Leading with light and truth

Dear IU Student, Colleague or Friend of the University,

As I write to you today, we are already a week into the spring semester at Indiana University — a semester we have begun with hope and optimism that better days are ahead.

Each day, more and more Hoosiers are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as part of our state's phased vaccination distribution plan. This has put us on a promising path toward stopping the spread of — and ultimately eradicating — this deadly virus. We at IU will continue to do all we can to ensure that the vaccine gets into the arms of members of the IU community and other Hoosiers, as they are eligible, to keep Indiana accelerating in a positive direction.

Earlier this month, the IU Southeast campus began serving as a host site for the Floyd County Health Department to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to county residents. And we recently announced that we are finalizing plans to open a vaccine site on the IU Bloomington campus and will be ready to receive vaccines as soon as they become available. We also have more than 600 IU medical and nursing students who are answering the state's need for help in administering the vaccine.

Additionally, the IU School of Medicine continues to participate in the phase 3 trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already being administered for emergency use in the United Kingdom.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie receives his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at IU Health Bloomington on Jan. 16. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University
Indiana University Vice President Emeritus Charlie Nelms receives his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at IU Health Bloomington on Jan. 16.

Getting the vaccine

Several days ago, I was fortunate to receive my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at IU Health Bloomington, and I was extremely pleased to be getting my vaccine along with IU Vice President Emeritus Charlie Nelms. Charlie is an IU alumnus who served as chancellor of our IU East campus and later as IU vice president for institutional development and student affairs before becoming chancellor at North Carolina Central University.

Charlie and I are joined by leaders across the university in encouraging every member of the IU community to prioritize getting vaccinated as soon as they are eligible to do so. Getting vaccinated is vital to ensuring that we can defeat the pandemic and return to the business of the university as usual, which we have all missed for nearly a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating effect on Black individuals and other people of color; Black individuals are dying from COVID-19 at more than twice the rate of white individuals. This is one of several reasons why I join Charlie, who has spoken and written eloquently about why he supports getting vaccinated, in strongly encouraging members of underrepresented populations to sign up for the vaccine as soon as they can do so. We trust the science that has brought us two highly safe and effective vaccines, with others in the pipeline. These vaccines represent our best way out of the pandemic that has claimed, to date, the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.

A student is directed through COVID-19 mitigation testing at the IUPUI Campus Center.  Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Staying safe, civil and together

Of course, we are far from out of the woods, as Indiana and states around the nation continue to confront rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Thus, I want to urge all members of the IU community to continue following our existing guidelines and recommended health and safety behaviors. Our guidelines were crucial to our success in making it through the fall semester uninterrupted — even as other colleges and universities were forced to shut down — and operating as normally as possible throughout the pandemic.

In just a few days, many of you who are students will begin returning to our campuses. Your actions and behaviors were especially critical to IU staying open in the fall and proving wrong the skeptics who said there was no way we were going to make it through. Because of you, we not only made it through the difficult fall months, we also served as a leading example in how to keep our campuses safe and healthy for other colleges and universities in our state and across the nation. We will need that same effort throughout the spring semester. I have no doubt all of you — and all members of the IU community — remain up to the challenge.

I am also optimistic that we will continue to set the highest of standards for how we interact with and treat one another as members of one IU. Time and again throughout our now 200-year-old history, we have seen the very best of our university when its members work together to confront our biggest and most pressing challenges. This was especially true during the darkest moments of 2020, and it will no doubt remain true in the days and months ahead.

Last week, we witnessed the peaceful transition of power from one presidential administration to another. The inauguration of a new U.S. president is one of the hallmarks of our nation's democracy and a powerful reminder that we can have fierce disagreements while still being kind, courteous and compassionate toward one another, embracing our differences and respecting our shared humanity. As President Joe Biden said in his inaugural address last week, our nation's history demonstrates that when we Americans are united against the common foes we face, we can overcome anything.

We at IU are part of a scholarly community — bolstered by the university's motto of "Lux et veritas" — that seeks to make the world a better place in our unwavering pursuit of light and truth. As our divided nation seeks to heal and come together to defeat COVID-19 and the harsh realities ailing our communities, let us set an example for others to follow in how we confront the challenges and opportunities of the coming months and years.   

Affirming Dr. King's legacy

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic, legendary and powerful “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington at a time when our nation was at another pivotal point in its history. More than half a century later, acts of violence against people of color — and the disgraceful and chilling scenes of insurrectionary chaos and violence earlier this month at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. — clearly illustrate that we are once again at an inflection point in our nation’s history.

The troubling events of last year, including the brutal and violent death of George Floyd, demonstrate that much work remains to be done and that we must continually reaffirm our commitment to equality, freedom and dignity for all. They are also powerful reminders of our special obligation to do all we can to ensure that IU's campus communities are places where differences of all kinds — whether of race, ethnicity, belief, sexual orientation or gender identity — are respected, valued and protected, and where hatred, bigotry and intolerance will be powerfully condemned.

As we underscored during IU's observance last week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the commitment to equality and dignity for all is — and will always be — fundamental to the nature of IU and its educational mission.

This year's observance was highlighted by a daylong conference on diversity and social justice, during which I described five key areas in which IU is taking action on these issues.

These include:

  • The Pandemic Health Disparities Fund, to address the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected African American and Hispanic communities.
  • A $7 million grant to help the IU School of Medicine educate medical students to better care for underserved populations.
  • Funding 31 research projects exploring racial justice, including the pandemic's impact on Black-owned businesses, a partnership with school districts to encourage racial justice youth activism, storytelling to heal racial trauma and other critical topics.
  • A systematic review of all named buildings or structures on all IU campuses to identify any that are named after a person found to have held views inimical to the fundamental values of the university. This ongoing process has already resulted in the renaming of a number of IU buildings and spaces, most prominently those associated with David Starr Jordan.
  • A comprehensive review of IU programs whose purpose is to increase the racial diversity of the IU community and create a welcoming and supportive environment for people of color at IU.

Of course, we must do much more, and we must take yet more action. In the months and years to come, we will continue to reaffirm Dr. King’s legacy by redoubling IU’s commitment to the difficult work that remains on our campuses — and in the communities we serve — to improve diversity, equity and inclusiveness; address social injustice; and stand up to hatred, divisiveness, bigotry and intolerance in all of its forms.

Janet McCabe, a professor of practice at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI and director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU, has been nominated as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University

Enhancing IU's national reputation 

A running theme of my recent updates has been how IU's people and programs continue to elevate IU's national reputation for excellence and leadership, and this theme has already carried over into the new year.

Earlier this month, we were extremely pleased to announce that renowned IU literary scholar Susan Gubar is the newest recipient of the Modern Language Association Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award. Susan, a distinguished professor emerita of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, has brought vibrant intellectual energy to her long and illustrious career as one of this nation's leading literary scholars and feminist critics. She has had a remarkable impact on generations of feminist scholars, and she taught thousands of students during her 36-year career at IU — many of whom have gone on to hold faculty positions in English and comparative literature departments around the world.

Also this month, we shared the news that Janet McCabe, a professor of practice at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IUPUI and director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at IU, has been nominated as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the new Biden administration. The deputy administrator is the No. 2 position at the agency. Janet is one of our nation's preeminent experts on environmental law and policy, and she has contributed enormously to the success of IU's Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, which is working to help government organizations, businesses and community groups withstand the negative impacts of global environmental change. She is a superb choice to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA, and all of us at IU look forward to the positive impact she will undoubtedly have as she takes on this prestigious and most well-deserved appointment.

January also brought news that John McHugh, a former IU Wells Scholar and 2018 graduate of IU Bloomington, was selected for the prestigious Marshall Scholarship in 2021. IU's 19th winner of the award since its establishment in 1952, John attended the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies and graduated with a degree in East Asian languages and cultures, as well as minors in political science and Central Eurasian studies. He will use the two-year scholarship to attend Oxford University, where he will focus on contemporary Chinese studies and global governance and diplomacy. While at IU Bloomington, John served for two years as a member of the Board of Aeons, a student research and advisory group that works closely with the IU Office of the President. He was also an intern at the Council on Foreign Relations for the former deputy national security advisor to then-U.S. Vice President Biden.

Finally this month, we announced that the Kelley Direct online MBA program at the Kelley School of Business has been named MBA Program of the Year by Poets & Quants. This marked the first time an online MBA program has earned the honor from the leading news site about business education, and it came on the heels of Poets & Quants ranking Kelley Direct, which saw applications soar by 64 percent from 2019 to 2020, as its No. 1 online MBA program in the world.

A student works at the IUPUI Campus Center.  Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

A final word

IU and the communities we serve may continue to face trying times in the weeks and months ahead, but there are many reasons to be proud and grateful.

I'm especially thankful for all that you have done — and continue to do — to help each other at every turn, mindful of the hardships many have endured, to keep IU safe, healthy and together.

The work to stay together during these times of social distancing and separation from family, loved ones, fellow scholars and colleagues has not been easy. But you have persevered and found new and creative ways to stay connected. In the face of enormous adversity, you have stayed #IUStrong, with many of you serving on the front lines of this fight against COVID-19. And you have kept up the indomitable spirit that makes our university so unique and special.

As we embark upon the early days of the spring semester, may we remain strong and together, and may we continue to find light and truth in darkness, knowing that our collective efforts are getting us closer to a time when we can be together again.

On a personal note, Jan. 26 will mark the 24th anniversary of my arrival in the United States from Australia. I have now been at IU for over a third of my life and am a proud American citizen. It has been an enormous honor to serve our great university and all of you who have been so vital to our university’s continued success and progress.

With thanks, as always, for all that you do for IU, and my very best wishes for a safe, healthy and productive start to the new year.

Michael A. McRobbie
President, Indiana University