President’s Report to the Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees Meeting, online

Friday, December 04, 2020

Thanks to IU community

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As you pointed out, we are rapidly approaching the close of a year that has been like no other at Indiana University—and we successfully made it to the end of the fall semester without having to reverse course in any way—something even just a few months ago many believed was not possible.

Throughout the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had two overriding priorities: the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff who comprise the IU community, and maintaining the continuity of instruction, research and clinical operations. And I can proudly report to you that we completed the in-person part of this semester, without ever compromising or affecting these priorities.

This has been due to the unflinching, dedicated efforts of literally thousands of members of the IU community right across the state. We are enormously grateful to members of IU's expert Restart Committee, chaired by Executive Vice President and Dean of the IU School of Medicine Jay Hess, which has met constantly, and which, last spring, delivered the science-driven recommendations that served as the foundation of IU's comprehensive public health strategy that followed and which allowed us to conduct in-person instruction and research this fall in the safest manner possible.

Of course, we knew that the success of IU's restart would depend on the members of the IU community.

And I want to echo your thanks, Mr. Chairman, to all of them for the strength and resolve they have demonstrated. Across all of our campuses—and when we needed it the most—IU’s students, faculty, and staff exhibited creativity, courage, kindness, perseverance, personal responsibility, and an unwavering concern for others.

I also want to further echo your thanks, Mr. Chairman, to the leaders of IU’s Medical Response Team: doctors Cole Beeler, Aaron Carroll, Lana Dbeibo and Adrian Gardner, as well as all members of their staffs and all who have worked closely with them.

In recent weeks, as Indiana and other states across our nation have reported record daily increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, including unfortunately in Indiana just yesterday—and as many universities around the country have struggled to contain the virus and had to abandon in-person classes—IU has been able to keep its COVID-19 cases and positivity rates low and manageable on our campuses. While we saw an anticipated spike in infections when the semester began, our numbers have continually improved because of the unremitting efforts of our Medical Response Team, which included intensive and focused asymptomatic testing, contact tracing efforts to pinpoint and address areas of concern, and solation and quarantine requirements and recommendations.  

Doug Booher and University Event Services, UITS, and IU Communications also deserve our grateful thanks for all they are doing to operate an excellent, highly professional asymptomatic testing process on IU campuses.

By the end of the in-person part of the fall semester on November 20, our mitigation testing positivity rates hovered around 1 percent or less. And, as a recent analysis indicated, our classrooms were among the safest places on our campuses and our campuses, incidentally, among the safest places in the state, once again reinforcing our confidence in the effectiveness of the safety protocols we put in place to resume in-person instruction. 

Our grateful thanks go to all the staff in Vice President Tom Morrison’s office for all they have done, as you heard in his presentation earlier, to keep our classrooms and all campus spaces safe, clean, and sanitized.

As you are aware, IU has dramatically increased its testing capacity over the last few months by establishing our own COVID-19 testing labs in Indianapolis and Bloomington. Through our new IU Pandemic Response Laboratories, our medical professionals can presently process 25,000 tests a week, more than doubling the previous scale of our mitigation testing program for asymptomatic individuals. And this number will be scaled up to 50,000 tests per week by the beginning of the spring semester. The labs also deliver much faster turnaround times for test results—typically 24 hours or less, and these tests cost a tenth of the price of the previous commercial tests. IU now offers students, faculty and staff the option to schedule a free asymptomatic COVID-19 test on either the IU Bloomington or IUPUI campus during IU's first-ever intersession, which began last week and continues through February 7.

Reason for optimism 

Our ultimate goal, of course, is to return to the world as it was pre-COVID-19. Some recent steadily brightening rays of hope suggest that this may well begin to happen by the fall 2021 semester.

While it is too soon to make definitive predictions—especially with our nation now facing a grave surge in COVID-19 cases over winter—we have seen very encouraging news on development of effective vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, in the Phase 3 trials of which IU is participating. In fact, it is expected that the first doses from Pfizer and Moderna will be ready to be administered to front line health care workers as soon as about the middle of this month. Mass prioritized vaccination throughout the state can be expected to follow.

While some uncertainty naturally remains around these vaccines, there is growing optimism that we are nearing a point where the majority of Americans will soon be able to be vaccinated, which, in turn, will dramatically reduce the spread of this deadly virus.

Furthering IU's proud global tradition 

As proud as I am about our collective efforts to maintain the continuity of our world-class instruction, research and clinical operations, it is almost impossible to overstate all that it will mean to return to normal operations – particularly for our students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a crippling effect on IU's study abroad programs, which have been a central part and a hallmark of the IU college experience for many students and is key to preparing them for success in today's increasingly interconnected world. Collectively, these programs represent one of IU's greatest achievements of the modern era, in enhancing the international awareness and understanding of IU students from diverse backgrounds and, in many cases, providing them with an experience of a lifetime.

Over the past decade, the number of students who have participated in an overseas study program has grown dramatically. On Monday, we will share with you some numbers from the latest Open Doors Report on International Exchange. It shows that in the last pre-pandemic year,2018-19, IU increased its study-abroad numbers and engagement even further and now ranks fifth in the nation out of over 1000 ranked universities, in terms of the number of IU students who study abroad.

Of all that comprises an IU education, international literacy and experience rank at the very top.

Despite the pandemic we are receiving large numbers of applications to study abroad—as soon, of course, as it is safe to do so. We are cautiously optimistic and enormously hopeful, that as the full weight and impact of the COVID-19 vaccines and other measures begins to be felt not only in the United States but also worldwide, we will once again see IU students studying abroad in numbers to rival recent years.

Until then, the pandemic will not slow our efforts to enhance the global literacy of our students, ensure that our faculty remain internationally engaged and learn from the world’s leading scholars and practitioners in global and international studies.

Indeed, just this week, we welcomed some of our nation's foremost international experts to the sixth annual America's Role in the World Conference at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. This conference celebrated the extraordinary legacy of one of America’s greatest statemen of the last 50 years, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton. The conference featured a galaxy of major foreign policy and national security figures all of whom paid the warmest tributes to Lee’s indelible contributions to the nation: former Secretary of State Madelaine Albright, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, former Directors of National Intelligence General James Clapper and Dan Coats, and many others. All discussed the foreign policy and national security challenges of the incoming Biden administration, as America re-engages more actively with the world. IU’s superb Hamilton Lugar students, by the way, play a major role in organizing this conference and introducing its speakers. And we expect to see many IU graduates at work in government and elsewhere as part of this re-engagement.

Also last month, we celebrated the dedication of a commons area with a centerpiece statue of renowned social scientist and internationalist Elinor "Lin" Ostrom, IU Distinguished Professor and the first women to receive the Nobel Prize in economics, in 2009. The statue is the first sculpture of a woman on the IU Bloomington campus, and we hope it will inspire IU students and others to learn more about Lin's landmark research, which translates well to the COVID-19 response, and what must be done for the greater good.

New Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I am also very pleased to report that seven IU faculty members were recently elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science—an honor that recognizes their outstanding contributions to the progress of science and research.

IU’s newest AAAS Fellows are:

  • Peter Finn, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences,
  • William P. Hetrick, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences,
  • Debomoy Lahiri, a professor of psychiatry in the IU School of Medicine on the IUPUI campus,
  • Tuli Mukhopadhyay, a professor and director of graduate studies in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology,
  • Nicola Pohl, a professor, the Joan and Marvin Carmack Chair in Bioorganic Chemistry, and associate dean of natural and mathematical sciences in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry,
  • Sara Skrabalak, the James H. Rudy Professor in the Department of Chemistry,
  • Liese van Zee, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Astronomy.

These seven faculty members are considered by their peers around the world as leaders and innovators in their respective fields. Although their individual accomplishments vary, they are united in their intellectual curiosity, commitment to academic and research excellence, and determination to push the frontiers of scientific discovery. They have brought great distinction to Indiana University, and we are extremely proud of them for the outstanding contributions they continue to make to answering major questions of importance to our society.


Once again, Mr. Chairman, this has been a year at IU like no other.

But it has brought out—and continues to bring out—the absolute best in the IU community.

Our campuses looked different this year.

But the strength and resilience of the members of the IU community ensured that we continued to advance our core missions of teaching and research excellence, while keeping Indiana's flagship public university firmly on the path of greatness.

And with that, Mr. Chairman, I return the floor to you.