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Interview with Eleanor Hannah

IPFW in 1964

Eleanor Hannah, visiting professor of history, received her PhD in American history from the University of Chicago in 1997. To celebrate IPFW's 50th anniversary, she has written a book entitled First Generation University (forthcoming, 2015). As part of COAS’s University Community Conversation (UC2) series, Hannah will give a talk entitled “First Generation University: IPFW’s First 50 Years” on Tuesday, November 4th, at 7:30 p.m. in Walb Classic Ballroom.

To preview her lecture and forthcoming book, we sat down with Hannah to chat about both.

In researching this book, what did you learn about IPFW and its development?

IPFW is unique because it is the outgrowth of extension programs from two universities—Purdue and Indiana University—that were held jointly on a single campus, which is extremely rare. There is only one other such campus: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Joint campuses like this are rare because it’s not easy to do, but it has worked well at IPFW. Part of the story I tell in my book is how you go from two completely distinct entities to extension programs based in Fort Wayne that very slowly merged into a single bureaucratic and administrative entity.

Were there many clashes as these two distinct entities merged?

No, actually. Surprisingly. There was concern that there would be clashes, but something that really impressed me about the story is that no one was in any hurry or had a theory for how it would all go together. For example, once the two schools agreed to build Kettler Hall [IPFW’s first building], people realized that they weren’t going to need two janitorial staffs. So then the question became, do you create a third hybrid entity to manage obvious things or do you slowly start to merge the two? People considered various options, and a slow merging made the most sense.

How did the IU and Purdue entities decide to merge?

In the mid-twentieth century, both schools rented space in downtown Fort Wayne that, through a series of historical accidents, were in buildings that shared an alley. The result was that students often went to both schools simultaneously, depending on the classes offered. In the late 1950s, with the IU and Purdue extensions at capacity, people realized that Fort Wayne was a logical candidate for a full branch campus. But some community members, particularly Al Kettler, didn’t want to have to choose between IU and Purdue. Kettler purposed finding a space for both schools. He approached the directors of the extension programs, friends of the board of trustees, and (eventually) the university presidents. Getting everyone on board was a slow process, but ultimately the Purdue-IU Foundation was formed to foster the creation of the joint campus, and they broke ground for Kettler Hall in 1963.

What was the original vision for the extension programs? How did it change?

When they first opened, the extension programs didn’t even offer degrees, just a smattering of courses where there might be an audience. IU opened their first Fort Wayne extension office in 1917, offering mostly art classes and courses aimed primarily at K–12 teachers. In the 1920s, the extension began to help recent high school graduates who couldn’t go to Bloomington and wanted to complete their freshman year here. In the meantime theories about extension campuses evolved. The new idea was that students could complete their first two years at an extension campus, earn an associate’s degree, and then transfer to the main campus.

The Purdue programs opened in the 1940s because the War Department needed skilled workers; they offered short training programs for electricians, plumbers, and other skilled workers needed for military purposes. Initially, these were certification courses, aimed at men who were going to be drafted or who had volunteered and needed certification in trade skills, so they wouldn’t end up in infantry. As the war drew to a close, Purdue decided to maintain the programs—just like IU, they discovered an audience in recent high-school graduates.

By late 1950s, both extension programs offered two-year associates degrees, so that students could start in Fort Wayne and then transfer to the main campuses. But it was also clear that many students wanted to complete their degrees in Fort Wayne. By 1964, planning was in the works for the first BA degrees, which were offered within the first two years of IPFW’s existence, and the first classes graduated with four-year degrees in 1966.

What are some of the more fascinating details that your research uncovered?

I was just really struck by how, on the one hand, a lot of merging was logical and to be desired, but that nobody was in any hurry. There was no theory for how it would happen, just a willingness to let the merging unfold at its own deliberate pace. For example, even after 1964, there were separate Purdue and IU chapters of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP, a national academic professional organization). It took several years of repeated votes before the AAUP chapters were willing to merge. I can’t even imagine what would be distinctive about one chapter from the next. At the same time, I sort of admire that people just said, “Okay, you don’t want to merge yet, that's fine.”

Did you find that there were things that stayed the same throughout all of the changes?

A perennial issue since 1964 has been parking. There was never enough parking because this was a commuter campus from the start. There were impassioned debates about whether or not you should pay for parking; it’s been an ongoing concern.

One of the fun things is how the theater has played an important role on campus, particularly in projecting the campus onto the community. When you look at the Fort Wayne papers in the 1970s, the thing that got the biggest Sunday spreads was the productions at “the PIT” (Purdue-Indiana Theater). The productions were entered in a national theater competition; they won periodically and traveled to Washington D.C. It was a big part of IPFW’s importance to the community.

There’s a current emphasis on IPFW meeting community needs. Has it always been that way?

Always. Al Kettler was a community member. He wasn’t part of either extension campus, but he saw how good it would be for the community to keep both IU and Purdue in town. Of course the extension model was built on the idea that you take the university to where the people are because public institutions are there to serve them.  IPFW was always committed to the community.

Based on what you’ve learned, what do you think IPFW’s future holds?

I think that, on the whole, the campus is in very good shape right now. The physical campus matches its population, which has fluctuated for twenty years. Science will change, technology will change, but in general the campus has all of its physical needs met. Now it’s about managing the assets. Things will always shift and change, but I think there’s a solid basis underlying it all.