The College Magazine - Summer 2001

Access & Excellence: Hallmarks of Indiana University

One of the hallmarks of the American public higher education system is its emphasis on access and affordability. The promise of "two years of college for every American child" is heard often on the campaign trail. It is already true that a greater proportion of the population gets a college education in America than in any other country. In Indiana, the eight campuses of Indiana University, which have a combined enrollment of more than 90,000 students, are an expression of this commitment to open access to college education in the state. Since an educated citizenry is the foundation of democratic governance and economic prosperity, ready access to higher education has served this country very well.

Indiana University is designated as a research university. American research universities were not modeled on Oxford and Cambridge, where the aim was to create a community of "gentlemen" professionals who could join the club of national leadership and shoulder burdens of the empire. Rather, they were modeled after the great German universities of Berlin, Tübingen, and others, where the primary commitment was to the steady advancement of a well-defined area of knowledge. Without doubt, U.S. prominence in the physical sciences, medicine, and other fields today - and the attendant world leadership in technology and commerce - is due largely to the spectacular success of this thriving research university system. Achieving excellence in research is expensive: It requires the hiring of top-notch faculty and providing them with the necessary infrastructure and time for research. Of course, both undergraduate and graduate students at a research university benefit directly by learning at the hands of those who are pushing back the frontiers of research.

The twin mandates of open access to high-quality undergraduate education on the one hand and excellence in research and graduate education on the other come together more forcefully in the College of Arts and Sciences at the IU Bloomington campus than in the other schools.
Dean Kumble R, Subbaswamy
Dean Kumble R. Subbaswamy

The 6,700 freshmen who enter IUB each year take a vast majority of their courses in the College regardless of their intended major. At the same time, when various national news outlets rank universities - primarily based on reputation among faculty peers - much of the burden falls on the College. Optimizing the meager resources of the College to carry out both mandates in the best possible way is my - and every dean's - greatest challenge. That is why we offer small and large classes, faculty and graduate instructors, seminars and research projects - all a part of the undergraduate academic experience at a research university like IU. For the well-prepared, motivated student they present a world of learning opportunities, on par with those available at exclusive, elite private universities at many times the cost.

Most composite rankings of universities are based on a combination of reputation surveys, input measures (for example, SAT scores of entering students), and some outcome measures (for example, retention and graduation rates). Unlike most public research universities (for example, the California system), IU does not have selective admission and will never rank very high when input measures are used as a factor. IU's retention and graduation rates, relative to the quality of students admitted, is surprisingly high - a tribute to the university's strong commitment to the success of all students. In graduate program and research rankings, the College continues to do very well. But competition is getting intense, and it is imperative that the state, alumni, and friends continue to invest in the College.

- Kumble Subbaswamy

Keeping it in perspective

In its annual college and university rankings, published in April, U.S. News & World Report ranked a number of the College of Arts and Sciences' humanities and social sciences programs in the top 25 in the nation, including English, psychology, political science, sociology, and history. Programs in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, and physics were not ranked this year. In addition, 12 of IU's graduate programs were ranked in the top 25.

"While we should be careful not to attach too much significance to such reputational rankings," said Dean of the College Kumble R. Subbaswamy, "I take pride in the fact that so many of the College departments enjoy an excellent national reputation. Every university has history and English departments, and it is not easy to be near the top. These rankings show that IU is considered to be among the leading public universities in the country in these areas."

Chancellor Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis, a former dean of the College, said, "It is gratifying to see that, despite IU's recent challenges and controversies, our academic reputation either remains intact or has been enhanced. That we have so many schools ranked highly among public institutions is solid testimony to the leadership of the deans and the productivity of their faculties."

"My congratulations go out to all of the fine programs recognized by U.S. News & World Report," said IU President Myles Brand. "We know our faculty, students, and staff strive for and achieve excellence every day. It is good when others recognize that as well."

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