IU Bicentennial Tribute to Elinor Ostrom

Bloomington, Ind.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie welcomes participants to the sixth Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop held at IU Bloomington. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University


Thank you very much, Lee (Alston).

It is a great pleasure to be here this morning to welcome all of you to the Bloomington campus of Indiana University and the sixth Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop. I am particularly pleased to welcome those of you who are IU alumni, former students or former visiting scholars of the Ostrom Workshop, as well as the many distinguished scholars and development practitioners who have come from across the country and from every inhabited continent in the world for this conference. I trust that the next three days will be productive, intellectually stimulating, and enjoyable for all of you.

I am very pleased to join you this morning to make a few remarks about the Workshop and the transformative work of the late Elinor Ostrom, the distinguished scholar and Nobel Memorial Prize laureate in economics who was its co-founder, and who I was honored to know as a friend and colleague.

The Bicentennial of Indiana University

This year's Workshop on the Workshop is sponsored by Indiana University’s Office of the Bicentennial.

The beginning of Indiana University's Bicentennial year is now only 11 days away, and the excitement and anticipation are rising.

In the coming academic year, we will chronicle and celebrate two centuries of IU's remarkable development into one of the world's great public research universities, while at the same time begin to map a vision of how the university will continue to evolve in its third century.

In the coming months, the entire university community—including the communities of all seven of IU's campuses, our more than 700,000 living alumni who reside in all 50 states and in more than 150 countries around the world, and countless friends of the university—will celebrate all that the university has achieved.

We have planned a number of exciting events for this historic year, including a Bicentennial Alumni Reunion, as well as lectures, conferences, and symposia that allow us to reflect on all that makes our nearly 200-year-old university such a world-class institution.

And we are taking the fullest advantage of this truly unique year to build even greater support for the university's fundamental missions of research and education through the Bicentennial Campaign, which has the ambitious goal of raising $3 billion by June of 2020, and which, I am very pleased to note, is well ahead of schedule.

Today, I am delighted to be here to pay tribute to Lin Ostrom, a pioneering, influential scholar whose life and career brought great distinction to Indiana University. This sixth Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop holds special significance, because this year will mark the 10th anniversary of Lin being awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009.

Honoring Elinor Ostrom

Even before she became the first woman—and the first political scientist—to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, Lin was a living legend at Indiana University and she was well known around the world as a leading social scientist, and as a gifted, incisive, and creative scholar.

She earned her master's and doctoral degrees—both in political science, and both at UCLA—at a time when there was widespread resistance to admitting women to doctoral programs. My wife, Laurie, and I count ourselves as fortunate to have known Lin as a friend and colleague. In fact, we were both honored to accompany her to Stockholm when she received the prize and delivered her Nobel lecture in December of 2009. As those of you who also knew her as a colleague or mentor can attest, Lin was a pioneer in many ways during her long and distinguished career.

She was, of course, one of the primary forces behind the development of the academic study of the commons, a field that has matured remarkably over the last four decades, thanks, in large part, to Lin’s work. Her landmark book, Governing the Commons, dispelled the conventional wisdom that privatization and government control were universally the optimal arrangements for managing common pool resources.

But her work was also part of a much larger research project, which included examining the power of civil society, the development of social norms, the voluntary collective action of citizens to solve problems, and the issue that all of you are examining this week: the past, present, and future of governance.

Like all great research universities, Indiana University draws its strength from the breadth of its activities. Although there are selected areas of particular focus, its essence is a gathering of scholars from across all disciplines and creative fields, providing a rich environment for faculty and students alike. Throughout her distinguished career, Lin had remarkable success in creating just such an environment. She was also responsible for creating centers that directly shaped the research careers of hundreds of social scientists, the foremost of which, of course, is the renowned Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, which we renamed in honor of Lin and her late husband, Vincent, in 2012.

Lin's work, along with the work of the worldwide network of scholars who have been affiliated with the Workshop for the last 47 years, has helped to shape public policy around the globe. Her work bridged disciplinary boundaries long before interdisciplinary effort was the norm in academia. She brought together scholars, government leaders, and development officials from around the globe, and fostered innovative collaborations that have made a difference in the daily lives of people in communities around the world.

Lin and Vincent also exhibited extraordinary generosity to Indiana University. Time and again, when they received a major award, they donated the financial component of the award to the university. Lin and Vincent’s gifts to IU, which included Lin's Nobel Prize funds, totaled many millions of dollars. Her Nobel Prize, incidentally, which is normally on display in the campus’s administration building, is on display in the Charter Room here in the Indiana Memorial Union during this conference.

Lin gave back to IU not to bring any glory to herself, but so that the work in which she so strongly believed could continue, and so that future generations of talented students would have opportunities to pursue their educations at Indiana University.

We were incredibly fortunate to have had the benefit of Lin’s outstanding work as a teacher, researcher, advisor, and administrator at Indiana University for nearly five decades.

With her passing, we lost an irreplaceable and magnificent treasure.

She and Vincent are deeply missed, but we take consolation in knowing that their legacy truly will live on in a number of meaningful ways.

Their legacy endures through the Ostrom Workshop, as it continues to bring together scholars who probe the inner workings of human institutions.

Their legacy endures through the hundreds of their former graduate students who are now working around the globe as scholars, researchers, development practitioners, and advisors—including many of you who are with us this week.

And it endures through the work of alumni and friends of the Workshop, who carry on Lin and Vincent's work by asking constructive questions that challenge conventional wisdom; who gather empirical data and conduct research that can influence decision-makers in business, government, and civil society; and who invite all of us to consider new perspectives on critical issues.

Announcing the statue and historical marker

And, I am delighted to report that, as part of Indiana University’s Bicentennial, Lin's legacy will be honored in a number of permanent ways here on the Bloomington campus.

One of the signature projects of IU's Bicentennial Office is "Bridging the Visibility Gap," a project that aims to bring to light the unknown and underappreciated stories of the women and underrepresented minorities who have helped to build and strengthen Indiana University.

"Bridging the Visibility Gap" includes the "Women of Indiana University Portrait Collection," which is housed here in the Indiana Memorial Union, and which includes a wonderful portrait of Lin, painted by IU fine arts professor emerita Bonnie Sklarski.

I am very pleased to announce today that a statue of Lin will be commissioned and funded by funds from IU's Well House Society, a giving society of the IU Foundation, whose members make annual gifts that give Indiana University the flexibility to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise. During our Bicentennial, we are using Well House Society funds with a focus on preservation, IU’s heritage, and campus beautification. The statue of Lin will be placed outside of Woodburn Hall, the home of IU Bloomington’s Department of Political Science, where Lin taught for many years and where her office was housed. It will be a fitting memorial to one of IU’s and the nation’s finest scholars.

In addition, as part of our Bicentennial, we will be placing historical markers on campus that honor the people, places, events, and organizations that have had an enormous impact on IU, the state, nation, and world—and one of these historical markers will be dedicated to Lin and her remarkable career.

The Ostrom Workshop has operated in a spirit of collaboration for nearly five decades, and that same spirit of collaboration will also shape the Workshop’s future direction and ensure its continued success.

The Indiana University community is incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from Lin and Vincent’s extraordinary service. We are all honored to have known them as colleagues and I know that the worldwide network of scholars who are associated with the Workshop feel the same.

And, given the wonderful foundation that Lin and Vincent built for the Workshop—and given the work in which all of you are engaged—I am confident that many decades of continued success lie ahead for the Ostrom Workshop.  Thank you, again, for joining us in Bloomington this week, and have a wonderful conference.

Now, please welcome Lee Alston back to the podium.