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Education

Opinion: The Ethics of Accountability at IPFW

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Jeff Gruettert is one of my favorite students from my time at IPFW. He’s good-natured, curious, smart, and hard-working. He minored in Professional and Applied Ethics, and as part of the course work, interned at 3BG—a small business in downtown Fort Wayne. Since graduation, he has worked at 3BG as Operations Manager and was even given company equity, which is rare in the small business community.

He and I have coffee every once in a while and one of the issues that comes up in conversation is what kind of activities 3BG should engage in aside from their core business. Informed by his work as an ethics minor, Jeff often helps answer the question: what kind of business should 3BG be?

This kind of question confronts any organization with a budget. There are limited resources available and decisions must be made about how to allocate those resources. As a candidate for Southwest Allen County School Board and as a member of the Philosophy Department at IPFW, I have felt the press of these difficult decisions for institutions of education. SACS ranks in the bottom 2% of funding per student across the state of Indiana, and IPFW is in the process of making significant cuts in light of falling enrollments. Every decision about resource allocation has an opportunity cost, because those resources cannot be used elsewhere.

It’s for this reason that identifying the fundamental goal or goals as an institution is so important. When decisions are made one at a time, without attention to a broader context, these decisions lead to irrational outcomes. Anyone who has considered extra-curricular activities for their kids can understand how each activity individually may be appealing, but saying yes to all of them can be too much.

As a candidate for Southwest Allen Count School Board, I have made it clear what my goals would be if elected. As a public servant, these serve as promises that I would expect to be held accountable for. Similarly, when Jeff talks about the work at 3BG and improvements to its business and its outreach to the community, he speaks of the goals that he and 3BG are trying to achieve.

As a public institution, IPFW and its leadership is accountable to the people of Indiana, generally, and to the citizens of NE Indiana, specifically. The question that needs to be asked of IPFW is: "What goal are you trying to achieve?"

What are IPFW’s goals? As a member of the Philosophy Department at IPFW, I have specific views about what I think IPFW should aim to be. But it is not my place to tell the people of NE Indiana what their institution of higher education should look like. As a public institution, IPFW and its leadership is accountable to the people of Indiana, generally, and to the citizens of NE Indiana, specifically. The question that needs to be asked of IPFW is: “What goal are you trying to achieve?” Efficiency is important, but only insofar as it helps IPFW achieve its goal or goals.

Just today, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Carl Drummond has written that, despite the opportunity costs, cutting academics at IPFW is needed. And that cutting Athletics is not. Whether these claims make sense, of course, depends on the goals of the institution. Continuing to spend 4.9 million on Athletics while cutting 1.1 million from Academics says something about the relative priority of these activities to the mission of IPFW.

As a candidate for School Board of SACS, I have articulated my overarching goal in less than a sentence: to support teachers as they help students learn. For this, I expect to be held accountable, if elected. IPFW’s mission statement calls for it to be a “comprehensive university” that “drive the intellectual, social, economic, and cultural advancement of our students and our region.” As the students, alumni, and taxpayers who foot the bill for IPFW, it’s reasonable, if not obligatory, for you to ask if these increased efficiencies in academics are the best way for IPFW to achieve its purported goal. And then to hold those responsible for these decisions accountable. 

Abraham Schwab is a Fort Wayne associate professor of philosophy and medical ethicist.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.