Celebrating Women's History

First woman president of Indiana University makes ‘her-story’

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — A woman is president for the first time at Indiana University in the school’s more than 200 years of existence. 

Pamela Whitten is paving a new path as the university’s 19th president. She is making history. It is time for “her-story” to be told.

When “Hail to Old IU” was first performed in March of 1893, a woman being president of any university seemed impossible. Now, Whitten is in the position at IU, and she says it is truly a dream come true.

Indiana University President-Elect Pamela S. Whitten poses for a portrait outside the Indiana Memorial Union at IU Bloomington on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Provided Photo/Indiana University)

“I am the president of Indiana University — are you kidding? It is certainly my dream job,” Whitten said. “You know, we are everything. A great student-based flagship university in the best state in the country. We do research that impacts and changes lives and we have the opportunity to serve this state as well. So, to me, it is the best job.”   

Whitten stepped into the position in July 2021 amid a pandemic and plenty of obstacles, but she quickly rose to the challenge.

Whitten’s credentials likely helped her and they speak for themselves. She is an internationally-recognized expert in telemedicine and an accomplished educator and researcher with a Ph.D. in communication studies. Before coming to IU, Whitten was president at Kennesaw State University and, before that, served as Dean of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University. Now, she’s one of several women presidents in the Big Ten conference.

Indiana University President Pamela S. Whitten is the keynote speaker for the TRIP (Translating Research into Practice) event at the Herron School of Art & Design Basille Auditorium on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Provided Photo/Indiana University)

Whitten is also a mom of three grown children and is a grandmother. She says these are among her greatest roles in life.

“We are seeing more and more women in leadership positions who actually did raise children,” Whitten said. “All I know is just the wonderful, fascinating, crazy struggle and balance of raising three kids and having a career and coming out the other side. But, I want to be clear. My husband was a part of that crazy chaotic time as well and certainly was an important partner in that. I think the recognition, and part of what is so important to me, are that everyone affiliated with IU does their best in school or job, but also recognizes how important their personal life is as well. We need to be whole human beings.”

Indiana University President Pamela S. Whitten is the keynote speaker for the TRIP (Translating Research into Practice) event at the Herron School of Art & Design Basille Auditorium on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. (Provided Photo/Indiana University)

Whitten grew up in Tennessee and has lived across the country. She considers herself “a crazy college sports fan” and is cherishing watching both the women’s and men’s NCAA Tournaments. She plans to cheer on the Hoosier women this coming weekend in Connecticut. To be a university president in the stands was something she never imagined when she was a student.

“I graduated from college in the 1980s and you wouldn’t have dreamed of being a university president, because there weren’t university presidents, frankly, that were women. But we have come a long way since I graduated from college,” Whitten said. “I would say, as wonderful as it is personally to be the first female president of IU, what is really important is how IU responded and felt. And the joy and enthusiasm from everyone at IU to have a female as a president, I really think is a strong statement.”

Indiana University President Pamela Whitten and Chancellor Nasser Paydar visit with IUPUI military personnel during a brunch at the Campus Center on Wed, November 10, 2021. (Provided Photo/Indiana University)

Now, Whitten is pushing for more change. She has already committed $30 million to help accelerate IU’s efforts to hire more diverse faculty. She says the key to her success will be a focus on all students.

“Students at Indiana University, I like to say, are the center of the universe here. So, we are recognizing all the good things we do for students and then also working toward planning, even more, we can do for them,” Whitten said. “Working with our students will really help all our women understand they can do anything.”

As the song says, she is the pride of Indiana, hail to old IU.