Purdue University provided this map to show the five buildings it will continue to occupy on what will be the IU Indianapolis campus, which has 129 buildings overall.
Purdue University provided this map to show the five buildings it will continue to occupy on what will be the IU Indianapolis campus, which has 129 buildings overall.
Trustees at Indiana and Purdue universities were voting Friday to revamp a 52-year relationship that is IUPUI and rebrand the urban campus as Indiana University Indianapolis, a move intended to end confusion and drive growth in enrollment, research and prestige.

Under a memorandum of understanding negotiated by IU President Pamela Whitten and Purdue President Mitch Daniels, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis will shed its tongue-twisting name by fall semester 2024.

During that time, the 536-acre campus, located on the west edge of downtown, will undergo a major transformation meant to give both IU and Purdue stronger identities in the state’s capital city that will allow them to play bigger roles in the region’s economy and get students more prepared for hot jobs in science and engineering.

The IU board approved the changes at a board meeting 9-0 on Friday in Bloomington with no debate. Purdue board’s executive committee, which is authorized to act between full trustee meetings, was set to vote Friday.

Whitten, who took over as president of Indiana University just one year ago, told IBJ the change represents “an amazing opportunity.”

“We get to design a world-class urban university for the city of Indianapolis and really put the city on the map,” she said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement the realignment “will create a transformational change across Indiana’s landscape and far beyond.” He said the schools will “create an epicenter for research and a training ground for future focused innovative fields to ensure students are ready for the modern-day economy.”

IUPUI, until now a joint venture between the two universities on a campus owned and managed by IU, could look and operate much differently in coming decades. Besides its new name, the institution will realign or shuffle some of its programs and schools, with Purdue taking on more responsibility for engineering and computer science, and IU continuing to operate much of the life science and health care programs.

It could be a huge change for a major institution on the Indianapolis skyline—and for the city itself. For five decades, IUPUI has operated as a collaboration between the two, with each offering their own degrees. Students do not receive IUPUI degrees; they receive either an IU or a Purdue degree.

IU has owned and operated the campus—and will continue to do so.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels negotiated the new agreement for IUPUI with IU President Pam Whitten. He told IBJ he’s been interested in discussing a change for some time, but it hadn’t been a priority for IU until Whitten came on board last year.

Purdue University, the longtime smaller partner in the collaboration, now occupying just five of IUPUI’s 129 buildings, will continue to offer science and engineering programs under the Purdue brand.

But Purdue said it plans to expand its presence on or near the Indianapolis campus. One way is by opening a branch of its Purdue Applied Research Institute, a not-for-profit research arm that serves as an incubator for advanced development and transition of technology that has potential for large-scale prototypes, pilots, and start-ups.

Purdue said it anticipates expanding its Indianapolis enrollment by more than 1,000 students, housing many in a new residential building near its academic buildings. Currently, Purdue has about 5,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students enrolled at IUPUI, compared to about 26,000 for IU.

Breaking down the IUPUI changes announced Friday

Whitten told the IU board on Friday that there are still details to work out, but that the memorandum of understanding “lays out the timeline and general parameters for which both institutions will cooperate and collaborate in good faith to develop and implement the realignment plan with a view toward entering into a definitive agreement” by June 20, 2023, with an effective date for the realignment of July 1, 2024.

The two schools say they plan to work together to harness what is considered their strongest asset: their life science and health care programs—including the IU School of Medicine and Purdue Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering—in an informal biosciences engineering institute.

A major goal of the transformation, both institutions say, is to make students better prepared for the sharply rising number of jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM sector), which business and civic leaders identify as the future of the Indiana economy.

Both IU and Purdue say the time has come to push IUPUI onto a new course to match the new demands of Indiana’s business landscape.

“IUPUI has made great contributions for half a century,” said Daniels, a former governor who will retire as president of West Lafayette-base Purdue University in January after 10 years at the helm. “But it has always been contemplated that it might evolve, and that it needs to match the high-tech knowledge economy of today. That’s been obvious for years.”

Whitten said the transformation will be an ongoing process and is likely to result in big and small changes over the next decade. She called the realignment a “historic moment for Indianapolis and IU.”

And Holcomb said the change “will ensure Indiana is a leader in developing the workforce of tomorrow and attracting more companies to Indiana that are on the brink of cutting-edge discovery.”

Struggling with identity

IUPUI was founded in 1969 as mostly a commuter undergraduate school for students in Indianapolis. IU and Purdue had actually been teaching classes in Indianapolis independently for decades. But in 1968, then-Mayor Richard Lugar declared that Indianapolis needed a “great state university.”

At the time, Indiana was distinctive in being home to several top-tier research universities, such as IU, Purdue and the University of Notre Dame. But they were all located outside of large cities, including Indiana’s capital.

In the decades that followed, IU and Purdue expanded their reach in acreage and enrollment. Today, the campus hosts a sweeping array of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, law, art, public health, engineering, computer science and liberal arts.

But despite those strong elements, IUPUI has struggled to recruit, raise money, and become a top-tier research university. In the latest rankings of universities across the nation by U.S. News & World Report, IUPUI ranked 196th when measuring test scores, faculty resources, graduation rates and other factors.

That placed it far behind other Indiana institutions, including Notre Dame (19th), Purdue West Lafayette (49th), IU Bloomington (68th).

It also makes Indianapolis one of the few large American cities not to be home to a so-called “R1 doctoral university,” known for very high research activity.

And although the IU School of Medicine is located on the IUPUI campus, the medical school’s huge research laboratories and funding numbers are reported through IU Bloomington. That has put a crimp in the numbers that ratings organizations use to rank schools, hurting IUPUI’s reputation and ability to recruit.

Last year, the medical school pulled down $361.2 million in research funding. At the same time, IUPUI’s non-medical research programs reported about one-tenth of that amount, $36.9 million, and IU Bloomington’s other research programs (excluding the medical school) brought in another $113.4 million.

“That really has kept us from being in some ways all we could be” in Indianapolis, said David Johnson, outgoing CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, a group focused on expanding Indiana’s economy by concentrating on specific industry sectors, such as biosciences and information technology.

Johnson said that point was driven home for him during the Amazon HQ2 site selection process in 2017. Amazon had asked interested cities to provide information on workforce readiness, quality of life, proximity to major universities and othe factors.

Unlike other cities with R1-ranked universities—such as Atlanta (Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University), Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh) or Newark (New Jersey Institute of Technology)—Indianapolis could not make the case it was home to a top-tier research university.

In fact, 17 of the 20 final cities in the Amazon HQ competition were home to an engineering-focused R1 university, Johnson said.

“For us, it was stunning to see that and to realize that this was a focus that we were lacking,” he said.

(In a controversial move, Amazon split is second headquarters between New York City and northern Virginia. Several New York City officials later objected to the size of the tax breaks awarded to Amazon, and the company cancelled the New York City portion.)

Driving Indiana’s economy

IU and Purdue officials say they hope the rebranding and realignment of IUPUI can make the school a bigger player in the regional and national economy.

One way to do that, they say, is by bringing the schools’ health and life sciences programs together in the new joint biosciences engineering institute, which will “harness the power of the universities’ collective academic and research strengths,” Friday’s announcement said.

Such a combination, it continued, would help researchers “develop new life-enhancing therapies and technologies while simultaneously creating a highly sought-after pool of professionals” who can create startups and attract new companies to Indiana.

The announcement was vague on the details about how exactly that will happen. University officials acknowledged they are still in the early-planning stages.

“I think it’s really important to emphasize that this is a time when everyone is going to have to be comfortable, initially, with some ambiguity,” Whitten said. “Because we’ve all got a lot of work to do together, to plan, to work out the details and plan how we’re moving forward. And that’s going to take all of our faculty and our staff, it’s going to take the Indianapolis community working with us.”

It’s not the first effort to try to bring together medical and engineering expertise at IUPUI. Two years ago, the Purdue College of Engineering and the IU School of Medicine announced an “engineering-medicine partnership” to develop new solutions for health care problems.

Among other things, the partnership established an MD/MS program in biomedical engineering that would provide master’s-level training to IU medical students who seek to apply engineering technologies in their clinical practices.

It also created fellowships in biomedical engineering, a new program designed to immerse Purdue engineering graduate students in clinical settings. It’s unclear how that program would fit into the IUPUI overhaul.

But if some of the details are still fuzzy, the overarching goal seems clear to local leaders. The two universities need to give a fresh look to the IUPUI campus, from top to bottom, and not be shy about considering changes that could lead to improvements for students and the community.

Daniels sought changes

Daniels, who served two terms as governor, said he has been trying to get a conversation going with his counterpart at IU for several years, but the discussion didn’t get traction until IU’s previous president, Michael McRobbie, retired last summer, and was succeeded by Whitten.

“I’ve been trying to get this idea going for quite some time, for years,” Daniels said. “And it just didn’t fit into IU’s plans. Then President Whitten took a fresh look. And I’m just very grateful to her and her board for being open-minded and working with us on what I think is becoming a very exciting joint project.”

Whitten, for her part, said that when she was interviewing for the president’s job, the IU board of trustees told her that transforming IUPUI was a major priority.

“Part of the charge the trustees gave to me when I started was to look at IUPUI … and to think about a bold, new plan moving forward, because the city and the state really deserve this.”

Business and civic leaders hailed Friday’s announcement as a potential game-changer that will make the city more competitive for highly skilled jobs in science and engineering.

“We can’t graduate enough STEM students,” said Brad Chambers, Indiana’s secretary of commerce and CEO of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “IU has a deep expertise in biosciences. Purdue is strong in engineering. I am excited that they will work together in new ways. … The reimagination of IUPUI is such an important factor for statewide economic development.”

Ting Gootee, president and CEO of TechPoint, a not-for-profit that promotes the Indiana tech sector, said one in 10 jobs added in the state over the last decade were in tech.

“The cities that can produce the most talent will attract the most investment, catalyze the most innovation, and spark the most new venture creation,” she said in written remarks. “The bold steps that these two great research universities are taking to increase their presence and active engagement in Indianapolis sets the stage for Indy’s next step toward being a top-ten tech hub in the decades to come.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce said the decoupling of IUPUI will better position both universities for the future, allowing them to further promote and build on their strengths.

“In turn, this will likely attract more students, afford them increased collaboration with their cohort and overall better prepare them for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” Kevin Brinegar, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in written remarks.

For both institutions, the realignment can mean a new way of allowing students to take advantage of the urban surroundings of Indianapolis, with companies, not-for-profits, government institutions and civic organizations looking to fill internships and summer jobs that might not be available in the smaller towns of Bloomington and West Lafayette.

“I have high hopes that a substantial number of our engineering and computer science students, perhaps others, will want to spend at least a year of their Boilermaker experience in what’s often referred to now as experiential learning—studying, but also with a job,” Daniels said.

Last, but certainly not least, both Daniels and Whitten readily agree that the IUPUI name is ready for an overhaul. It may have been a good brand decades ago, but that time has passed, they say.

Whitten said when she arrived in Indiana last year, she had to ask several people to explain the IUPUI name and concept to her.

“I think that has been the long-term question: What is IUPUI?” she said. “I think there’s been confusion probably for many years about that.”

Daniels agreed. “It confuses everybody the first time they encounter it … and has been a source of some mystery and confusion.”

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