Paul H. O’Neill SPEA Graduate Center groundbreaking

IU Auditorium Lobby
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


The distinguished astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson contends that the iconic photograph taken in 1968 by the Apollo 8 astronauts—of the earth rising over the lunar surface—fundamentally changed our view of ourselves. It was, of course, the first time we had viewed the earth from space at that distance and without borders or color-coded political boundaries imposed by mapmakers.

Tyson contends that this powerful photograph—and the Apollo program in general—evoked a sense of shared destiny and led to a cultural shift in how we thought of our place in the universe. As a result, within a few short years, the United States found the political and institutional will:

  • to establish the observance of Earth Day, to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, to pass major amendments to the Clear Air Act, and to pass the National Environmental Policy Act—all in 1970;
  • to ban the agricultural use of the pesticide DDT and to regulate the ocean dumping of waste in 1972; and
  • to pass the Clean Water Act and to begin to regulate the amount of lead in gasoline in 1973.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs

We might add to this list the establishment of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs in 1972.

Certainly, there were additional factors that led to the growth of the environmental movement—including the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the work of a handful of visionary scholars and activists and who helped make the environment a focus of public policy. Among those influential scholars was Lynton Keith Caldwell, who spent most of his career at Indiana University, and who was one of the principal founders of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Professor Caldwell was also the chief architect of the National Environmental Policy Act, sometimes referred to as “the environmental Magna Carta.”

Of course, the study of public affairs and public policy have a much longer history. But in roughly the same era, the study of public policy began to emerge as an academic discipline distinct from political science or economics—but as one that, even then, took an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating elements of many fields in the social sciences.

With its establishment in 1972, Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs became the first school in the country to combine public management, policy, and administration together with the environmental sciences.

Today, SPEA is a world leader with top ranked programs in nonprofit management, environmental policy, and public affairs, and is one of the largest schools of public affairs in the United States. SPEA’s graduate program is the nation’s highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution, and its doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy are also ranked among the nation’s best.

Successful SPEA graduates, now numbering more than 32,000, work across the country and around the world making a difference by bridging policy and science to help address some of the world’s most vexing problems. A large number of the school’s graduates work in state and local government right here in the state of Indiana, where they bring a wide range of public policy and fiscal expertise to bear for the benefit of the citizens of our state.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs has become synonymous with excellence at Indiana University and throughout the world, in large part, because of the work of the school’s outstanding faculty—a faculty that currently includes former Congressman Lee Hamilton, and which has included such luminaries as the late Elinor Ostrom, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. All of these people and many others have contributed to the excellent reputation of the school.

SPEA has also benefitted from a tradition of exceptional leadership—which began under founding dean Charles Bonser and continued under the school’s second dean, James Barnes, who participated in the formation of the EPA. The school’s tradition of outstanding leadership continued under former dean the late Astrid Merget, and continues today under the leadership of Dean John Graham, who has been one of the leading supporters of the facility for which we break ground today.

The Paul O’Neill graduate center

SPEA’s enormous success, of course, has attracted increasing numbers of students, to the point that its current facility is very much overcrowded.

The expansion and renovation for which we break ground today will help greatly to alleviate that situation.

The magnificent Paul O’Neill Graduate Center will house a large Student Commons, as well as state-of-the art classrooms, meeting areas designed to foster collaboration, and faculty offices. The beautiful design will incorporate traditional Indiana limestone and will feature a multi-story glass wall facing 10th Street.

The new facility will also help attract the next generation of public and environmental affairs students, who will come to Indiana University to prepare for careers in which they will take on some of the most difficult challenges facing our world.

Paul O’Neill and David Wang

There is a long list of people to whom we owe enormous debts of gratitude for helping us reach this moment, and, in thanking them, even though he could not be with us today, we must begin with the man for whom this splendid new graduate center will be named: former Secretary of the United States Treasury and IU alumnus, Paul O’Neill. 

Secretary O’Neill earned his Master of Public Affairs degree at IU in 1966 while a fellow in the National Institute of Public Affairs program, a precursor to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He credits the late professor Lynton Keith Caldwell, whom I mentioned earlier, as a pivotal influence on his career.

And what an extraordinary career it has been.

He has served in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, in the private sector as the leader of the International Paper Company and Alcoa, and, of course, as Secretary of the Treasury.

He served in the latter role at the time of the horrific attacks of September 11th, 2001 and during the downturn in economic growth that followed. Secretary O’Neill helped to restore confidence by mobilizing resources to fight terrorist financing, and by working with Middle Eastern countries to stop money laundering and fraud.

As many of you may know, Secretary O’Neill has remained closely connected to IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He finds time to visit the campus each year to speak to our students. In 2014, he delivered an outstanding Commencement address to IU graduates earning master’s and doctoral degrees, and, on that occasion, was awarded an honorary IU doctorate.

Earlier that same year, Secretary O’Neill made an extraordinarily generous gift of $3 million to SPEA, the largest private donation in the school’s history. His generous gift will support the development of the next generation of public sector leaders and will help make this magnificent new facility possible. 

Secretary O’Neill’s generosity has inspired—and will continue to inspire—many others to lend their enthusiastic and energetic support to the vision we share for the school’s future.  

As I have mentioned, David Wang, who served for five years as chair of SPEA’s Dean’s Advisory Council—and who was a former colleague of Paul O’Neill’s at International Paper Company—also made a generous gift of $1 million to SPEA.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to express our deepest thanks to Secretary O’Neill and Mr. Wang for their remarkably generous support. We hope they will be able to join us when we celebrate the opening of the new facility.


As we approach the Bicentennial of Indiana University in 2020, we are preparing both to celebrate our history and to rethink how the university will function and the kinds of major challenges it will take on during the next period of its existence.

In the early 1970s, the Apollo space missions inspired us to think about our place in the universe and fostered a greater sense of shared destiny. 

Today, we are in the midst of a revolution brought on by globalization and technological change.

Today, Indiana University and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs remain committed to understanding how our world is changing and how we can best respond and contribute to it.

And today, as we break ground for the O’Neill Graduate Center, all of us look forward to a facility that will help the students and faculty of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs make important and lasting contributions that will strengthen our state, our nation, and our world.

Thank you very much.