‘An irreplaceable and magnificent treasure’

With the passing of Elinor Ostrom this morning, Indiana University Bloomington and the entire campus community have lost an extraordinary scholar, researcher, teacher, colleague, friend and, in the words of IU President Michael McRobbie, “an irreplaceable and magnificent treasure.”

Elinor Ostrom

Those of us who were here in Bloomington in October 2009 — when it was announced that “Lin” had become the first (and still only) woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Science — remember the overwhelming sense of community pride we all felt in Lin’s remarkable achievement. We felt additional joy and gratification – the kind usually reserved for a big basketball victory – when, in December 2009, she accepted her award from the king and queen of Sweden. And we took great delight in Lin’s fashion choice for the Stockholm award ceremony — a West African print dress given to her by a colleague and saved for a special occasion. (Lin reportedly was quite amused when the Stockholm daily, “Svenska Dagbladet,” rated her dress No. 3 for fashion success, two spots behind a sleeveless plum dress worn by Crown Princess Victoria.)

I feel fortunate to be one of the many IU employees who have had occasion to be in Lin’s company and wowed by her warmth, intelligence and passion for her scholarly work. One afternoon in 2004, Lin welcomed me to her Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (now to be forever known as the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop), a small, unassuming office in a building tucked behind the tall trees dotting North Park Avenue. Though busy and preparing for a major presentation, she spent several hours with me enthusiastically discussing a new report she had co-authored on the crux of her internationally renowned research – mankind’s ability to govern such critical “commons” as oceans and the climate. I left her office that day in awe of the breadth and depth of her research, her level of energy and, perhaps most of all, her spirit.

Today’s local and national news stories, tributes and outpouring of remembrances that have been shared through Twitter, Facebook and a special website honoring her reflect Lin’s spirit and the tremendous impact Lin had on the university she called home for nearly a half century.

In April, Lin received what would turn out to be among the last of her major honors – being named to Time’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. And once again, we were allowed to take pride in our friend and colleague, her visionary research and the transformative difference she made at IU and all across the globe.

In saying goodbye to this treasured and irreplaceable talent, all of IU can continue to take pride in Lin, the way she represented her university and her community, and her lasting legacy of accomplishment.