Hoosier Shake-Up

Indiana U. president, under fire from faculty, will leave in 2 years -- and issues restructuring plan that wins praise from his Bloomington critics.
January 16, 2006

The president of Indiana University has frustrated professors at the flagship campus at Bloomington by failing to name a new chancellor. On Friday, he announced that he wouldn't seek to have his contract extended past its 2008 expiration -- and proposed eliminating the chancellor position. When the university's board adopted that plan on Saturday, some of the president's strongest critics were praising the changes, which they said offered new hope to Bloomington.

Adam W. Herbert, who was named president of the eight-campus system in 2003, issued a statement explaining that his decision to leave was based on his accomplishments in office, an analysis of the state of the university, his personal need to plan for his family's future and "recent events on the Bloomington campus." Herbert also issued a proposal to Indiana's board, calling for it to change the top Bloomington position from chancellor to provost. "The capacity of the president to exercise campus leadership and to engage in the level of campus communication that the faculty desires is limited" by having a Bloomington chancellor, Herbert wrote.

Faculty leaders agree. "The problem here, going back 10 or 15 years, is that the chancellor of the campus has not had the range of authority over matters affecting the Bloomington campus. We'll now have somebody with the authority to do the things that need to be done," said Theodore K. Miller, president of the Faculty Council at Bloomington and a professor of public and environmental affairs.

Miller also said that he saw the changes as a sign that Indiana's board "is focused on Bloomington" in a way that hasn't been the case.

Since 2003, the Bloomington campus hasn't had a permanent chancellor -- and Herbert's role in prolonging that vacancy has been a source of increasing tension. In October, Herbert rejected the three finalists that had been proposed for the job by a search committee.

One of those finalists -- Kumble R. Subbaswamy, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bloomington -- had strong faculty backing for the position. When he was passed over, his supporters predicted that he would soon leave Indiana, and this month he was named provost of the University of Kentucky.

Critics of Herbert said that they were pleased by the prospect of his departure, but worried about the future of IU, which is about to lose a crucial dean, faces a reorganization of its top campus position, and now has a lame duck president.

"I'm very concerned. We need to make some key academic appointments and we haven't had a good record at making such appointments for the last five years," said Theodore Widlanski, a professor of chemistry at Bloomington. Widlanski said that Herbert's suggestions about shifting the structure of the Bloomington leadership "aren't bad" and "may help in the long term."

But in the short term, he said, "I would hope Adam Herbert would step down right now." The prospect of two years with a lame duck president is worrisome, he said, adding that he hoped the board would start a search soon and might negotiate an earlier departure for Herbert. (The board issued a strong statement of support for Herbert, and  said it would begin a search for his replacement in the fall.)

Widlanski stressed that the problems at Bloomington need immediate attention from permanent leaders. "Our physical plant is deteriorating. There is no meaningful long-term planning. We are losing credibility in the state and country."

Rick Newkirk, editor in chief of the Indiana Daily Student, said that the debate over the university's leadership has been much more important to faculty members than to students, most of whom are apathetic. "Most students would say that they have never even seen the president, and that's what I find disconcerting," he said.

Newkirk said he was also bothered by the idea of having so many lame duck officials. "The administration really seems to be crumbling," he said. "The university is headless."

Much of the debate about Herbert's leadership of the Indiana system has focused on the complaints from the flagship campus at Bloomington. Perspectives on both Herbert and the new organization differ on some of the system's other campuses.

David Vollrath, president of the Academic Senate and a professor of management at IU's South Bend campus, said that professors there have been split on Herbert. A major concern at South Bend is that Herbert's emphasis on "mission differentiation" among the university's campuses would result in South Bend "not being allowed to grow and being relegated to a focus on teaching to the detriment of our research," Vollrath said.

Should Herbert and his replacement as president focus too much on Bloomington, professors elsewhere will object, Vollrath said, adding that it still wasn't clear what the full impact of the changes would be. "To the extent that this changes in structure gets implemented in a way that gets the president focused tightly on the Bloomington campus, we'll be waiting to see how the total system recognizes the needs and concerns of the regional campus faculties," Vollrath said. "It's too soon to tell."


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