Enjoy the accolades

1. Introduction

 The distinguished astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson contends that the iconic photograph taken in 1968 by the Apollo 8 astronauts—of the earth rising over the lunar surface—fundamentally changed our view of ourselves. It was, of course, the first time we had viewed the earth from space at that distance and without borders or color-coded political boundaries imposed by mapmakers.

Tyson contends that this powerful photograph—and the Apollo program in general—evoked a sense of shared destiny and led to a cultural shift in how we thought of our place in the universe. As a result, within a few short years, the United States found the political and institutional will:

  • to establish the observance of Earth Day, to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, to pass major amendments to the Clear Air Act, and to pass the National Environmental Policy Act—all in 1970;
  • to ban the agricultural use of the pesticide DDT and to regulate the ocean dumping of waste in 1972;


  • to pass the Clean Water Act and to begin to regulate the amount of lead in gasoline in 1973.

2. The School of Public and Environmental Affairs

We might add to this list the establishment of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs in 1972.

Certainly, there were additional factors that led to the growth of the environmental movement—including the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the work of a handful of visionary scholars and activists and who helped make the environment a focus of public policy. Among those influential scholars was Lynton Keith Caldwell, who spent most of his career at Indiana University, and who was one of the principal founders of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Professor Caldwell was also the chief architect of the National Environmental Policy Act, sometimes referred to as “the environmental Magna Carta.”

Of course, the study of public affairs and public policy have a much longer history. But in roughly the same era, the study of public policy began to emerge as an academic discipline distinct from political science or economics—but as one that, even then, took an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating elements of many fields in the social sciences.

With its establishment in 1972, Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs became the first school in the country to combine public management, policy, and administration together with the environmental sciences.  

Today, SPEA is a world leader with top-ranked programs in nonprofit management, environmental policy, and public affairs, and is one of the largest schools of public affairs in the United States.

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

Successful SPEA graduates, now numbering more than 32,000, work across the country and around the world making a difference by bridging policy and science to help address some of the world’s most vexing problems. A large number of the school’s graduates work in state and local government right here in the state of Indiana, where they bring a wide range of public policy and fiscal expertise to bear for the benefit of the citizens of our state.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs has become synonymous with excellence at Indiana University and throughout the world, in large part, because of the work of the school’s outstanding faculty—a faculty that currently includes former Congressman Lee Hamilton, and which has included such luminaries as the late Elinor Ostrom, the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. All of these people and many others have contributed to the excellent reputation of the school.

SPEA has also benefitted from a tradition of exceptional leadership—which began under Founding Dean Charles Bonser and continued under the school’s second dean, James Barnes, who participated in the formation of the EPA. The school’s tradition of outstanding leadership continued under former dean the late Astrid Merget, and continues today under the leadership of Dean John Graham, who has been one of the leading supporters of the facility for which we break ground today.

3. The Paul O’Neill Graduate Center

SPEA’s enormous success, of course, has attracted increasing numbers of students, to the point that its current facility is very much overcrowded. 

The expansion and renovation for which we break ground today will help greatly to alleviate that situation.

The magnificent Paul O’Neill Graduate Center will house a large Student Commons, as well as state-of-the art classrooms, meeting areas designed to foster collaboration, and faculty offices. The beautiful design will incorporate traditional Indiana limestone and will feature a multi-story glass wall facing Tenth Street. 

The new facility will also help attract the next generation of public and environmental affairs students, who will come to Indiana University to prepare for careers in which they will take on some of the most difficult challenges facing our world.

4. Paul O’Neill and David Wang

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, even though he could not be with us today, we must begin with the man for whom this splendid new graduate center will be named: former Secretary of the United States Treasury and IU alumnus, Paul O’Neill.

Secretary O’Neill earned his Master of Public Affairs degree at IU in 1966 while a fellow in the National Institute of Public Affairs program, a precursor to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He credits the late professor Lynton Keith Caldwell, whom I mentioned earlier, as a pivotal influence on his career.

And what an extraordinary career it has been.

He has served in the U.S Office of Management and Budget, in the private sector as the leader of the International Paper Company and Alcoa, and, of course, as Secretary of the Treasury.

He served in the latter role at the time of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, and during the downturn in economic growth that followed. Secretary O’Neill helped to restore confidence by mobilizing resources to fight terrorist financing, and by working with Middle Eastern countries to stop money laundering and fraud.

As many of you may know, Secretary O’Neill has remained closely connected to IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He finds time to visit the campus each year to speak to our students. In 2014, he delivered an outstanding Commencement address to IU graduates earning master’s and doctoral degrees, and, on that occasion, 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 will support the development of the next generation of public sector leaders and will help make this magnificent new facility possible.

Secretary O’Neill’s generosity has inspired—and will continue to inspire—many others to lend their enthusiastic and energetic support to the vision we share for the school’s future.  

As I have mentioned, David Wang, who served for five years as chair of SPEA’s Dean’s Advisory Council—and who was a former colleague of Paul O’Neill’s at International Paper Company—also made a generous gift of $1 million to SPEA.

On behalf of Indiana University, I want to express our deepest thanks to Secretary O’Neill and Mr. Wang for their remarkably generous support. We hope they will be able to join us when we celebrate the opening of the new facility.

5. Conclusion

As we approach the Bicentennial of Indiana University in 2020, we are preparing both to celebrate our history and to rethink how the university will function and the kinds of major challenges it will take on during the next period of its existence.

In the early 1970s, the Apollo space missions inspired us to think about our place in the universe and fostered a greater sense of shared destiny.

Today, we are in the midst of a revolution brought on by globalization and technological change.

Today, Indiana University and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs remain committed to understanding how our world is changing and how we can best respond and contribute to it. 

And today, as we break ground for the O’Neill Graduate Center, all of us look forward to a facility that will help the students and faculty of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs make important and lasting contributions that will strengthen our state, our nation, and our world.

Thank you very much.

Thank you, President McRobbie. And a warm welcome to everyone.  I am delighted to see so many members of our community gathered here to celebrate an important milestone in the remarkable history of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. And a very special welcome to Mayor John Hamilton. SPEA’s contribution to good governance is a piece of its legacy, and that legacy has been evident in the leadership and public servants in Bloomington.

On behalf of the entire campus, I want to thank everyone involved in making the vision for the Paul O’Neil Graduate Center a reality. Thanks to Dean Graham, his staff, and the members of the SPEA building committee for all the hard work and planning they’ve put into this project. Thanks to Tom Morrison and the University Architects for their design of yet another wonderful addition to the rich mosaic of architectural beauty on our campus. Thanks to President McRobbie for his ongoing commitment to enriching the Bloomington campus through his leadership in assuring that our facilities are equal to the quality of our faculties. And to all the faculty, students, and staff in SPEA, thank you for believing so passionately in the mission of SPEA and the mission of IU Bloomington.

Today offers us a wonderful occasion not only to celebrate the bright future of SPEA, but also to reflect on the many contributions SPEA makes to the Bloomington campus. Since its founding in 1972, the school’s research and teaching has crossed disciplines in both science and policy, bringing the strengths of the campus together in innovative ways to find solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing the world today. Witness, for instance, the school’s leadership in the Integrated Program in the Environment, which was launched in 2013 as a collaborative effort with the College of Arts & Sciences. This program brings together more than 100 faculty members spanning 25 departments and 5 schools to explore creative approaches to issues such as resource management, sustainability, and public policy.

The Paul O’Neil Graduate Center will expand the reach of the work done in SPEA—work that not only impacts communities around the globe, but also helps to shape the culture of our campus in positive ways. This past fall, for instance, SPEA was central in bringing acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates to campus—an event that contributed significantly to our ongoing conversations around race, diversity, and inclusion. It was truly inspiring to witness the energy and passion this event sparked in our community. And this month saw the publication of a new book by IU alum Tavis Smiley, The Covenant with Black America: Ten Years Later, which includes chapters from a number of SPEA faculty that contribute to the wider national conversations around the issues of race and public policy.

I could offer similar examples of SPEA’s impact on issues as wide ranging as energy and environmental policy, poverty and public healthcare, and economic development in the region and across the state. In so many ways, SPEA epitomizes the power of higher education to effect positive change in the world. The open, honest, and intellectually rigorous engagement with difficult issues is essential to the health and vitality of a democratic society. It is also essential to the health and vitality of a campus devoted to the principles of inclusion and academic excellence. For more than four decades, SPEA has been a cornerstone of our campus efforts to create the most open and inclusive learning environment possible, and the new Paul O’Neil Graduate Center will ensure SPEA’s prominent place in our campus community for many decades to come.  Congratulations to you all. 

Good afternoon.

President McRobbie and Provost Robel—thank you for your thoughtful words and, most especially, for all that you and the Board of Trustees have done to support SPEA from the beginning of this project. We are grateful.

Thank you to Tom Morrison and the architects for a remarkable design that is striking, complements the array of buildings on Tenth Street, and is energy efficient.  We applaud the university and all involved for aiming for a gold LEED standard.

Thank you, as well, to Executive Associate Dean Michael McGuire, Director of Finance Mike Fowler, and the members of the SPEA Building Committee for making the hard choices associated with any project of this scope.

Thank you to Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs Kirsten Grønbjerg and all the students, faculty, and friends of SPEA who joined me in the frosty walk here.  You and your successors will bring life and purpose to the Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center.  This day is for you.

So what is this day all about? The answer begins with what is at our feet. We’re here to symbolically turn the earth to mark the start of construction on the O’Neill Graduate Center.

It is tempting to say we’re also here to turn the page on SPEA’s history, closing one chapter and opening another.  That this is some sort of a sharp pivot point between the old SPEA and the new.

I prefer a different analogy. This comes from my cherished past time of ballroom dancing. Bet you didn’t know I am faculty advisor to IU’s Ballroom Dance Club? Don’t worry, I won’t be demonstrating.  

In ballroom dance, the chasse is a step with a triple pattern.  It is a gliding, flowing step performed with a partner, stepping together, gracefully sharing the music and the moment while gliding across the floor with pace and precision.

For SPEA, the dance began more than 40 years ago. President Ryan and the university’s leaders envisioned a school that would bring together public affairs and environmental science and policy.  

Charles Bonser was the founding dean and Chuck remains on our faculty and is an active presence at our School. Additions don’t work if there is nothing good to add to … and John Ryan and Chuck Bonser gave us a very good start.

Through the Bonser years and those of Deans Jim Barnes and the late Astrid Merget, SPEA grew and thrived, gracefully.  Our physical plant grew, as well. The construction of MSBII gave our environmental science faculty and programs a state-of-the-art home.

It would be wrong to say that as SPEA grew, and added new programs and new facilities, we didn’t make a misstep or two, maybe even step on a toe or two!

But just look at us today—SPEA is ranked No.2 out of 266 Master's of Public Affairs programs in the United States. We’re known worldwide for our outstanding programs in environmental science and policy, public budgeting and finance, public and nonprofit management, and policy analysis.

We have more than 90 full-time faculty members, some 2,000 residential students and the fast-growing SPEA Connect Online MPA.  Our teaching, research, and service is informing public policy and improving lives in Indiana and around the world.

And we’re out of space. Thanks to former Executive Associate Dean David Reingold and others who helped the school grow so quickly, we find ourselves dancing on an overcrowded floor. You can’t glide when there’s nowhere to move. That is why the O’Neill Graduate Center is so crucial to our future and our gratitude to Secretary O’Neill, David Wang, and other benefactors is so deep. Paul and David couldn’t be with us today but I look forward to their next visit to campus so they can see their wonderful gift to us come to life.

The center will give our students and faculty room to collaborate. The classrooms and meeting spaces will have the latest technology yet nurture old fashioned face to face conversation. The design is sleek and modern, yet warm and inviting. It will be a powerful magnet as we continue to recruit the very best graduate students and faculty members worldwide.

If you walk or drive by the glass-walled face of SPEA on Tenth Street, you will see our community at work. We will be, as we like to say, advancing knowledge and preparing leaders for the greater good.  

In a moment, you’ll hear from two of our graduate student leaders who will describe how the O’Neill Center will improve their day-to-day experiences at IU and shape their futures.

First, though, to my partners here and in the SPEA community worldwide—thank you—thank you for the countless steps that brought us to this day and will send us gliding into the future. 

(after musical interlude)

Thank you, Dr. Herzig. And thank you to President McRobbie, Provost Robel, and Dean Graham for your inspiring words.

In the lead up to today’s groundbreaking—during the planning phase for the O’Neill Center—there was a lot of jargon-y talk about the new building’s “architectural footprint.”

With the O’Neill Center, we’ll be expanding the footprint of the current SPEA building to extend out to Tenth Street. We’ll be doing some renovations to the existing space, but we’ll be adding 29,000 square feet to the original building.

Today, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about a different type of footprint—those that my classmates and I will be inheriting from Paul O’Neill.

After studying public administration here at IU, Secretary O’Neill built a career that led him to leadership positions across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. He was head of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He was president of International Paper and CEO of Alcoa. He was chairman at RAND and has served on the board of dozens of major corporations and nonprofit organizations. He co-founded the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, which has become a national model for improving healthcare. And these are just the highlights.

Secretary O’Neill is a public servant, a corporate leader, an advocate, and a philanthropist. He is, as we at SPEA often say, a leader for the greater good. The opportunity to study in a building that bears his name is both a gift and a challenge. As we watch the O’Neill Center go up, let’s be reminded of what it looks like to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. 

I am honored to be here this afternoon representing my SPEA colleagues. There’s a certain humility that comes with committing one’s life to public and environmental affairs. We dedicate ourselves to improving the world by leading for the greater good.

While each of us has forged our own unique paths into the world of public service, we must continue to do so with great responsibility and accountability. When it comes to creating a better world, we’re not shy about rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard, unglamorous work that needs to be done. We understand that leading for the greater good means so much more than serving in positions of leadership or creating policies. Leading for the greater good means addressing how public service and conscious policymaking can be used as tools to challenge the status quo, to address and unpack systems of inequality, and to create EARNEST opportunities for those often unheard and forgotten to truly live, thrive, and succeed.

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.

I’m not speaking literally about myself, of course. I graduate long before the doors to the O’Neill Center are opened. The O’Neil Center will create a new environment, where SPEA can continue to grow and students can continue to innovate. And with each limestone block that’s laid, the center will increase our capacity to do so. This is an exciting moment for SPEA, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.