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Criticism Over IPFW Communication Continues After Press Conference

Public Domain. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

The Legislative Services Agency released a report in January that proposed splitting Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne into two universities, but it wasn’t until December that school officials held a press conference about the realignment. 

Even after the press conference, students and faculty have questions, and some people are questioning how much IPFW leadership has communicated with the public.

The event at IPFW on December 12 was the first of its kind. It’s the first time IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein, Purdue President Mitch Daniels, and IU President Michael McRobbie gathered for a joint press conference, according to an IPFW spokeswoman.

During the event, which focused on the split between IU and Purdue, Chancellor Carwein was criticized by students for not communicating more about the changes facing the university. But Carwein says she’s made herself available to students.

This isn’t the only major change the campus is facing. This past fall, IPFW announced that some of its degree programs would be eliminated.

Restructuring: (n.) an internal, joint faculty-staff review of campus operations initiated and conducted by IPFW

"It's an internal matter... I'm not sure it is of such great interest that a press conference was the way to go."

When this news was first announced to faculty and students in early October, the information wasn’t immediately made public. It wasn’t until 10 days later that a press release detailing the changes was sent to the media. During a November 2 interview with Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Carl Drummond, I asked him whether he thought the taxpayer-funded university should have held a press conference to disseminate the information to the public.

“You know, it’s an internal matter. It’s obviously of some interest to the community because of other things that are going on at the university, including the consideration of a realignment of academic programs between Purdue and IU,” Drummond said. “IPFW is in the news more than it typically is, and while it’s a matter of some interest, I’m not sure it is of such great interest that a press conference was the way to go, but that was not a decision that was mine to make.”

IPFW had a specific communication plan, which was to provide details to the university’s deans, and have that information gradually flow downward to the students as details were worked out, says IPFW spokesman John Kaufeld. A press release from IPFW said the university would “strive in the future” to communicate more quickly and with a broader audience. The statement was sent out just three business days before WBOI’s interview with Drummond, when he said there wasn’t an issue with the communication plan.

"We did not do a great job there, and that's definitely something that we own."

But Kaufeld, IPFW’s former communication chief, said the problem was that the news went almost immediately to social media.

“The information took a life of its own, and that is something that the next time this happens, or the next time we have a big piece of information to get out, we do need to get ahead of that,” Kaufeld said. “We did not do a great job there, and that’s definitely something that we own.”

Realignment: (n.) result of the LSA study recommendations released in January 2016 regarding the overall role and governance of IPFW by IU and Purdue  

The December 12 press conference was the first time Chancellor Carwein has publicly answered questions about the proposed realignment, which would split IPFW into two schools, run separately by IU and Purdue. At the public availability, the university heads made sure to outline the difference between realignment and restructuring. They would only answer questions about realignment.

But a group of students at the press conference took issue with its sole focus on realignment. They wanted answers to questions about both the change in IPFW’s governance and the elimination of programs.

“We try to get meetings with you, Vicky Carwein, and we can’t speak with you because you’re not on campus. I’m not satisfied with this dismissal, this constant dismissal, and I’m hoping someone can address that for us,” said Nicki Meier, a member of the group Not in Our Future, which is opposed to restructuring the university.

"I'm not satisfied with this dismissal, this constant dismissal."

Her question was about why the university says restructuring and realignment are completely separate. Meier claims she’s been told the two proposed changes are linked.

Chancellor Carwein denied the connection between the two. But Carwein at first didn’t address the second part of Meier’s complaint, which was that the chancellor has been unavailable for meetings regarding IPFW’s changes. It wasn’t until she was asked again about transparency that she denied the accusations.

“I would disagree that we have not, or that I have not, been available. I’ve had numerous conversations with individual students across campus, at various meetings, at events that we sponsor,” Carwein said. “But this press conference is really to talk about the realignment agreement that has been negotiated between Indiana University and Purdue University.”

IPFW spokeswoman Kim Wagner says it’s hard to count how many conversations Carwein has had with students. Wagner says Chancellor Carwein has spoken to a “number of people” at athletic events, lectures, and in the hallways around campus. However, Carwein nor any other IPFW official has held a press conference yet regarding internal restructuring of the university, even though the changes go into effect Jan. 1.

No other press conferences are scheduled for the near future.

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