Promoting Creative Dialogue

There is a pervasive view that the esoteric endeavors of world-class research institutions such as Indiana University have little relevance to the daily lives of average folks. The Institute for Advanced Study's Distinguished Citizen Fellowship program takes issue with this notion. Distinguished Citizen Fellows bridge the gap between experiential knowledge and the traditional practices of research, scholarship, and the creative arts, which some critics of academe consider ivory-tower pursuits. The fellowship goes to unusual individuals outside of the university who have made a mark on national and international affairs through their long experience in various professions, public policy, the arts, or other fields. Fellows visit one or more IU campuses to interact with faculty and staff and, especially, with students.

The institute's distinguished citizen fellows include former Indiana Governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis Bowen; former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh (D-Indiana); Cummins Engine's J. Irwin Miller; Lord Perry of Walton, founder of the British Open University; U.S. Repre sentative Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana); Robert Frowick, Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe; British Labor Party Leader Michael Foote; Alice Rivlin, director of the Office of Management and Budget; Helen Suzman, member of the South African Parliament; and many more. IU's recent Washington International Forum brought a group of diplomats, media people, and congressional aides together with other specialists from IU to discuss issues affecting Eastern and Central Europe. The forum, which was co-chaired by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and Representative Hamilton and also attended by Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), offers another example of an institute program that bridges the gap between real-world politics and academic scholarship.

Bowen served as the institute's first distinguished citizen fellow in the 1989-90 academic year and received the award again in 1994-95. He says that during his terms of service he met and talked with faculty, students, and staff "from New Albany to Gary and all the stops in between" on a variety of subjects ranging from politics and ethics to journalism and the environment. "In my last term," Bowen says, "the big topic of our dialogues was health care reform."

Bowen is eminently well-suited to discuss the issues involved in reforming our nation's health care policies. A medical doctor who received his medical degree from IU in 1942, "Doc" Bowen entered politics when he successfully ran for the office of coroner in Marshall County, Indiana. When, as Marshall County coroner, he "began to growl about things that were and were not happening to keep people healthy," his colleagues encouraged him to get involved in legislating better public health policies. Taking their urgings to heart, Bowen ran for and won a Republican seat in the state legislature in 1956. While maintaining his Northern Indiana practice as a family physician, Bowen served seven terms in the Indiana House of Representatives--three as Speaker of the House and one as Minority Leader. As Speaker, Bowen earned a reputation as a master persuader and a shrewd backroom negotiator. Bowen served as governor of Indiana from 1973 to 1981 and as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government's largest department, during the Reagan administration. Pundits characterized Secretary Bowen as quite a "scrapper" as he endeavored to overcome the opposition of powerful members of the Reagan White House and obtain national catastrophic health insurance for the elderly. Although Bowen has the unassuming manner of a kindly country doctor, the walls of his charmingly rustic home in Breman, Indiana, where he and his spouse Carol live in semi-retirement, are lined with impressive photographic mementos of his extensive public service. These mementos include photos of recent presidents--from Gerald Ford to George Bush--complete with personal inscriptions expressing appreciation and gratitude for his service.

As a distinguished citizen fellow, Bowen says he enjoyed the opportunity to engage in a give-and-take dialogue with members of the Indiana University community. He considers discussions on the ethics of health care reform with a group of faculty members at the Poynter Center to be one of the highlights of his visits. "The group was composed of a range of political persuasions--from very conservative to very liberal," Bowen says. "They got to arguing with each other at our brown-bag luncheon, and we all had a good time." Bowen also found his meetings with the Wells Scholars and honors students very rewarding because these students raised relevant and important questions about the health care debate. Their questions probed such difficult issues as whether we should be spending such large sums of money on health care for senior citizens in the 75 to 90 age group when these same funds could be used to care for infants and children and for disease-prevention research. Bowen notes that while such questions have no good answers, they are questions that must nevertheless be asked. Bowen comments that he was impressed by students' awareness of these thorny problems and by their concern that we should not neglect our senior citizens.

Bowen believes health care reform is both essential and inevitable. He feels that if we do not manage health care reform in the reasonably near future--in the next five or six years--the Medicare system will simply go broke. "We have to make changes," Bowen says. "I think one of the biggest changes that needs to be made is changing the age of eligibility simply because people are living a lot longer than they did when Medicare was instituted. I tried when I was secretary of Health and Human Services to interest Congress in gauging the age of eligibility to the age of longevity. That way Congress would not have to vote on the changes--they would be automatic. Congress is reluctant to make these kinds of changes because older people vote in a greater percentage than any other group."

Clearly a practical man, Bowen appreciates the value of dialogue about such problems. He also believes that research undertaken in universities does indeed improve the everyday lives of those citizens whose tax dollars support them. In the area of medicine, he notes that pharmaceutical companies develop most of their products based on investigations undertaken in university research projects and public sector programs such as those of the National Institutes of Health. Such endeavors emphasize the benefits higher education and advanced study provide for all of our citizens.

--Susan Moke