2008 Lifetime Achievement: Gerald Bepko

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Gerald Bepko

In 1972, when Gerald Bepko arrived at IUPUI from Yale University to take a job in the law school, cars were his new campus most distinguishing characteristic. There were seas of them, parked in vast surface lots. The university lacked something in terms of its presence in the community, Bepko says of those days.

Since then, the story of IUPUI has been one of transformation, as the campus has grown into a major urban university. Although he is adamant about giving credit to the many people he has worked with in the intervening years, no one can doubt that Gerald Bepkos vision of what IUPUI could be has contributed greatly to the universitys growth and maturity — and, ultimately, to the development of Indianapolis as a whole.

From the beginning, Bepko had an acute understanding of the role of the urban university in the life of the city. If you are from Indianapolis and go to Princeton, the chances of your coming back to Indianapolis are diminished, Bepko observes. The chances of someone who gets a law degree from IUPUI, for example, staying in Indianapolis is much greater. So the points of engagement between the university and the city become exponential as the university matures and, especially, as the university develops a personality, as IUPUI has. The success of the city, in some sense, is the responsibility of the university, which has to tailor its academic programs to make sure theyre relevant, to see if they can address particular issues that are recognized by the larger community.

After beginning at IUPUI as an associate professor, Bepko served as associate dean and dean of the law school, finally becoming the universitys chancellor in 1986 — a post he held for 16 years. During that time, IUPUIs physical presence was profoundly altered through an ambitious building campaign that, among other things, saw the creation of a new library, law school, school of infomatics and the reinvention of the Herron School of Art and Design on the IUPUI campus.

Bepko was an advocate for the creation of what he calls centers of excellence at IUPUI — like the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment or the POLIS Center — interdisciplinary constellations for applied study that transcended the boundaries of classically described university departments. They want to meet the world on its own terms, Bepko says, and find centers of intellectual energy in terms of the issues confronting the larger community. We want to look at things in ways that will be innovative and excite students in the learning process.

Bepko grew up in Chicago. The energy and rhythms of city life were second nature to him — as was the potential of urban higher education. You can do anything intellectual anywhere, he says today. You can be on top of a mountain or in a subway in New York. But if you add in the stimulation that comes from being around the messy turbulent world that we have to live in, I think that adds a dimension to education that can be very important.

During Bepkos watch, IUPUI added its first truly significant student housing. The campus wont have a life unless there are people living on it, says Bepko, who was keen to see IUPUI outgrow its stereotype as a commuter campus. As there is more housing and more students living on campus, the campus will have more of a life of its own. It will be a greater place for encouraging the intellectual development of students.

Bepko, who is now IUPUIs chancellor emeritus and a professor in the law school, divides his time between Indianapolis and Florida. He serves as a member of the citys Cultural Development Commission and, with his wife Jean, enjoys local theater, shows at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and city sports.

The community was kind of unsure of itself, he says, looking back on his first years at IUPUI. That, he says, has changed. Over the years people became more confident in themselves. Its been reflected in the students and the faculty. It has become a real university.

— David Hoppe

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