Leadership & Governance

No Lingering Questions About This President's Citizenship

Chris Meyer, Indiana U.

Indiana U. President Michael A. McRobbie becomes both an American and a sexagenarian on the same day.
October 10, 2010

As president of Indiana University, Michael A. McRobbie is hardly a stranger to administrative hassles. But the prospect of gathering and filling out the reams of paperwork required for American citizenship caused him to delay applying, a step he says he has been thinking about almost since his arrival in the Hoosier State 13 years ago.

"When they made me president," in 2007, says the Australian-born expert in artificial intelligence, "I decided, well, I really should get 'round and get this done."

That time has finally come. On Monday around noon U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker was to swear in Mr. McRobbie and his three college-age children as U.S. citizens at Bryan House, the president's campus residence. The day promised to be doubly special for Mr. McRobbie, who was to celebrate his 60th birthday as well, timing that he described as "purely coincidental."

Logistics had more to do with it than coincidence. Two of his children—Josephine, 25, and Lucien, 20—are students at Indiana. But 19-year-old Arabella attends the University of Southern California, so combining the two events made sense. (Mr. McRobbie's first wife, Andrea, died of cancer.)

Given the rarity of the president of a major public university getting his citizenship, Mr. McRobbie had originally said the swearing-in would take place in a campus theater, with members of the news media invited. A university spokesman said later the family had decided against that idea in favor of a more intimate ceremony at the president's residence. Afterward Mr. McRobbie, his children, and his wife, Laurie Burns McRobbie, planned to celebrate over a relaxed lunch with a few close friends.

Hired in 1996 by then-President Myles Brand as Indiana's vice president for information technology, Mr. McRobbie made a steady ascent through the university's administrative ranks before being named system president.

"This is the American dream, that you can come from another country and, by dint of hard work, you can rise to a position like I've risen to," says Mr. McRobbie, who will also retain Australian citizenship. "I deeply admire this country, and I'm honored to—all going well on the 11th—become a citizen of it."

Not that he anticipates any problems. Mr. McRobbie and his kids aced the naturalization quiz—"No one shamed the family," he says­—and as Aussies they breezed through another portion of the exam, an English test, which, curiously, does not exempt native speakers.