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Panel OKs billl that would give IPFW more autonomy

INDIANAPOLIS – A bill giving IPFW more autonomy as a major state campus drew opposition Wednesday but passed its first hurdle.

An 8-4 vote in support of Senate Bill 265 sends it on to the full Senate.

“IPFW is substantially different than other regional campuses,” said Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, author of the legislation. “We found time and time again that IPFW gets the short end of the stick. We believe this is the solution.”

He has been fighting for several years to treat IPFW differently than the other eight regional campuses, noting that IUPUI in Indianapolis has its own designation and different rules.

IPFW has an enrollment of almost 13,000 students, and is the fifth-largest campus in the state, according to testimony.

Purdue University currently provides administrative oversight of the regional IPFW campus, with students able to get degrees from both Indiana University and Purdue, depending on the program.

The legislation addresses a number of concerns.

First, it would designate IPFW as a metropolitan campus. With that, IPFW would no longer fall under some regional campus rules, such as limiting on-campus housing to 10 percent of the student body.

The legislation would also allow IPFW to seek new degree and doctoral programs from the Commission for Higher Education without getting approval from the Purdue Board of Trustees. And IPFW would have a non-voting member on that board.

“This would allow us to respond to our regional needs more quickly,” said Steven Sarratore, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at IPFW.

He also cited inequity in regional campus funding for IPFW, though the bill doesn’t directly address more money for the campus.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, – the Senate budget architect, – acknowledged that problem and said last year he hopes to start working toward equalizing that in the next budget cycle.

But he thinks other things in the bill are premature – suggesting instead a sit-down between IPFW leadership, the Purdue Board of Trustees and the Commission for Higher Education.

“I think this bill doesn’t quite pull down the right answers yet,” said Kenley, who voted against the bill in committee.

Teresa Lubbers, the state’s higher education commissioner, spoke in opposition. She said noted specifically that all other degree requests in the state first go to a university’s board of trustees before coming to the commission. And she said the state commission has no backlog, deciding on the degree requests in 30 to 60 days.

Lubbers said the discussion surrounding IPFW has prompted some changes to regional campus policies recently, including allowing a regional campus to offer professional doctoral programs for the first time ever.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she is unclear whether IPFW’s concerns are systemic or personality conflicts, and was uncomfortable weighing in.

But Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said Fort Wayne is a specialized area with special needs and asked the committee to keep the bill alive so the discussion can move forward.

“It’s a tremendous economic engine for the state,” he said. “I don’t want Fort Wayne to be sidelined.”