After seven years leading the University of Indianapolis, Beverley Pitts is preparing to step into retirement this June. When she became the University’s eighth president in 2005, she was the first female to hold that office. That is a mere footnote now to the larger story Pitts has written at UIndy—one that includes new facilities for students, additional classroom and laboratory space, freshman retention initiatives that are bearing fruit, more competitive faculty salaries, expanded academic programs, stronger connections to the city of Indianapolis, heightened visibility for the University, and even a new nickname for the institution: UIndy.
Portico sat down with the president to hear her thoughts as she wraps up her final academic year and reflects on her tenure at UIndy.
Q: How would you like your presidency to be remembered?
A: “I have often said that universities are small cities, with all the complexity that exists there. Hundreds of people make an institution work and keep it growing, and they all deserve to be a part of what is remembered about my years at UIndy. I’ve just been one part of that. I hope I will be associated with moving the University to its next level of excellence. The five-year Strategic Plan that we adopted in 2006 pushed us to engage students more, to further enhance their campus experience, and to extend our involvement in the community. Certainly the physical changes on campus are what people see, and those changes, I think, have given us new visibility and reputation. We have a new residence hall and another under construction, we expanded Schwitzer Student Center to give us new social space for our increased number of students, we just opened the new Athletics & Recreation Center with its dome, we have a new softball complex, and we have a new Hanna Avenue, which may be the most-noticed change in decades. In the last seven years, we’ve also established the infrastructure that we needed to support our changing institution. The Graduate School, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, and the enlargement of Communications & Marketing operations are just a few of those changes that aren’t readily apparent to outsiders but are important pieces to have in place.I’m also proud of the quality of personnel we’ve been able to attract and retain, and the maturation of the Center for Aging & Community and the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning, which have emerged as major forces in Indiana since they were established a decade ago. And, I am especially proud that the Institute for Civic Leadership & Mayoral Archives is on its way to becoming a reality.”
Q: What will you remember the most about UIndy?
A: “There are so many things. The Ceremony of the Flags. The Christmas Concert with its beautiful candlelit opening. The annual standing-room-only fall concert with [artist-in-residence] Raymond Leppard. Pizza parties with students in the residence halls. Beating Grand Valley State in football. Commencement. The Super Bowl and our role in that. The students, who constantly give back to the community in extraordinary ways. Helping on Move-in Day. I’ll especially remember that feeling you get with the start of school in the fall. I love walking across Smith Mall when the students are playing Frisbee and sitting along the canal studying, and I also love walking through Schwitzer when it’s packed with students. One of the joys of working on a college campus is working with people who are at the top of their game professionally. You have to pinch yourself to know you’re not dreaming, because you are surrounded all day by people who are the very best in their field. Then you have the visiting scholars, diplo-mats, artists, business leaders, and others who add to the richness. The conversation on a college campus can rise to a level of intellectual curiosity that you don’t see in many other professions. It’s the heart and soul of what makes a university great. At UIndy, we have incredibly talented faculty, and many have elevated service to the community or to their profession to a whole new level. And I’ll certainly remember working with a committed and very supportive Board of Trustees.”
Q: Where do you see UIndy in 25 years?
A: “In 25 years, and even 100 years down the road, UIndy will still be here in this community. In fact, it will be here and in a lot of other places. It will be more virtual, more diverse. Classes won’t be held in the same way; we can already see the impact of technology on distance education and even within what we now call the traditional classroom. The way students share and receive information will be vastly different. The way the University engages with the business community and with the international community will be different. Graduate education will have a much larger role to play. Certainly the University will be in the mainstream of civic involvement in Indianapolis and throughout Indiana. The Institute for Civic Leadership & Mayoral Archives will be the hub for study of urban growth and development. In 25 years, I can imagine that the Institute will be the repository of all city mayoral papers and the place where researchers, students, and visitors come to learn about civic leadership at its best. UIndy, like all of higher education, currently faces the challenge of remaining affordable and accessible. It is difficult for universities to remain competitive financially while retaining the facilities that are necessary, including current technology, to provide a high-quality academic experience. Some of the things we hold dear, such as the semester structure, may shift. We will likely be seeing three-year undergraduate degree programs, year-round school, more academic programs on-site at businesses, more transferring and sharing of resources among institutions. But no matter what happens, the spirit and culture that have shaped UIndy will still be here, and I believe the residential experience will still be at the center of college life.”
Q: What advice do you have for our incoming president?
A: “I’m sure the new president will be a gifted leader who doesn’t need advice from me. If I would share anything that has been a help to me, it would be to listen to the stories of the past because they shape the institution as it is now. You have to respect and celebrate the history before you can move forward with new goals. Follow the path that’s already been laid; there’s continuity in that.”