in the newly named Ostrom Commons. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University

Honoring a great scientist and internationalist: Elinor Ostrom

On Nov. 12, a rare 2020 in-person ceremony (safely distanced and masked) was held behind Woodburn Hall: the dedication of a commons area for, and centerpiece statue of, internationally renowned social scientist Elinor "Lin" Ostrom, IU Distinguished Professor and the first woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in economics, in 2009. The statue is the first sculpture for a woman on the IU Bloomington campus. It is part of the Bicentennial “Bridging the Visibility Gap” project, which recognizes some of the women, individuals from underrepresented populations and other individuals whose achievements have not been adequately acknowledged.

I invite you to watch this special video about Lin's legacy and the impact her teaching and research continue to have at IU, nationally and around the world.

With her husband, Vincent, Lin founded what is now called the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, a multidisciplinary research center focused on the ways governance processes can be designed to enhance human well-being while promoting democratic principles and sustainable resource management.

Before her groundbreaking research, economists typically believed that people were doomed to destroy anything they held in common, leading to, for example, over-fishing, over-grazing and over-exploiting water supplies. Ostrom famously demonstrated that under certain circumstances, human societies have successfully valued and protected "the commons." She went on to explore what this means for economics and developed a whole new branch of institutional economics.

I believe her theories translate well to the COVID-19 response, and what must be done for the greater good. We have seen this in action all fall, and we will see it again when we resume on-campus operations in February. As Ostrom said in her Nobel Prize lecture Dec. 8, 2009:

"… a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans."

The Indiana University Hoosiers football team celebrates its victory over the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Missy Minear, IU Athletics

A great season for IU football 

Let me share a few words about the outstanding IU football team, once again ranked in the top 10 in both national polls. By any measure, this has been one of the greatest football seasons in IU history, with decisive wins over Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and, on Saturday, Wisconsin. Our team, coach Tom Allen and his staff are all to be congratulated on giving us such an exciting and memorable season and bringing enjoyment and pride to this year.

This Saturday will see the Hoosiers' last regular-season game: the Old Oaken Bucket Game against Purdue, one of college football's great rivalry games. A win can be expected to bring us a postseason game at one of the best and most prestigious bowls. This will be my last regular-season and home football game as president of IU and, like all of us, I am hoping for another stirring win. Go IU!

A physically distanced chemistry class takes place in a learning space in Teter Hall, at IU Bloomington.   Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University

A final word

Once again, this has been a year at IU like no other. But it has brought out — and continues to bring out — the absolute best in the IU community.

Across all of our campuses — and when we needed it the most — you have exhibited creativity, courage, kindness, perseverance, personal responsibility and an unwavering concern for others. These are the bedrock characteristics of IU, and they will continue to carry us through difficult times.

Our campuses looked different this year.

But the strength and resilience you have routinely displayed ensured that we continued to advance our core missions of teaching and research excellence, while keeping Indiana's flagship public university firmly on the path of greatness.

With my thanks, as always, for all you do for IU, and my congratulations on the conclusion of a successful fall semester,

Michael A. McRobbie

Indiana University