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Remarks: Women of IU conference

Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

You—the women of Indiana University—play vital roles in the life of the institution: as senior leaders; as faculty and staff; as distinguished alumni; and as great friends and supporters. The contributions all of you make are absolutely integral to the quality of our university and its ability to fulfill its most important missions.


Remarks: Women of IU conference

It is a great pleasure to be here this morning to help welcome all of you to this year’s Women of IU Conference. I am so pleased that so many of the dedicated and talented women of Indiana University from across our campuses and centers have gathered here for this day of professional development and inspiration.

I want to thank today’s other keynote speakers for making time to share their expertise with us. You will hear from Jayma Meyer, a visiting clinical professor in IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, about the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the power of sport to bring social change, a fitting topic here in the amateur sports capital of the nation. We are also honored to have A’Lelia Bundles close the afternoon with a session about the influence of her great-great grandmother, Madam C.J. Walker, whose powerful legacy is reflected throughout this city, including in the splendid building where we are gathered today.

And I thank all of you for being here.

You—the women of Indiana University—play vital roles in the life of the institution: as senior leaders; as faculty and staff; as distinguished alumni; and as great friends and supporters. The contributions all of you make are absolutely integral to the quality of our university and its ability to fulfill its most important missions. Many of you directly or indirectly support our students through your work at IU. You and your colleagues support and enhance IU’s fundamental teaching and research missions. And through work that builds on those missions, you and your colleagues around the state help improve the quality of life for Hoosiers in countless ways.

My first year as IU president 

Serving as Indiana University’s 19th president is the honor of a lifetime. I knew long before I came to IU that it is an outstanding public research university, with a rich history, wonderful traditions, and a worldwide reputation for excellence. My first year as president has only confirmed this.

And I am honored to be the first woman to serve as president of IU. At the time I earned my doctoral degree, it was not at all common to see women serving as university presidents, but it has become quite common now. In fact, half of the Big Ten university presidents today are women. I am enormously grateful to stand on the shoulders of countless women who have brought their energies to IU over the years, blazing new trails as students, faculty, and administrators. As noted in a new IU Press book, Women at Indiana University, those women “challenged the old paradigms, promot(ed) new ways of seeing, and advocat(ed) equity for all.”[1]

I firmly believe the way you understand and improve things—and do new and exciting things—comes from the information that you get from others. So, in my first year, I’ve been all around the state, listening and learning from members of the IU community and from our partners around the state.

My first year in office was not only tremendously fulfilling for me personally, but it was also a remarkable year for IU’s students, faculty, alumni, and the university as a whole.

So, this morning, I’ll speak a bit about my first year as president of IU and highlight some of the remarkable accomplishments that our students and others have achieved over the last year. I’ll also talk about what we intend to do this coming year to bring members of the university community together to dream for the future and create plans that will allow us to seize the opportunities and address the challenges ahead of us.

My path to IU

But first, let me say a few words about the path that brought me to Indiana University.

I earned my undergraduate degree at Tulane in the mid 1980s and got married right after college at age 21. I’m still married to the same man after 37 years.

I went to the University of Kentucky to earn a master’s degree in organizational communication. While I was there, I had my first child.

After earning my master’s degree, went to Germany, where I ran corporate communications for a bank in Europe that had the contract to do banking operations on all American military bases in Europe. After a while in that position, I moved back to the United States, and worked in corporate communications in healthcare.

Then, I decided to get a PhD, and went to the University of Kansas for doctoral studies. At around that time, I had my second child. In the early ’90s, being a married doctoral student with a husband, a five-year-old, and a newborn was unconventional to say the least. But I loved it. I was focused. I loved being a student. I had worked, so I appreciated that the worst thing that could happen was earning a bad grade on a paper. It was a different kind of pressure and one that I wanted.

I had always been interested in technology and healthcare. So, I drove up the road 30 minutes to the University of Kansas Medical Center. I literally started knocking on doors. I said: “Hi, I’m Pam Whitten, I’m a PhD student and I’m interested in technology and healthcare… is there anything interesting going on here?”

I got moved around to three or four different people until I was sent to an oncologist, Dr. Ace Allen. He said “Well, we have thing called telemedicine. There are only four academic programs devoted to its study in the U.S.” I convinced them to fund me as a PhD student to study why telemedicine was underutilized. Then I was invited to serve as the first director of the medical center’s telemedicine program to develop clinical service delivery and to launch the program’s research portfolio. While I was working there, I had my third child.

I enjoyed that work, but I wanted to get back to dream I had of being a regular college professor. There was an opportunity to join the faculty at Michigan State University. My research there focused on healthcare interventions via communications technology as well as health costs and outcomes related to telemedicine.

Then the dean of my school left, and there was an opportunity for me to move into university administration. It is not for the feint-of-heart to be an internal candidate for position like that—you are under constant scrutiny. But I was successful and became dean of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State. Soon after I started in that role, the Great Recession hit, and our provost announced double digit budget cuts. I tried to be inclusive, thoughtful, and analytical, and not make across-the-board cuts that damaged everybody. In the end, it was a positive experience. It forced us to get innovative about new sources of revenue—and we were in the black within a year.

In academia, if one is a dean, the next step in career progression is provost. We had a provost at Michigan State who wasn’t planning to leave any time soon, and there was an opportunity to become provost at the University of Georgia. The University of Georgia is, of course, a large public flagship and a Research 1 university. I was charged with increasing research productivity.

Then, I had opportunity to become President of Kennesaw State University, a highly diverse, urban-serving institution in the Metro Atlanta area. While I was there, our enrollment went from around 32,000 to around 42,000 students. It was fantastic to have opportunity to work in different setting.

It was going well, and I was not interested in leaving, but the presidency of IU became available… and it is a dream job. The serendipity of the variety of experiences I had throughout my career, having worked

  • in a medical school,
  • in the Midwest and at a Big 10 institution,
  • at an R1 university in Georgia,
  • and an urban serving institution, which IU has here in Indianapolis,

combined to make a match for IU.

Planning for the future

In my inaugural address last fall, I outlined the three main areas that will be our focus at IU in the years ahead.

Over the summer, members of my cabinet have been working in committees to create strategic action items and goals in each of these areas. We will be finalizing those in the coming weeks and then meeting with campus leadership to discuss integrating these goals and action items into campus strategic plans.

Serving students first

Our top priority, as many of you know, will be taking care of our students and doing all we can to help them succeed. While I’m president of IU, students will be the center of the IU universe. They are the reason we exist as a university. Their time at IU will, in most cases, be the only college experience they have, so we need to make it exceptional for them. We need to ensure that they get the coursework that prepares them for the career path they choose and that they graduate on time. But we also need to create experiences for them outside the classroom that teach them to think analytically and creatively so that they can develop the skills they need to contribute solutions to some of the state’s most pressing problems. With every decision we make and every initiate we launch in the coming years, we will ask “how does this impact our students?”

Last year, IU’s talented students earned prestigious honors, including Goldwater, Fulbright, and Rhodes scholarships. In May, more than 20,000 students, who came from all 92 Indiana counties, graduated on our seven campuses around the state. More than 20 percent of them were first generation college students, and their lives and the lives of their families will be changed immeasurably because of the degrees they earned.

Despite a demographic decline in the number of college-age students, IU’s enrollment was strong last year as we fully returned to in-person instruction. We welcomed more than 91,000 students statewide, including a record number of students of color. IU Bloomington set a new enrollment record last year, with a total enrollment of more than 45,300 students. Given the decline in the college-age student population, I’ve asked our chancellors, deans, and department chairs to think about “what is the right size?” for our various campuses in terms of enrollment going forward?

In my first year, a number of initiatives have already been launched to help our students across the state succeed.

One major focus of my first year was to assemble an executive leadership team, due to a number of retirements and other transitions among IU’s senior leadership. Nine cabinet positions have been filled over the last year, and we now have an exceptional team in place to help position IU for a bright and successful future. One of those positions is completely new, and it demonstrates—in a highly visible way—IU’s commitment to students. IU’s first Vice President for Student Success, Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, who comes to us from Northwestern University, will work with leaders across all IU campuses to enhance the student experience. Yesterday was her first day on the job, and I hope you will have the opportunity to meet her soon.

We have also established task forces this year that are working to improve various aspects of student life. As I’ve met with students and parents around the state, I’ve heard feedback about the opaque nature of the process of setting undergraduate tuition and fees. And so, we established a task force that is now working to simplify that process and provide more transparency for students and families. Another task force is working to ensure that our graduate students receive the support they need. And still another is working to identify opportunities to reduce IU’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is a major concern for our students and for all of us at IU.

We've also invested in increasing the diversity of our teachers and researchers, through a seven-year, $30 million fund to accelerate our efforts to hire a more diverse mix of faculty. This initiative will provide our students with access to world-class teachers and researchers who bring diverse perspectives to our classroom and laboratories. It has already been very successful. We have had 52 accepted offers, and we estimate spending $7.3 million in the initiative’s first year. When I talk to deans and department chairs, I tell them that if we spend the entire $30 million allocated for this initiative and they come to me and tell me they still have minority faculty they want to hire, that will be a good problem to have. Incidentally, 70 percent of the faculty hired so far under this initiative are women (in addition to being members of underrepresented minority groups).

And we have placed a renewed focus on our students’ mental health and well-being. We know that transitioning to adulthood, to college, to a new living situation with new people is difficult—and doing this in the midst of a years-long pandemic was even more difficult. So, we’ve reviewed our current services and developed a long-term plan for monitoring students' mental health.

Expanding excellence in research, discovery, and creativity

Our second area of focus at IU will be to expand excellence in research, discovery, and creativity. IU’s outstanding faculty and students are engaged in a wide range of research and scholarship that results in the generation of innovative new ideas, new intellectual works, and discoveries that cure disease, protect our environment, help secure our nation, grow the economy, and advance art and culture in our communities.

In the coming years, we want to ensure that our faculty have the space, equipment, funding and other resources they need, and we want to accelerate the translation of IU research into products, businesses, and services that benefit society in countless ways. We also want to focus more intensely on research fields where IU is poised to make the most impact. Discussing how to achieve all of these goals will be part of our conversations in coming year.

Advancing the quality of life for all Hoosiers

And third, as the state’s namesake university, IU has an obligation to serve the state by advancing the quality of life for all Hoosiers.

The importance of public universities like IU to the long-term economic vitality of the state is enormous. We are incubators for jobs and economic growth. We help to keep top students from Indiana and beyond in the state as our next generation of leaders.

IU is committed to being even more intentional in the years ahead about its engagement efforts in communities all across the state.

In the coming years, we intend to partner closely with the state in helping to attract new businesses and industries to Indiana. We are also working to strengthen our existing relationships by connecting business and government leaders with IU’s resources and expertise in ways that will have a positive and meaningful impact on Indiana’s economy.

IU also advances the quality of life in our state through its powerful cultural impact in areas like the arts and sports; through the deep commitment of our campuses to community service and civic engagement; and through our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the communities we serve.

Of course, talent and workforce issues continue to be at the forefront for Indiana’s businesses, and these issues pose serious challenges to the state’s economic future. IU is committed to working with business and community leaders across the state to help address these issues.

And as president of IU, I want to ensure that Indiana-based employers and businesses enjoy a special advantage in access to IU’s talent base—be it faculty subject matter experts, student internship opportunities, or graduates seeking employment opportunities.

As I’ve traveled around the state in my first year at IU, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that all of our campuses have on their communities and the state as a whole.

Our beautiful and robust regional campuses are part of the fabric of the regions they serve and an integral part of Indiana University.

Our largest and oldest campus, in Bloomington, is home to programs like the Environmental Resilience Institute, the Center for Rural Engagement, and IU Corps—programs that create positive change in our state and around the world.

And here in Indianapolis, the IUPUI campus, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, has long been renowned for its commitment to community, service-learning, civic engagement, and to helping improve the lives of the people of Indianapolis and central Indiana. This commitment can be seen in almost everything the campus does, including the partnership between IU, the IUPUI campus, the Walker Legacy Center Board, and Lilly Endowment to restore this historic building.

And ALL of our campuses provide students with high-quality education in professional and specialized areas that are essential to Indiana’s economy.


Now that we have an outstanding executive leadership team in place, the coming year will be a time to build a vision for the future around these three areas of focus. We are at an exciting crossroads.

We will be discussing how to increase the retention and graduation rates of our students, how to further increase the diversity of our student body, how to enhance research productivity and develop priority areas, and how to strengthen the contributions we make to the state of Indiana as a health leader and a catalyst for economic development. And as we do so, we’ll be asking for your input as we plan together for not only for IU’s next few years, but for the next 50 years.

IU is a university that is making major contributions to the state, the nation, and the world—and one that is in an excellent position to take the next bold steps to truly become one of the nation’s greatest public research universities.

So many of you who are here today help make IU’s success possible.

I’m enormously grateful for all you do.

Thank you very much.




[1]Andrea Walton, Women at Indiana University: 150 Years of Experiences and Contributions, (Indiana University Press, 2022), 10.



More about the 2022 Commencement season

Watch the broadcast from the ceremony and a congratulatory message from the president.