As prepared for delivery.

SPEA: Service to Society and the State of Indiana

Forty-six years ago this month—on March 27, 1971—the Board of Trustees endorsed a faculty committee’s proposal to establish a new school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. As the first to combine public and environmental affairs, the proposed new school would be unlike any other in the nation.

A driving force behind the proposal was the desire for new avenues for better understanding the world and contributing to its improvement.

As the proposal read: “There is growing evidence that throughout the state (and throughout the nation as well,) that people would like to see universities deal more effectively and dispassionately with the needs and problems of modern society. Nearly every major problem confronting modern society,” the proposal continued, “cuts across traditional disciplinary and professional boundaries…”

Today, as we dedicate the magnificent new Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center, we celebrate a school that has, over more than four decades, produced groundbreaking interdisciplinary research that has contributed solutions to some of society’s most pressing needs—and a school that has produced outstanding graduates who work around the state and around the world to identify, define, and help resolve some of our most challenging problems.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Today, IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs is a world leader with top ranked programs in nonprofit management, environmental policy, and public finance.

SPEA’s graduate program is the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs, and its doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy also rank among the nation’s best.

The school remains focused, as well, on its mission of service to the state of Indiana. Sixty-four percent of SPEA’s undergraduate students and many of its professional graduate students are state residents. A large number of the school’s graduates remain in the state, working to bring public policy and fiscal expertise to bear for the benefit of the citizens of Indiana.

SPEA has become synonymous with excellence at IU and throughout the world, in large part, because of the work of the school’s outstanding faculty. Over the years, the school’s faculty has included such accomplished scholars as York Willbern and Lynton Keith Caldwell, two of SPEA’s principal founders. Professor Caldwell was also the chief architect of the National Environmental Policy Act, often called “the environmental Magna Carta.”

As special assistant to then-IU president John Ryan, Charles Bonser was instrumental in planning SPEA’s establishment. He also served as the school’s first dean, a position he held for 17 years.

More recently, the late Elinor Ostrom, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, was a member of the SPEA faculty. All of these scholars and many others—including many who are here today—have contributed to the school’s reputation for excellence.

Rapid Growth; New Facilities

In the fall of 1972, when SPEA opened, the school occupied one floor of the Poplars Building. The school’s enrollment grew rapidly—from just 20 undergraduates in its first year—to nearly 1,000 students in the fall semester of 1974.

SPEA remained in Poplars for its first decade, eventually occupying three full floors.

SPEA’s enormous success continued to attract increasing numbers of students, leading to the school’s move to the 10th street facility in 1982, a building that also eventually became overcrowded. In 2006, the school’s environmental science faculty moved into IU’s new science building, MSB 2. The expansion and renovation we dedicate today greatly helps to alleviate the space shortage for public affairs.

This beautiful new Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center will also help attract the next generation of public and environmental affairs students, who will come to IU to prepare for careers in which they will take on some of society’s most difficult challenges. 

Special Thanks

There is a long list of people to whom we owe enormous debts of gratitude for helping us reach this moment, and, in thanking them, we must begin with the man for whom this splendid new graduate center is named: former Secretary of the United States Treasury and IU alumnus, Paul O’Neill.

Secretary O’Neill earned his Master of Public Administration degree at IU in 1966 while a fellow in the National Institute of Public Affairs program.

He has had a remarkable career, serving in the U.S Office of Management and Budget, in the private sector as an executive of the International Paper Company and Alcoa, and, of course, as Secretary of the Treasury.

Secretary O’Neill has remained closely connected to SPEA, and visits the campus regularly to speak to students and faculty. In 2014, he delivered an outstanding Graduate Commencement address, and, on that occasion, he was awarded an honorary IU doctorate.

Earlier that same year, Secretary O’Neill made an extraordinarily generous gift of $3 million to SPEA, the largest private donation in the school’s history. His generous gift helped make this magnificent new facility possible. It also supports the development of the next generation of public sector leaders.

So many others have lent their enthusiastic and energetic support to the vision we share for the school’s future.

For example, David Wang—who served for five years as chair of SPEA’s Dean’s Advisory Council—made a generous gift of $1 million to SPEA.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to again express our deepest thanks to Secretary O’Neill and his wife, Nancy, and David and Cecile Wang for their remarkably generous support.

I also want to commend SPEA Dean Graham and the school’s faculty and staff for all they have done to make this center a reality.

I also want to commend Vice President for Capital Planning and Facilities Tom Morrison, as well as the many design and construction professionals, both internal and external, who played major roles in this project.


In a 1970 paper titled “A Crisis of Will and Rationality,” Lynton Keith Caldwell wrote:

“Our country faces a crisis of the mind and spirit, more profound and threatening than the crisis of the environment.”

Caldwell argued that this crisis of “intelligence and moral character” was not unique to America, but according to him, it presented a particularly acute challenge in the United States because, unlike most of the world, America possessed the resources of knowledge, technique, and economic strength to solve crises of its own making.  

“To surmount this crisis of will and of rationality,” Caldwell wrote, “a major effort will be necessary to orient and motivate the coming generation of decision-makers. Nowhere is the need for action greater than in (America’s) colleges and universities … (for) it is (there) that the direction of future leadership appears.”

As Indiana University prepares to enter its third century of service, IU and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs remain steadfastly committed to orienting and motivating the coming generation of leaders and decision-makers, including those who will study here in SPEA’s Paul O’Neill Graduate Center.

All of us look forward to witnessing and celebrating the important and lasting contributions they will make that will strengthen our state, our nation, and our world.

Thank you very much.

Thank you, President McRobbie, and welcome to you all. It is truly an honor to join you as we dedicate the Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center here at SPEA.

Ceremonies like today’s have become almost commonplace on our campus the past few years, thanks to the visionary leadership of President McRobbie and Vice President Morrison. Their efforts have transformed the face of our campus and, in turn, reinvigorated residential and academic life here at IU Bloomington. The O’Neill Graduate Center is yet another wonderful success story, and a beautiful edition to the bustling 10th Street corridor.

Thank you: David and Cecile Wang

I would like to echo President McRobbie’s thanks to everyone whose tireless efforts, dedication, and generosity made the graduate center possible. In particular, I would like to thank David and Cecile Wang for their incredible gift.

Thank you, David and Cecile, for your generous support of Indiana University and your inspiring commitment to our students. It brings me great joy to think of the many vibrant conversations and enlightening collaborations that will take place in the second-floor commons that now bear your names. 

Thank you: Paul and Nancy O’Neill

And, of course, the entire campus thanks Paul O’Neill and his wife, Nancy, for their decades-long support of Indiana University, and the active role they’ve played in campus life since Paul’s time here as a graduate student in the 1960s.

Paul and Nancy, you were here in Bloomington when your family was young. As you discovered then, this is a special place and it stays in your heart. We are so grateful that you and your family have renewed your connections to our community.

Paul, you have exemplified the spirit of engagement and public service that we instill in our students, particularly here in SPEA. You have set an incredible example for generations of students by giving so much back to the university we all love so dearly. I can think of no finer tribute to your dedication to IU than this building that now bears your name, where future generations of students will carry on your spirit of service for many decades to come. Thank you.

SPEA and State of the Campus

In my recent State of the Campus address, I focused on the good that IU does not only for our students, but for our community here in Bloomington, across the state of Indiana, and around the world. SPEA is absolutely at the forefront of our ongoing efforts to make IU a force for good in the world—from building playgrounds in Guatemala to tackling pressing issues such as water security right here in Indiana.

Furthermore, SPEA is a hub of interdisciplinary collaborations on the Bloomington campus. In recent years, faculty and graduate students in SPEA have collaborated on academic programs and research projects with colleagues in virtually every single school and department on campus. Faculty from SPEA were involved in four of the final five proposals in the initial round of our Grand Challenges initiative, and they will surely be integral to many of the proposals we receive in the near future.

SPEA also offers unparalleled opportunities for students to pursue an interdisciplinary education. For instance, the Integrated Program in the Environment partners SPEA’s strengths in public policy and environmental science with the expertise of faculty in the School of Public Health and multiple departments in the College. This provides our students with a breadth of knowledge that transcends any single discipline and better prepares them to engage with a diverse world. The school is currently working with Kelley to develop a master’s program in healthcare management that will offer a similar cross-disciplinary experience for the students.

SPEA’s impact on campus even touches students who never take a single class in the school. For instance, SPEA co-sponsored the World Aids Day Panel in collaboration with the School of Public Health and the LGBTQ+ Culture Center. SPEA has also co-sponsored several recent events with DEMA, including The Power of Protest, a student and faculty forum on civil disobedience held right here in the O’Neill Center. Events like these are at the very heart of our mission as a public university, and they showcase the incredibly broad impact SPEA has on student life here on campus.

Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center

The Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center will help the faculty and graduate students in SPEA continue their vital work and explore new ways to transform their knowledge and expertise into instruments for good. The O’Neill Center is not only a new home for SPEA’s graduate programs—it is a new home base from which the school’s mission and dedication to service can be launched out into the world.

Thank you.

Good afternoon.

It is wonderful to be in this room, in this building, on this campus, on this day. We have so much to be thankful for … and so many to thank. 


First, thank you President McRobbie, and thank you Provost Robel. Thank you to the Board of Trustees. Thank you to those who helped design and construct this building’s foundation— to Tom Morrison and the architects, to BSA Life Structures, and to Weddle Brothers and your skilled workers.

For a different type of foundation, we owe thanks to our Dean’s Council, to our Distinguished Alumni Board and to our alumni around the world. Thank you to our founding dean, Chuck Bonser, and to Deans James Barnes and the late Astrid Merget.

We’re grateful to those who helped us fill this space. Thank you to Executive Associate Dean Michael Mcguire, Director of Finance Beth McMinn, and the members of the SPEA building committee. Thank you to Penny Hudoff. Her scheduling skills brought our classes home. Not that we don’t miss those long walks to Ballantine.  

Thank you to Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs Kirsten Grønbjerg and to all the faculty for patiently enduring academic life in a construction zone.

Thank you to Chad Sweatman—our building director who steered us through this complex project. You put up with our complaints about the jackhammers and random fire alarms and the closed bathrooms in what we call olde SPEA. It was worth the hardship. I mean, have you seen the bathrooms? They’re glorious. And so many of them.

Thank you to the graduate students who have taken to this building and made it your own. The classrooms, meeting rooms, and work spaces hum with intellectual activity and casual conservation all hours of the day and night.  The commons spaces here and on the two floors above are bathed in light and shine as places of inspiration and collaboration. These new spaces also open up new possibilities for our original building, allowing our more than 1,800 undergraduate students to make SPEA’s beloved atrium their own.

Special Thank Yous

And of course, we’re grateful to all those whose generosity helped our plans become reality and helped us build a space worthy of our program’s number one ranking. Thank you to David and Cecile Wang. The second-floor commons is named in your honor and we are grateful for your support. Thank you to the other donors for gifts, large and small, that allowed us to build and outfit the Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center.

Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Nancy.

On Paul O’Neill

Paul O’Neill represents the best that Indiana University and SPEA can be. You’ve excelled in all three sectors—as a visionary corporate leader, inspiring nonprofit leader, and principled government leader.

The purpose of this building is to advance knowledge and prepare leaders for the greater good. You have shown us the way.

Paul, I look forward to your remarks in a moment and to the comments of two of our student leaders.

The words of one of our students on the day we celebrated the groundbreaking for this building still resonate with me and I think you’ll find them meaningful.

Yasmine El-Gohary said on January 26, 2016: "The O’Neill Center will be a beautiful space. But I believe its purpose is not so much for drawing us in as for sending us out. And if I know anything about my fellow SPEA students, we won’t let it stay pristine for long. We will use this space—to share ideas, to experiment, to debate, to dream, to dissent. And we will leave this space prepared and inspired."

That is our pledge today. To use this space to prepare and inspire the next generation of leaders. To send them out, ready to serve the greater good.

To understand how they embrace that charge, please join me in listening to their voices in this video. (See above, on this page.)

Good afternoon friends, students, alumni, faculty, administration, and the greater Bloomington community.

As President McRobbie mentioned, my name is Dorian Troy Davis, and I am a second year MPA candidate in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I am overjoyed to stand here today and welcome you to the dedication of the Paul O’Neill Graduate Center. I think I speak for everyone when I say thank you!

More than a building

The center is more than just steel beams, concrete, and glass windows; this space is a beacon of change, scholarship, and achievement. The students who walk these halls are some of the best and the brightest who I have ever encountered.

Whether it’s our outstanding social entrepreneurs such as Ellie Whitney, who is saving the world one bee at a time, or Gilbert Bongba, who is actively working to improve the conversation of AIDS/HIV awareness to be more inclusive, this school has been a catalyst to transform students into change agents.

Driving force for good

I am confident that with the help of this new facility, SPEA will continue to be the driving force for social good throughout the country and a leader for the rest of the world. As the #1 public affairs program in the United States, SPEA has already aligned itself as the only institution in its league that has an Interdisciplinary approach to its curriculum on the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

With all of that being said, we cannot be complacent about the power that we have in this space. Let us not play the political game, but instead let us be game changers. Game changers who inspire change makers and make the world a better place. We need to know that the issues that we see every day do not exist in a vacuum. As change agents for public good, we must actively address social inequities in our local communities, such as gentrification in our inner cities, systemic racism, and educational inequality, while recognizing global issues of environmental justice and the rights of every human on this earth.

I leave you with the words of Martin Luther King Jr.—one of his not-so-famous but very necessary and timely quotes: "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."

As students, researchers, and practitioners of the public sector, let us continue to shine a light on the injustices that plague our society. Let us be voices in the street, let us be helping hands at the table, and let us be intellects in the classroom. 

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of this wonderful day.

Good afternoon faculty, students, staff, and alumni! 

Thank you for joining us today for this dedication ceremony of the new Paul O’Neill Graduate Center. As President McRobbie mentioned, my name is Lauren Shaman, and I am a second-year MPA student here at SPEA. It is an honor to be here as we dedicate the new building.

Putting the building to use

The students eagerly awaited the opening of the building, and we have quickly adapted to the new space. You can already see students taking advantage of the new study rooms, classrooms, lounges, and atriums to discuss everything from their upcoming econ exam to the newest policies.

Students have even been seeing their course work in a new light—literally, there’s sunlight now.

The new space that this building provides is an opportunity for students to collaborate and work together in better and new ways. For instance, in my capstone classroom, there are breakout tables that enable us to work in subgroups to produce the best deliverables for our community partner. The technology in this room gives us the ability to Skype in our classmate who is taking the course remotely and to conference call our client. As you can see, these capabilities allow us to not only produce our best work as students, but to engage meaningfully with our community.

We also use this space to engage meaningfully with one another—our study groups and student organizations will utilize this building to cram for exams and host events.


We will use this space to teach and learn from each other. This new building will be where we will enhance our skills as planners, leaders, and advocates—and for that we are very grateful.

Thank you.