Excerpt from "Honoring Indiana University's Traditions of Excellence"

Van Nuys Medical Science Atrium
Indianapolis, IN

Monday, October 28, 2019


Good evening. Before we begin, I am pleased to introduce my wife Laurie Burns McRobbie, First Lady of Indiana University, who is co-hosting tonight’s dinner. We are both delighted that all of you could join us this evening, during IU's Bicentennial Year, for the 13th annual Academic Excellence dinner, during which we celebrate the achievements of some of Indiana University’s most distinguished faculty.

As we recognize our outstanding faculty this evening, I am very pleased that two members of the IU Board of Trustees could join us. I will ask them to stand as I introduce them. With us tonight are Molly Connor, our student trustee, and trustee Donna Spears. Would you please help me welcome our trustees?

Also with us are many senior leaders of Indiana University and the IUPUI campus, including vice presidents and academic deans. There are too many here tonight to recognize individually, but I ask all of them to stand and I invite you to join me in welcoming all of them.

This annual dinner is held to recognize and celebrate IU faculty who have reached the pinnacle of academic achievement in their fields by being named fellows of one of the major national or international scholarly academies, or who have received Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes, Guggenheim Awards, MacArthur Awards, Carnegie Fellowships, or major awards in the performing arts such as Grammy or Emmy Awards.

Such a celebration is particularly fitting and appropriate during our Bicentennial Year, as we renew our commitment to excellence in every area of study across the university as we enter our third century.

Honoring faculty excellence

Tonight, I want to recognize two faculty members who have earned enormous distinction and whose work at Indiana University has contributed in major ways to the university’s continued strength and excellence in the areas of the life sciences and global health. One has recently retired from IU after serving for 30 years on the faculty, and the other will retire from the university in the coming months after serving for more than 30 years.

Honoring Dr. Robert Einterz

The first of tonight's honorees is Dr. Robert Einterz, the Donald E. Brown Professor of Global Health, and associate dean for global health and professor of clinical medicine in the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Einterz also serves as director of the Indiana University Center for Global Health and as executive director of the renowned AMPATH Consortium.

He is here tonight with his wife, Lea Anne, and with many friends and colleagues.

Dr. Einterz, an alumnus of the IU School of Medicine who joined the school’s faculty in 1987, is one of the visionary founders of AMPATH, the "Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare," a groundbreaking program that has transformed—and saved—many lives. AMPATH began as an idea back in 1988 and took root as a full-fledged program in 1990, when Indiana University partnered with Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya to help develop Kenya's second medical school. The partnership grew into one of the largest and most comprehensive HIV/AIDs treatment and prevention programs in the world.

Under Dr. Einterz's outstanding leadership, AMPATH has expanded beyond its original focus on HIV and AIDS to provide more comprehensive care to people in Western Kenya. To date, more than 4 million Kenyans have received healthcare through the program, and more than 2,600 medical professionals and health workers have been trained. The program also feeds tens of thousands of people each week. It truly is a marvelous program that aims for a holistic approach, and it has been nominated—deservedly so—for a Nobel Peace Prize multiple times.

The great success of the program would not have been possible without the truly heroic efforts of Dr. Einterz and his colleagues—including the co-founders of the IU-Kenya partnership, Dr. Joe Mamlin and Dr. Charlie Kelley, who I am honored are both with us tonight.

Because of their efforts, not only has IU made a major contribution to the alleviation of suffering and to combatting the scourge of AIDs in Kenya, but IU was also poised to strengthen its international leadership in the field of global health. And so, in 2010, on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the IU-Kenya partnership, I announced the establishment of the Indiana University Center for Global Health and that Dr. Einterz would be its founding director.

Last December, Dr. Einterz was one of 25 faculty members from across the university to be named a Bicentennial Professor, the appointments of whom were approved by the IU Board of Trustees. Bicentennial Professors travel around the state delivering public presentations about their research or professional activities.

Dr. Einterz has announced his intention to retire from IU on January 31, 2020. He and Lea Anne plan to move to South Bend, and he will take up the post of health officer for St. Joseph County. I am grateful that he also plans to remain engaged with expanding AMPATH’s pioneering model to new locations around the world.

Bob, would you please join me at the podium?

The President's Medal for Excellence is a reproduction in fine silver of the symbolic jewel of office worn by Indiana University’s president at ceremonial occasions. Three precious stones within the jewel represent the university’s cultivation of reading, writing, and mathematics, as well as the arts, sciences, and humanities. 

This medal is given to recognize exceptional distinction in public service, service to Indiana University, achievement in a profession, or extraordinary merit and achievement in the arts, humanities, sciences, education, and industry.

And so, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Trustees of Indiana University, in gratitude for your extraordinary leadership and the enormous contributions you have made to global health, I am privileged and honored to present you with the President’s Medal for Excellence.


Honoring Jeffrey Palmer

Our final honoree this evening, Jeffrey Palmer, retired earlier this year as Distinguished Professor of Biology in Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences and as Class of 1955 Professor.

Professor Palmer is joined tonight by his wife, Professor Emerita Mimi Zolan, who retired from the Department of Biology last year, as well as many friends and colleagues.

Professor Palmer is a world-renowned expert on plant molecular evolution and phylogeny. A member of the IU faculty since 1989, Professor Palmer has made landmark discoveries spanning topics as diverse as plant phylogeny and the evolution of introns, segments of genes that are removed as part of the gene expression process. He has also contributed greatly to research on how genomes evolve and interact in eukaryotic cells.

Results from his lab have had a major impact on biologists' understanding of the origin of flowering plants, the origin of land plants from green algae, and the origin of chloroplasts from cyanobacteria. His work also led to the discovery of the surprisingly close relationship between animals and fungi.

Professor Palmer has been identified as one of the top 15 researchers in the world in the field of plant and animal science by the Institute for Scientific Information. He is the author of more than 200 research articles, which have been cited over 42,000 times.

He has trained 40 postdoctoral fellows and 20 graduate students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers. He is held in such esteem by those he has mentored that on his 50th birthday, his former students organized and travelled from around the world to attend and speak at a symposium in his honor.

Professor Palmer was also instrumental in rallying support for Simon Hall, the multidisciplinary science building dedicated in Bloomington in 2007, which opened in 2007 and was the first academic building I dedicated as president. He led a legendary three-year campaign to have the building situated where it is, in the heart of the Bloomington campus in close proximity to other science building on the campus.

Professor Palmer is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 2015, he was awarded the McClintock Prize for Plant Genetics and Genome Studies by the Maize Genetics Executive Committee, a professional organization for scientists and researchers working in the field of maize genetics. It is named in honor of Barbara McClintock, a distinguished geneticist and winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

I am very pleased to add to his honors tonight.

Jeff, would you please join me at the podium.

By virtue of the authority vested in me by the trustees of Indiana University, in recognition of your accomplishments as a research biologist, and in gratitude for your long and distinguished service to the Department of Biology and to Indiana University, I am privileged and honored to present you with the President’s Medal for Excellence.


Close of the evening

Let me extend my congratulations once again to Dr. Einterz, and Professor Palmer, and my thanks to all of you for coming this evening to recognize and honor intellectual and creative achievement at Indiana University.

Next year we will hold this celebration of academic excellence in Bloomington.

Your outstanding careers have no doubt brought you tremendous personal rewards, but you have also brought great distinction to Indiana University.

We are grateful for your tireless dedication, your brilliant contributions to your fields, and your commitment to excellence in your every endeavor. You are the heart of Indiana University, the soul of your departments, and the spirit that drives scholarship to its apex.

Thank you very much.