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PNW diploma fight headed for Statehouse

October 7, 2018

WESTVILLE — The controversy over what school name appears on diplomas at Purdue University Northwest may end up being settled in the Indiana Statehouse.

And a local state representative wants to make sure that not only PNW, but all satellite campuses across the state bear the name of the main university, and not the regional campus.

State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, on Friday said he plans to introduce a bill during the 2019 legislative session that would restrict diplomas from prominently displaying that a student graduated from a satellite campus.

“Purdue University Northwest provides students the opportunity to earn a degree at a lower cost by living at home or commuting,” Bohacek said. “The University promotes that students will earn a Purdue University degree. It is unfair for students who attend Purdue University Northwest to receive a degree distinguishing it as a satellite campus.”

PNW diplomas in the past have always read “Purdue University” across the top, but last week the university announced a change in policy so that graduates of satellite campuses would get diplomas with the name of the specific campus.

So PNW grads would get diplomas reading “Purdue University Northwest,” and graduates of other Purdue satellites would also no longer get “Purdue” diplomas.

In the announcement on Monday, PNW Chancellor Thomas Keon called the diploma change an “exciting step” for the school.

“Everything we do as a comprehensive university to ensure the success of our graduates – from high-quality teaching and scholarship, to a robust campus community, to a growing alumni network – is now further reflected in our diploma,” he said.

The Purdue system has “evolved in recent years,” he said and it was “increasingly valuable to distinguish between the diplomas among these various institutions more prominently. While all remain legal entities of the Trustees of Purdue University, the Board approved the diploma change for each.”

He called such dintinguishing of diplomas common among public university systems in many states.

“Employers already look for the expertise of PNW students and graduates,” Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Ralph Mueller said. “A clearly defined Purdue University Northwest diploma enhances the proud tradition of earning a degree from PNW’s many quality, and nationally recognized, academic programs.”

Their excitement was not shared by all students, however, and protests were conducted Tuesday at the PNW campuses in Westville and Hammond.

Kathleen Franklin, a junior communications major, said students were promised a Purdue University diploma and were not consulted about the change.

“I believe it should stay the same,” she said. “If they must change it, I believe student and faculty input is a must before they do anything permanent.”

Julia Cook-Jones, senior human resource management major, believes PNW is driven by profits and not by students.

“This is more than just a name change on a degree, this is about unification,” she said. “Unification relates to the common interests of humanity. Did the chancellor ask us how we feel? No! Did he do a petition? No! Did he tell us face to face? No! What chancellor hides behind an email instead of understanding what his students need to be academically successful?”

Students started a petition on Change.org against the proposed diploma change. As of Saturday afternoon, more than 18,000 people had signed the petition at change.org/p/pnw-students-keep-the-purdue-degree-at-pnw.

PNW spokesman Doug Clark called the diploma change “solely a design change.” He said current PNW diplomas already say they were earned in Hammond, not West Lafayette, in lettering at the bottom of the document.

But Bohacek, who sides with the students, plans to introduce his legislation when the 2019 legislative session begins in January.

— From staff reports

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