Laurie Burns McRobbie

"Honoring Elinor Ostrom"

I am delighted to be with all of you today at the very first Indiana Governor’s Conference for women, and especially to be part of honoring Elinor Ostrom. 

I met Lin just a few years ago, but in that short time, she made a permanent impact on how I think about my place in the world, as she did for countless students and colleagues during her career. 

I had heard of Lin before I came to Indiana University in 2005, because my long-time boss at Internet2 and at the University of Michigan was Lin’s first graduate student back in the late 60s.  He told me that she was the single most transformative figure in his own academic and professional career, and it showed in how he conducted himself as a leader, and in how he mentored me.  So Lin actually touched me long before I arrived at IU.

My husband, Michael McRobbie, and I were among the fortunate colleagues Lin invited to accompany her to Stockholm in December of 2009 when she received her Nobel Prize.  It was an incomparable experience, a week long celebration of intellectual excellence.  As much as the fascinating lectures given by Lin and the winners in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Literature, and the glittering Nobel ceremony, dinner, and ball that followed, I was impressed by seeing the citizens of Stockholm line up five-deep to get a glimpse of these extraordinary men and women, treating them like movie stars on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. 

Lin won the Economics Prize for her groundbreaking work on how communities can come together to manage common resources, from forests and water supplies to community policing, the research for which she did here in Indianapolis.  Her landmark book, “Governing the Commons,” turned on its head the conventional wisdom that only government or the private sector can best manage shared resources.  Lin valued collaboration, and she lived it and she taught it to others.   

Lin and her husband Vincent were also among Indiana University’s finest philanthropists.  Time and again, when she and Vincent received a major award, they donated the proceeds to the university. Their gifts to IU, which include Lin's Nobel Prize award, total nearly $4 million.

Neither Lin nor Vincent, who died one month after Lin, sought accolades or attention for their gifts. They gave them to help future generations of talented students pursue a quality education at Indiana University that would launch them toward realizing their grandest dreams and aspirations.  And they gave them to ensure that future generations of scholars can build on the academic foundation they laid for the study of the commons.

Lin ranks among the great leaders of IU, male and female, and of course continues a wonderful tradition of women’s leadership.  From Sarah Parke Morrison, IU’s first female student in 1867; to Frances Marshall, the first African-American woman to graduate from IU in 1919; to Nellie Teeter, the first female Trustee of IU from 1942 to 1945; and to Barbara Jacobs, who made the largest gift by a woman and the third largest gift in IU history of $40 million dollars to name the Jacobs School of Music in 2005, IU is blessed with many women who have stepped up to help shape its future. 

Indiana University is honoring the legacy these women and so many others have left with its women’s philanthropy program, which brings women leaders together to make a positive difference for IU, for today and tomorrow, just as Lin did.  

By any standard, Lin Ostrom made it.  She followed her intellectual passions, and reaped the ultimate reward.  She had a true partnership with her husband, for whom she was his best collaborator and his finest critic.  She is loved by generations of students and colleagues all over the world. 

But success never went to her head.  She was her true, authentic self to the end, advising a doctoral student from her hospital bed, just days before she left us.   A particularly fond memory from our week in Stockholm was Lin’s choice of an African dress to wear to what was unquestionably a white tie ceremony.  And she nearly stole the show, coming in third on the “Best Dressed at the Nobel Awards” behind the Queen and Crown Princess of Sweden! 

Lin believed in the power of one to make a difference, and she believed that the important issues of the day must be tackled by women, and men, of integrity, strength of mind, and faith in others to join and work together.      

On behalf of IU and the women of Indiana, it is my very great honor to officially dedicate this inaugural Indiana Governor’s Conference for Women to Elinor Ostrom.  And I’d like to leave you with a lesson that she exemplified.  

That is, we must renew our commitment not only to collaboration but also to compromise if we have any hope of positive progress for everyone.  And in turn, this means each of us needs to take that first step towards action and meaning in life.  In so doing, we will inspire others to follow.  We don’t always know where our steps will take us, but when those steps are taken with integrity, strength and faith, the journey itself, as well as those unexpected rewards, will change us all for good.

Thank you.