Office of International Services 75th Anniversary Luncheon

Presidents Hall

Friday, November 09, 2018

IU President Michael A. McRobbie delivers remarks during a luncheon for the 75th anniversary of IU's Office of International Services. Photo by Chaz Mottinger, Indiana University

Thank you, Hannah.

Before I begin, I want to recognize your two outstanding predecessors as vice president for international affairs: the first vice president for international affairs of the university, Patrick O'Meara, and his successor, David Zaret. Would you join me in welcoming them?

I am delighted that a member of the Indiana University Board of Trustees is with us today. Would you join me in welcoming Trustee Donna Spears?

And since this is an event to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of IU’s Office of International Services, there is one person I would like to especially recognize: Martha Wailes. It was Martha who processed my family and me and assisted with our immigration status when we first came to the United States in 1996 and 1997. And I must say that the experience exemplified the quality of the office, as Martha was a superb professional who was enormously helpful to us.

It is a great pleasure to be here to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of IU’s Office of International Services. This is a major milestone in the history of the office. It highlights Indiana University’s long and rich commitment to internationally-focused education. It also underscores how much we value all of our international students, past and present, as members of the IU community—and it highlights the enormously positive impact that international students have had over many years on IU, the city of Bloomington, and the state of Indiana.

I want to add my welcome to the representatives of the Consulate General of The People's Republic of China in Chicago and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago who are with us today.

And I want to extend my thanks to NAFSA CEO Esther Brimmer, from whom we heard earlier, for being with us today and for her remarks. And I also want to thank Alan Goodman, president of the Institute for International Education, from whom we will hear in a few moments, for joining us today. Indiana University is proud to have been a member of both IIE and NAFSA since they were founded in 1918 and 1948 respectively. All of us at IU are grateful for all that both organizations do to advance international education and exchange.

Indiana is "host to the world"

Indiana University has long believed—and continues to strongly believe—in embracing and understanding the world in all its diversity, and not shunning it or closing it off.

IU's history of engagement in international activity and scholarship goes back well over 100 years.

Seventy-five years ago, with an international student body of only around 50 students, IU became one of the first universities in the nation to have a full-time staff member dedicated to advising and supporting international students. The wisdom of the vision of IU's 11th president, Herman B Wells, in establishing this position—and the effectiveness of Leo Dowling, who was the first to serve in this capacity—are borne out in IU’s standing over many decades as one of the nation’s leading destinations for international students.

Like many other American universities, the development and maturing of IU's international engagement came during the golden age of higher education in the years following the Second World War. IU developed new international alliances with other governments and institutions, established area studies programs that are renowned today as among the nation's finest, and expanded its extensive foreign languages curricula. These are, incidentally, areas where IU excels, led now by the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. And, of course, American research universities, including IU, became magnets for professors and students from around the world.

In the summer of 1947, the Indiana Daily Student reported that "Indiana University is rapidly becoming the melting pot of the Middle West."1

In 1962, with the number of international students at IU approaching 1,000, the IDS wrote: "Indiana is host to the world."2

The number of international students studying at IU has increased steadily over the years—and the number of countries from which they come has expanded and diversified. As a result, IU is proud to have been ranked consistently in the Top 20 in the nation over several decades in terms of the number of international students enrolled.

Importance of global education, contributions of international students and scholars

Today, Indiana University has a large and diverse international student body of more than 8,000 students, whose members come from around 140 countries.

We warmly welcome all of our international students and value them for the diversity in thought and culture they bring to our campuses, and for the window they provide into their own countries and cultures.

Indeed, they bring the world to IU.

They enrich our campuses and the communities we serve.

They expose students from the United States to new ideas, new perspectives, and new cultures. It is a vitally important part of the education of American students that they learn to work with people from other countries and other cultures. As I tell our graduates at Commencement, many of them will be working internationally, or with a diverse group of colleagues from all over the world, for the rest of their lives. By working with international students and scholars during their time at IU, they gain vitally important experience in working with international colleagues and a better understanding of their perspectives and approaches to issues.

International students and their family members living in the United States, also, of course, contribute to the nation’s economy and to the economies of the states and communities where they live and study. In the state of Indiana, it is estimated that international students contribute $1 billion to the state’s economy annually and support nearly 13,000 jobs.

When international students return to their home countries—where they frequently become leaders in areas such as business and education, and in government—they also become passionate IU alumni for the rest of their lives. Just a few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear first-hand about how their IU experiences had transformed the lives of many of our international alumni, when we held a global alumni conference and reunion in Beijing. It was our fourth such conference—and we had nearly 400 alumni in attendance from China and across the surrounding region—the largest number ever to attend an IU global alumni conference and reunion.

Welcoming international students to the United States is also in this country’s national interest, since when these students return to their home countries, they generally have a favorable view of American culture and institutions—and their time in the U.S. has laid the foundation for long-term relationships and goodwill.

And we will soon have a new and very visible symbol of IU's strong continuing commitment to international engagement—and our commitment to supporting international students in IU's new International Center, which we will dedicate in 2020, IU's Bicentennial year.

This center, which will be the new hub of IU's longstanding international engagement mission, will provide services and facilities for both the orientation of overseas students coming to IU and for IU students intending to study abroad. The building will serve the IU Bloomington student body and the more than 1,000 visiting faculty in a greatly enhanced way and build on the synergies and efficiencies that will result from this colocation.

It will also serve as a venue for welcoming the many international visitors and delegations who regularly visit IU. And it will provide space for meetings and other functions by the roughly 100 formal and informal internationally-focused student organizations on the Bloomington campus. The new center’s location just across Jordan Avenue from the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies will provide important new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between programs and services in both buildings.

This model will be unique in the Big Ten and one of the few of its kind in the United States.

IU's Office of International Services

Of course, international students who come to the United States to study often have to overcome many obstacles, including language barriers, navigating visa and immigration requirements, and the difficulties of adapting to a new culture.

For 75 years, the outstanding service and support provided by the staff of IU's Office of International Services has helped IU’s international students to navigate these and other challenges.

The first contact that international students have with IU is often with members of the office’s international admissions team. The office provides guidance on immigration matters, assistance with passports and visas, helps international students adjust to life in the United States, and offers a range of cultural programming that helps build international understanding and goodwill. And recruiters visit more than 60 countries around the world each year to talk with prospective students and their families.

The Office of International Services has also been a national leader in technology. The SUNAPSIS software system, which was developed in OIS to help better manage international admissions, orientation, and advising, is now used by more than 100 colleges and universities in the United States.

Indiana University's international engagement strategy

Herman Wells' original vision to "bring the world" to students from towns and cities in Indiana remains IU's vision today. But the interconnected world in which we now live and work has required that we develop new and more comprehensive data-driven strategies for engaging globally.

Today, IU's international strategy consists of five main components:

  1. education and service learning abroad,
  2. recruitment of outstanding international students,
  3. global faculty recruitment and research,
  4. international institutional engagement,
  5. and international outreach and service.

I have already spoken about the recruitment of international students and the important role they play on our campuses, but let me just say a few brief words about the other components of our international strategic plan.

IU is committed to the principle that student study and service abroad are essential components of 21st Century education. Increasing the number of IU undergraduates who study abroad has been one of my top priorities as president of IU. Over the last 10 years we have nearly doubled the number of our students who study overseas. Around 40 percent of all undergraduate students on the Bloomington campus study overseas before they graduate.

IU also continues to attract faculty from all over the globe. More than 20 percent of IU faculty are foreign born, which underscores how American universities continue to receive their strength from the best talent in the world. And, of course, we have many additional faculty members who have global expertise and who teach courses on a vast range of international topics. When it comes to global research, we look towards our faculty to initiate, implement, and expand their programs abroad as a natural extension of their education and research activity. And although international research partnerships are generally formed at the level of the individual researcher, these international collaborations do require institutional support to thrive.

IU also has around 200 major and secondary exchanges and partnerships with some of the leading universities around the world. These relationships support faculty research, provide venues for study abroad programs, and are of great advantage in our faculty and student recruitment efforts.

And to support all of this, we have established four Global Gateway Offices in China, India, Germany, and Mexico, and next year, we will establish our fifth in Bangkok. In the next few years, we will also add another in Africa. These offices serve as focal points for IU’s activities in these important parts of the world.

The future of international services in an uncertain climate

Of course, the current climate presents a number of challenges for international students and the university professionals who serve them. In fact, a number of factors have led to a recent decrease in applications from international students and a decrease in the number of international students studying in the United States. These factors include:

  • issues of cost and affordability,
  • reductions in scholarship programs sponsored by foreign governments,
  • restrictive regulations,
  • uncertainty about visa policies, and about the future availability of poststudy employment opportunities,
  • anti-immigration sentiment, which creates perceptions of the United States as a less welcoming place,
  • and, sadly, concerns about safety.

How can IU’s Office of International Services effectively serve in this environment so that when we celebrate the office’s centennial, we can look back with justifiable pride on IU’s efforts to welcome and support international students?

To answer, I will turn to the past, to an essay Herman Wells wrote in 1957.

"I am certain," Wells wrote, "that hitherto undreamed-of working relationships may develop between American institutions and foreign institutions, personal relationships between American and foreign scholars, American and foreign students—relationships which will be sound and lasting because they will be built on the solid foundation of joint work of equal partners on behalf of a common objective."3

In all of the areas of IU’s international strategic plan, this has been our goal—to build international relationships that are truly sustainable over the long term. University presidents, university trustees, and other senior leaders come and go. The interests of the university leaders who replace them may be different, and thus, the university’s priorities may change. And so, our aim has been to establish close academic and intellectual relationships between IU and its partner institutions and the academic programs within the universities. As those programs continue to thrive, the close relationship between our institutions will continue to thrive.

But these must also be tripartite relationships, involving not only two universities and their academic departments, but also local alumni—people who, in our case, studied at IU and have returned to live and work in their home countries. Our international alumni provide an invaluable local perspective, they can help us make connections, and they can provide a wide range of assistance, including, of course, by helping to recruit outstanding international students to IU.

In the same way, all of our efforts to serve and support international students should be built on the solid foundation of the joint work of equal partners on behalf of a common objective.

We must continue to focus our efforts around making personal connections with prospective international students—and to connect them with current students, faculty, and others who can give them an accurate picture of life in the Midwest and in the welcoming communities of Bloomington and Indianapolis.

We must continue to produce and support innovative cultural programming—like this evening's IU World's Fare and the Global Arts and Humanities Festival—programs that foster global learning and international cultural exchange. The Global Arts and Humanities Festival has brought artists and scholars from around the world to highlight the creative expressions and intellectual contributions of China and India, and we have just launched the third festival, Mexico Remixed, which will continue through the spring semester.

We will continue to build and strengthen relationships around the world with our international alumni through the IU Alumni Association, which has roughly doubled the number of its active international chapters in recent years, which now number around 50.

We will continue to make the work of Indiana University better known across the globe through the work that occurs in IU’s network of Global Gateway Offices.

We will continue to be leaders in the applications and uses of technology, as OIS has done, and to make well-informed, data-driven decisions about where to focus our international engagement efforts.

We will continue to work closely with the outstanding staff of IU's Office of Federal Relations, who collaborate regularly with our elected representatives and others in our nation’s capital on matters that affect IU and internationally-focused higher education.

And, in the new International Center, American and international students will have unprecedented opportunities to interact with and learn from one another—to build the close working relationships and friendships Herman Wells wrote of more than 60 years ago. It will be a place where sound and lasting relationships are formed, and where partners from around the globe work together to achieve shared goals.


On behalf of Indiana University, I offer our most sincere congratulations to Associate Vice President for International Services Chris Viers, and to the staff of IU’s Office of International Services, past and present, who have done so much over the years to ensure that international students succeed and thrive at Indiana University.

And so, all of us gathered here look forward to another 75 years for IU's Office of International Services that will be as successful as the years we celebrate today.

Source Notes

1. Indiana Daily Student, July 24, 1947, as quoted in Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Volume III: Years of Fulfillment, (Indiana University Press, 1977), 244.

2. Indiana Daily Student, 1962, as quoted in Thomas D. Clark, Indiana University: Midwestern Pioneer, Volume III: Years of Fulfillment, (Indiana University Press, 1977), 245.

3. Herman B Wells, "Widening Horizons," Educational Record, 38 (American Council on Education, 1957), as reprinted in Raymond F. Howes (ed.), Vision and Purpose in Higher Education: Twenty College Presidents Examine Developments During the Past Decade, (American Council on Education, 1962), 49.