The O'Neill School: An innovative school in a millenia-old tradition
Stavros Yiannouka, CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education, writes that "The pursuit of good governance has been a preoccupation of humanity at least since the time of Confucius and Socrates. …The study of public administration and public policy at universities," he continues, "is an integral part of this millennia-old tradition and arguably represents the near universal acceptance of the belief that good governance can and should be both studied and taught."1
Today, as we gather during the ongoing celebration of Indiana University's 200th anniversary to celebrate the naming of the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, we celebrate a school whose faculty, staff, students, and alumni have, for nearly 50 years, been engaged in this millennia-old tradition of education, scholarship, and civic engagement that not only contributes to improved governance but also provides solutions to some of our society’s most pressing needs.
The O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
While the O'Neill School’s history may be familiar to many of you, it is especially fitting during this Bicentennial Year to reflect briefly on the school’s remarkable growth and accomplishments over its 47 years.
Established in 1972, the school was the first in the nation to combine public and environmental affairs. A driving force in its establishment was the desire for new avenues for better understanding the world and contributing to its improvement.
The school enrolled only 20 undergraduates in its first year, but grew rapidly, enrolling nearly 1,000 students in the fall semester of 1974. Today, the school has around 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, and more than 34,000 alumni.
The O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs has grown to become a world leader, with top ranked programs in nonprofit management, environmental policy, and public finance. The school's professional graduate program in public affairs is the nation's highest-ranked program of its kind, and its doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy also rank among the nation's best.
The school remains focused, as well, on its mission of service to the state of Indiana. Sixty-eight percent of the O’Neill School’s undergraduate students in Bloomington and 96 percent of its undergraduates in Indianapolis are state residents, as are many of its graduate students. A large number of the school’s alumni remain in the state, working to bring public policy and fiscal expertise to bear for the benefit of the citizens of Indiana.
The O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs has become synonymous with excellence at IU and throughout the world, in large part, because of the work of the school’s outstanding faculty. Over the years, the school’s faculty has included such accomplished scholars as York Willbern and Lynton Keith Caldwell, two of the school’s principal founders, as well as the late Elinor Ostrom, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. In the last decade, the addition of many outstanding new faculty members has allowed the school to expand its academic offerings. All of these scholars—and many others—have contributed to the school’s reputation for excellence.
Paul O'Neill and the O'Neill family
Over the years, the rapid growth in the number of students in the O’Neill School led to overcrowded and inadequate facilities.
In 2014, I was delighted to announce that former Secretary of the United States Treasury and IU alumnus, Paul O'Neill, and his wife, Nancy, had made a generous gift of $3 million to the school, which was, at the time, the largest private donation in the school’s history. Their remarkable gift helped make possible the magnificent new O'Neill Graduate Center, which we dedicated in 2017. The center has helped to address the school’s space shortage in a major way. It also provides a front door worthy of the number one Public Affairs graduate program in the country.
And, of course, earlier this year, we announced the renaming of the school as the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in recognition of Secretary O'Neill's distinguished career in both the private and public sectors and in recognition of his and Nancy’s enormously generous gift of $30 million to support programming in the school.
This transformative gift will establish the Paul H. O'Neill Center on Leadership in Public Service, a dean's initiatives fund, three faculty chair positions, five professorships, a fellowship program for master's, doctoral and postdoctoral students, and a scholarship program, which will continue in perpetuity. Together, these contributions will allow the school to continue to innovate, and to recruit world class teachers, researchers, and future leaders.
Secretary O'Neill earned his Master of Public Administration degree at IU in 1966 while a fellow in the National Institute of Public Affairs program.
He has had a remarkable career, serving in the U.S Office of Management and Budget, in the private sector as an executive of both the International Paper Company and Alcoa, and, of course, as Secretary of the Treasury.
Secretary O'Neill has remained closely connected to the school that now bears his name, and has visited the campus regularly to speak to students and faculty. In 2014, he delivered an outstanding Graduate Commencement address here in Bloomington, and on that occasion, he was awarded an honorary IU doctorate. We were, of course, also honored to have Secretary and Mrs. O’Neill with us in 2017 for the dedication of the O’Neill Graduate Center.
On behalf of Indiana University, I want to again express our deepest thanks to Secretary O’Neill, to Nancy O'Neill, and to the entire O’Neill family for their remarkably generous support that has been—and will continue to be—transformative for the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs for generations to come.
Early in 1968, Lynton Caldwell, who, as I mentioned earlier, was one of the founders of the school, was invited to advise the United States Senate’s Interior Committee on the need for congressional legislation for a national environmental policy. His report to Congress helped lead to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, which was signed into law on January 1, 1970. In this landmark report, Caldwell wrote:
"A reciprocal relationship exists between the interests of public life and the activities of American universities. Public concern with a social problem, when expressed in terms of public recognition or financial support, stimulates related research and teaching in the colleges and universities. Research findings and teaching,” Caldwell continued, influence the actions of government and the behavior of society."2
As Indiana University prepares to enter its third century of service, IU and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs remain steadfastly committed to teaching and research that fosters good governance, that contributes solutions to some of society’s most urgent challenges, and educates and inspires the coming generation of leaders and decision-makers.
All of us look forward to witnessing and celebrating the important and lasting contributions the future alumni of the O’Neill School of Public and Environment Affairs will make that will strengthen our state, our nation, and our world.
Thank you very much.
1. Stavros Yiannouka, Foreword to Kishore Mahbubani, Lee Kuan Yew School Of Public Policy: Building A Global Policy School In Asia, ((World Scientific, 2012), xv.
2. Lynton K. Caldwell, “A National Policy for the Environment,” a report to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 90th Congress, 2nd session, as reprinted in Caldwell, et al., Environment as a Focus for Public Policy, (Texas A&M University Press, 1995), 150.