The Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education contends a policy approved last month was not designed to limit academic freedom at regional campuses.
Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, who was in Northwest Indiana recently, told The Times the commission has "no interest or legal authority to dictate policy to regional campuses."
The commission's policy, approved in October, said "regional campuses should limit research to scholarly activity related to faculty teaching responsibilities and research related to local and regional needs."
As a result, there was a firestorm of comments from regional campuses across the state saying such a policy could hurt the quality and stature of teaching and research done at local campuses.
The Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne Senate leaders said the new policy limits free and open discourse, and submitted a resolution Nov. 11 that, in part, says:
"BE IT RESOLVED, that the Indiana Commission for Higher Education be encouraged to amend the research focus to read, 'Scholarly activities related to faculty teaching responsibilities and local and regional needs may be of special significance. However, the faculty at the Regional Campuses are protected by academic freedom and may pursue any variety of scholarly activities and research.' ”
Lubbers acknowledged the language in the new policy was confusing and likely will be changed. She said she wrote an editorial and sent it to the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne revisiting the issue. In it, Lubbers says the "Policy on Regional Campus Roles and Missions included several important changes designed to strengthen the state's regional campuses, including opening the door for regional campuses to offer professional doctoral programs for the first time and to create new online and blended-learning courses that will provide more opportunities for innovative teaching and learning."
She said the commission stands behind "our institutions' right" to academic freedom.
"Beyond the funding aspect, the state has no role or authority in determining the type of research activities taking place at Indiana colleges," she wrote. "The commission's policy was in no way intended to suggest otherwise, and we have publicly offered to clarify the language to prevent any further confusion about scholarly activity."
Local university officials said they understand the policy language will be clarified.
John Applegate, Indiana University executive vice president for university academic affairs, said the commission's policy statement contained some language he doesn't think fully reflected the commission's longstanding position on faculty research activities.
"I'm very glad that Commissioner Lubbers has indicated that she understands the issues and intends to seek modification of the policy accordingly," Applegate said. "I am confident that the commission shares IU's view that academic freedom for all faculty members is a fundamental value that should be embraced.”
Karen Schmid, Purdue University North Central vice chancellor for academic affairs, said, "We understand that the Commission for Higher Education may be open to considering an amendment to the research section of the revised regional campus policy, and we welcome that. We look forward to working with Teresa Lubbers, her staff and the rest of the commissioners on language that would address concerns and clarify the importance of research at regional campuses. At PNC, research is highly valued, and faculty engage in many types of research."
Purdue University Calumet Chancellor Thomas Keon said, “The faculty at Purdue University Calumet should be engaged in a broad array of scholarship to keep current in their academic field in order to provide graduates with rich learning experiences.”