sealLetter from the President

April, 1998

T.S. Eliot's description of April as "the cruelest month" certainly isn't true at Purdue, but there is no question that the fourth month on the calendar brings some of the most intense activity to campus. It is a time for celebration, recognition of achievements, reflection on history, and focus on the future.

Here are just a few of the events that kept my colleagues and me very busy in the past few weeks:

  • Outstanding achievements by students and faculty members were recognized at the annual University Honors Convocation on April 17. Purdue's best students are among the most accomplished and promising young people in the world. Many of them and their families were at the Elliott Hall of Music for the convocation.

    Most of the recognition we give to professors at the convocation is for excellence in teaching, but the McCoy Award annually honors the faculty member who has made the greatest contribution to scientific knowledge. This year, it went to Ei-ichi Negishi, an organic chemist who is one of the many protégés of Nobel Laureate Herbert Brown. Although he has been retired for many years, Dr. Brown continues to do important research at Purdue, and his legacy continues to grow because, throughout his career, he has encouraged young scientists. Professor Negishi is one of the many pupils of Dr. Brown who now are making their own important contributions to science.

    Among the many teaching honors presented at the convocation was the Helping Students Learn Award, which cited Muriel Harris, professor of English, for her work in directing Purdue's Online Writing Lab. Professor Harris developed the Online Lab to extend the services of the Purdue Writing Lab, which uses a variety of techniques to help students improve their writing skills. The need for the service is evident in the number of people who use the Online Lab. Its Web site recorded more than 1.3 million visits during the fall 1997 semester. If you're interested in seeing how it works, you can access the site at

  • Three April weekends were packed with activities that drew thousands of visitors to campus. April 18 and 19 brought Spring Fest, which offers many activities that appeal to families and children. These included the Bug Bowl, the Horticulture Show, and the School of Veterinary Medicine Open House. On April 4, the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was staged. Sadly, Purdue's Goldberg machine finished second to the one from the University of Texas, but the good news is that the contest -- held here each year -- gets more competitive all the time.

    Gala Week activities centered around the last weekend of the month. Alumni class reunions, the Founder's Day banquet, the spring football game, and the Grand Prix race all were excellent events, despite some Saturday rain that disrupted or delayed some of the fun.

    An unfortunate sequence of events developed Friday and Saturday nights of Grand Prix weekend when state excise police arrested or cited more than 280 people -- most of them our students -- for alcohol violations at off-campus locations, primarily fraternity houses. Most of the offenses involved underage drinking. Although the large number of incidents is to some extent the result of a heavy police concentration around Purdue for that weekend, there is no denying that violations were occurring in large numbers. Many students made poor decisions. The incidents are especially embarrassing because Purdue's fraternities and sororities recently adopted a widely publicized new policy designed to curb alcohol abuse.

    Although the policy failed its first major test, I believe it will prove effective in the long run if student leaders maintain a sincere determination to address the problem. The violations were disappointing, but they should not have surprised anyone familiar with America's college campuses. As I have said in this letter many times, alcohol abuse is the greatest social problem universities face. Unfortunately, drinking is seen by many young people as part of a rite of passage to adulthood. Some taverns in university communities aggravate the problem by opening very early on weekend mornings and holding special events designed to attract students.

    Purdue has numerous programs designed to discourage alcohol abuse, but I'm afraid this problem will be with us for a long time. We will continue to focus on education and to enforce our rules conscientiously. To underscore that Purdue is serious about addressing this issue, the Office of the Dean of Students has suspended one fraternity for at least one year and placed three others on probation for the recent alcohol violations.

  • On April 30, members of my staff and I attended an academic review of the Schools of Engineering. It was an intense and informative day that delivered several important messages:

    -- Purdue continues to graduate more engineers than any other university.

    -- The reputation of Purdue engineers remains very strong, especially among the employers who hire our graduates.

    -- Because of technology needs, the cost of delivering a first-quality engineering education is very high and is increasing at a rate disproportionate to many other disciplines.

    -- Research in engineering is vital to the future productivity and security of our nation -- both government and industry must be prepared to fund these activities.

  • Finally, a number of key appointments were made in April. These included:

    -- Alysa Rollock, an Indiana University associate professor of law, as interim vice president for human relations.

    -- Arden Bement Jr., the Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor of Engineering, as head of the School of Nuclear Engineering.

    -- Randy Woodson, professor and head of horticulture and landscape architecture, as associate dean of agriculture and director of Agricultural Research Programs.

    Steven C. Beering