IU is persevering and succeeding

Dear IU Student, Colleague or Friend of the University:

As I write to you today, we are just a few weeks away from the beginning of Indiana University's Thanksgiving break and the end of the in-person part of our fall semester, which concludes Nov. 20. That we have reached this point in the semester — and have managed to stay together during these challenging times — speaks volumes about the enormous efforts our campus communities have put forth in the fight against COVID-19. I could not be prouder of the efforts of all of our students, our faculty and our staff, who have banded together with great energy and dedication since the earliest days of the pandemic and all throughout this fall, in full realization of the seriousness of the situation, to keep our campuses safe, healthy and #IUStrong.

We are now becoming cautiously optimistic that we will get to Nov. 20 without any major steps backward. This is due, in large part, to IU’s comprehensive public health strategy that I talk about in the video portion of this update and that continues to guide all of our actions and decisions. This strategy centers on one of the most robust, rigorous and far-reaching testing and screening programs for COVID-19 at any college or university in the nation. It is being led by a number of our experts in infectious diseases, public health and epidemiology from the IU School of Medicine and other schools, and supported by IU’s outstanding staff in information technology, facilities, communications, events management and student affairs.

As Indiana and other states across our nation continue to see very concerning record-daily increases for the number of COVID-19 cases — and as some other colleges and universities around the country struggle with issues concerning their response efforts — COVID-19 cases and positivity rates have steadily decreased at IU.

For the week of Oct. 18-24, as indicated on our public COVID-19 dashboard, the mitigation testing positivity rate for the whole of IU was 0.83 percent. This was our lowest positivity rate to date, down from the previous low rate of 0.84 the week prior and 6 percent the first week of the semester. Despite how infectious this virus is, we have seen considerable and continuing improvement in our positivity rates — which, of course, translates into vastly less opportunity for the virus to spread.

The weekly point prevalence on IU campuses (or the estimated proportion of the IU population infected with the virus) is currently calculated to be 0.9 percent, which is likely lower than the prevalence in the rest of Indiana. This means that the likelihood of coming into contact with the virus is lower on any IU campus than if one were at any random point in the state.

Since late August, we have been testing nearly 12,000 members of the IU community each week to mitigate the spread of the virus. This number was determined by our epidemiologists as a large enough sample that would enable us to identify any increases in virus infections and then allow us to rapidly take mitigation actions to address these.

DJ Ottman processes COVID-19 tests in the IU Pandemic Response Laboratory at Indiana University Bloomington.  Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

Last week we announced the next big step forward in our public health strategy with the opening of the first of what will be three IU Pandemic Response Laboratories. The first lab opened at IU Bloomington, and the other two will open soon at the IU School of Medicine on the IUPUI campus. When all three are fully operational in the next few weeks, they will enable us to process 25,000 tests a week, more than doubling the current scale of our mitigation testing program for asymptomatic individuals. They will also help us deliver to students, faculty and staff much faster turnaround times for test results — likely 24 hours or less.

While we are extremely pleased with the results of IU's mitigation testing strategy, we know that our campuses are continuing to confront the gravest public health challenge that the world, the country and IU have faced in a century. Although forecasts and models vary and continue to change rapidly with our behaviors, even the most optimistic scenarios suggest we are far from out of the woods.

With the arrival of the colder months, we are requiring that all IU staff, faculty and students who are regularly on campus get an annual flu vaccine. This month, we began offering flu vaccines at clinics on every IU campus. If you haven’t already received a flu shot, it is extremely important that you do so.

IU students are now scheduling their winter session and spring semester classes, which means we all need to double down on our efforts to ensure the safest possible teaching, learning and research environments. I realize this is another big ask of all of us, as we confront "pandemic fatigue" — a new challenge that some experts suggest may be to blame for the surge in COVID-19 cases across our country. Indeed, many in the IU community are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious after months of dealing with the fallout from the pandemic.

Here again, members of the IU community have stayed strong, providing helpful guidance for combating pandemic fatigue and creating many safe events and activities for our students and others across our campuses and online. Others have remained on the front lines of ensuring that IU maintains the continuity of our world-class instruction, research and clinical operations.

And linking all of these efforts is the vital importance of continuing the health and safety behaviors that have kept our campuses open: wearing a mask, physically distancing, regularly washing hands, checking your temperature daily, watching carefully for symptoms, avoiding contact with people who are sick and staying home while sick. In this unprecedented time that none of us could have anticipated at the beginning of this year, these behaviors have been the bulwarks of the successes we have had so far in continuing to operate as normally as possible in spite of the pandemic. In what follows, I will describe some of our most extraordinary recent successes.

The Indiana Hoosiers football team celebrates its 36-35 overtime victory in its season-opening game against the Penn State Nittany Lions.   Photo by Missy Minear, IU Athletics

An upset for the ages

However, before I get to these, I want to first congratulate coach Tom Allen and IU's football team for their spectacular and thrilling victory over Penn State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers' 36-35 overtime victory in their season opening game — easily college football's most dramatic upset last weekend — was the team's first victory over a top-10 opponent in 33 years and its first at Memorial Stadium since 1967. As a result, IU entered the top 20 in both national polls, achieving its highest rankings since 1993. 

We are, of course, proud of the achievements of all of our sporting teams on all campuses. But coming as it did at the end of a long and difficult semester being held under unprecedented conditions, this spectacular victory was, I am sure, a tonic to everyone’s morale. Coach Allen, who was selected as the Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week, and his team gave us one of the most exciting wins in recent IU sports history and a day to cheer and celebrate, while showing the nation and the world what IU spirit, toughness and togetherness are all about.

An IUPUI student works in a Biomedical Engineering Lab in the Science Engineering and Lab Building. Physical-distancing guidelines were followed while capturing this photo. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Supporting our students and state

Earlier this month we announced the completion of For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign — by far the most successful in IU’s history and one of the most successful ever by a public university in the United States. The final total raised was nearly $3.9 billion, contributed by over 300,000 donors, shattering the original goal of $2.5 billion.

This was also the first universitywide campaign involving every IU campus. All campuses, schools and units performed magnificently in raising the vital funds to support the goals of this campaign, demonstrating the same energy, dedication and creativity with which they are confronting the COVID-19 pandemic.

This figure is nothing short of extraordinary, but the real impact of the Bicentennial Campaign can be found in the number of new scholarships and new endowed faculty positions it has helped to create. The campaign has funded more than 5,800 new scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students, which is a 45 percent increase over the total number of scholarships and fellowships created during the university's entire 190-year history before the campaign. Many of these awards are keeping IU affordable and giving students who may not otherwise be able to pursue a degree the opportunity to earn a life-changing IU education. It has also funded 235 new endowed chairs and professorships, which is a 51 percent increase in the total number funded over the previous total, enabling IU to recruit and retain some of the finest researchers, teachers and scholars in the world.

This is the kind of enormous impact that the generosity of hundreds of thousands of donors has had on the university — generosity that has touched so many lives and will endure through the whole of IU's next century.

Many of you who are reading this made generous gifts in support of the Bicentennial Campaign, and I want to express the university’s most sincere thanks to all of you and to all of the alumni and friends of IU whose support helped make the campaign so successful. The generosity of our faculty and staff merits special mention. More than 20,000 present and past IU faculty and staff members gave a record total of $275 million, by far the largest amount ever raised from faculty and staff. Their generosity confirms the confidence they have in the future of the university and the direction in which it is headed.

Hundreds across the university deserve credit for the Bicentennial Campaign’s success. They include campus leaders, school deans, development staff and all the staff at the IU Foundation. Hundreds more outside the university made a major impact, especially IU Foundation board members, who gave freely and generously of their time in support of the campaign. But I want to make special mention of IU Foundation President and CEO Dan Smith, who, after a highly successful eight-year tenure at the foundation's helm, will return to the faculty in the Kelley School of Business, where he served for many years as an outstanding dean. Dan has done a superb job in his role as president of the foundation, and the results speak for themselves. He will be replaced on an interim basis starting Jan. 1 by the CEO of the IU Alumni Association, J T. Forbes, who is a highly experienced IU administrator and past IU student trustee. J T. will serve in this role until a new IU Foundation president is appointed.

Professor Jill Robinson teaches chemistry in a learning space in Teter Hall, at IU Bloomington. Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University

Keeping IU on the course of greatness

Our Bicentennial Strategic Plan, the successful conclusion of which we announced earlier this month, has also been of enormous importance to IU. The plan was extensive in its scope, and its impact will be nothing short of transformative in the years ahead.

From 2013, when planning began on the Bicentennial Strategic Plan, an enormous outpouring of energy, talent and creativity was unleashed from a large number of faculty, staff and students across the university. This resulted in the completion and commencement of a comprehensive range of initiatives throughout the university. These initiatives are ensuring that IU offers the most relevant and contemporary education to prepare our students for successful lives and careers; meets the most critical workforce needs in Indiana; and fosters a vigorous culture of entrepreneurship and innovation across our campuses and our state.

The accomplishments of the Bicentennial Campaign were also vital to the strategic plan's success. These included massive increases in endowed scholarships, fellowships, chairs and professorships, as well as dozens of new or renovated facilities to support the educational, research, scholarly and artistic missions of the university.

Indeed, the Bicentennial Strategic Plan has transformed IU in nearly every domain of its activity — the classroom and clinical services; laboratories and service learning in the communities we serve; studios and auditoriums; public safety services; cyberspace and its ubiquitous presence in the state of Indiana; IU museums, libraries and collections; an unparalleled network of global engagement; and inspiring campus spaces as well as the courts and fields of athletic competition.

Of course, when we first envisioned the plan seven years ago, none of us could have imagined the profound disruption to higher education and global society caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which will likely be felt for some time. The pandemic has underscored, albeit in an unexpected way, the rapidly changing environment in which universities like IU must navigate in the 21st century. If we are to thrive in this century, we must ensure our foundation is strong and that we remain committed to excellence.

Thus, the fundamental purpose of the Bicentennial Strategic Plan — to articulate and express our mission and core values, to set us on a course to achieve an ambitious vision for IU, and to build a strong foundation for greatness for IU’s third century — has never been more relevant or more critically important than it is today.

The accomplishments of the plan are far-reaching and far beyond what I can describe here. However, you can find detailed reports for IU's campuses and a universitywide report on our Bicentennial Strategic Plan website.

The first Wylie Innovation Catalyst Medals will be awarded by IU President Michael A. McRobbie during a virtual event Oct. 29. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Enhancing IU's and Indiana's global reputation

Fundamental to keeping IU's foundation strong are faculty of excellence and outstanding ability whose research and scholarship blaze new paths of knowledge for the enlightenment and betterment of humankind.

IU faculty truly are some of our nation's and our world's leading scholars, and their ideas and work are frequently judged to be of the highest quality by their peers. This recognition for their teaching and research excellence, in turn, helps strengthen the global reputation of our university as well as that of our state.

This month we announced that Mary Gray, an associate professor of informatics at the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, has been named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. Gray was one of only 21 recipients of this year's MacArthur grant, which is often referred to as the "genius" grant and is one of the most prestigious awards given to exceptionally gifted and creative people.

Gray, the seventh recipient of the award from IU and the first since 2003, was recognized by the MacArthur Foundation for "investigating the ways in which labor, identity and human rights are transformed by the digital economy." She plans to use the $625,000 no-strings-attached award to further her research on contract labor and apply it to the COVID-19 work-world, with a particular focus on the digital economy and the potential to shape more inclusive digital futures.

This month also brought the news that Dr. D. Wade Clapp, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine. Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

A neonatologist and physician-in-chief at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, Clapp conducts internationally recognized research that has resulted in major breakthroughs in the understanding and treatment of neurofibromatosis, a disease that causes tumors to grow on nerves, often beginning in childhood. Through his work, he has improved the lives of children and adults with this disorder. Additionally, he continues to spearhead robust career development programs and mentor the next generation of physician-scientists specializing in neurofibromatosis research.

And in keeping with our own tradition of honoring faculty excellence in its many and varied forms, this month we are awarding the inaugural Wylie Innovation Catalyst Medal to IU Distinguished Professor Richard DiMarchi and alumnus and former IU trustee Jack Gill. This new award celebrates IU's longstanding legacy of innovation and the IU inventors who have an impact on the lives of others through their trailblazing discoveries. These two renowned IU innovators have, throughout their careers, been dedicated not only to research and discovery, but also to ensuring that discoveries are translated into products and services that improve people’s lives. They also have enormously enhanced research, innovation and entrepreneurship at IU and beyond.

Members of the public wait in line at Monroe County's early voting location in Bloomington.   Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Exercise your right to vote

Once again, I want to urge all of our students — and all members of the IU community of voting age — to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 election early or on Election Day on Tuesday. This is your time to exercise one of your most fundamental rights as a U.S. citizen and to ensure your voices are heard on the issues that matter the most to us.

All of us are acutely aware that this year's presidential election comes amidst the stresses of a pandemic, disinformation campaigns intended to manipulate voters and concerns about potential election-related unrest.

I want to reassure you that IU is committed to supporting a safe, secure and peaceful election process. We are actively preparing to protect the safety of our students and all members of the IU community during this electoral process and in the days that follow.

At the same time, our campuses will continue to encourage debate and discussion from a wide variety of viewpoints and perspectives, which is fundamental to our mission. But these must be carried out in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the opinions of others, and one that recognizes everyone’s fundamental right to freedom of speech. As such, we will not tolerate harassment or intimidation of any kind. This kind of behavior is completely inconsistent with the civil and inclusive communities that we must foster.

From left, Mark Kebasso prepares materials for painting while architecture instructor Pierre Obando talks with Maria Meza during a class at Mill Race Park. The class has often been meeting outdoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic   Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

A final word

Many of the accomplishments I have shared in the above were made possible, of course, by the work of a very large number of IU faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends. The entire university is indebted to them not only for what they have done to keep IU strong and successful, but for all that they are making possible for future generations in spite of the enormous challenges we face.

These remain difficult times, which continue to test our resilience and resolve. But together we continue to confidently move forward.

We have shown that with a strong academic core, a vision for how we will achieve our goals and overcome the greatest challenges we face, and the unwavering support of Hoosiers across our state, we can continue the forward momentum of our great university.

Working together, we are showing what it truly means to be one of the best public universities in the 21st century.

With sincere thanks, as always, for all that you do for IU,

Michael A. McRobbie

Indiana University