More than 500 speeches.
Since IU President Michael McRobbie plans to retire in June 2021, the Indiana Daily Student analyzed his speeches from over the years to study his word choice, sentiment and to see what he’s been talking about all this time.
McRobbie has delivered an average of 39 speeches each year since 2007. According to IU spokesperson Chuck Carney, McRobbie writes every speech in collaboration with his speechwriter, Greg Buse, who has worked closely with the president since 2012 to understand his speaking style.
Over the years, McRobbie has spoken at groundbreaking events, naming ceremonies, conferences, press conferences, academic panels and more, sometimes traveling across the globe to speak. He has thanked hundreds of people and organizations — including the Lilly Endowment, his family and friends and former Gov. Mike Pence — and unveiled new programs. Here’s what we found in our analysis of the president’s speeches.
We picked up phrases immediately following the words “I am” or “I’m” and mapped them to the below adjectives. We found McRobbie was “pleased” 259 times, or 35.6% of the time. We also saw interesting descriptions of himself, such as “I am a computer scientist with a background in high performance computing and networking” or, our favorite:
“I like to say that I am an Australian by birth, but a Hoosier by choice.”
— President Michael McRobbie
A first-generation college student, McRobbie came to IU in 1997 as the university’s first vice president for information technology and chief information officer. He was named vice president for research in 2003 and has been an active researcher in the field of computer science.
McRobbie hasn’t just spoken at IU campuses. Over the years, he has spoken at a palace in Berlin, a university in China, a conference center in Hawaii and more than 200 other locations. These speeches were part of a vision to strengthen IU’s global relations.
An Australian himself, McRobbie received a Ph.D. from the Australian National University in 1979, and he has given three speeches in his home country throughout his time as president.
Since 2007, the world has lived through a recession, a pandemic and another recession. How have McRobbie’s speeches changed over the years?
Use the graphic below to explore the number of times the following words appeared in his speeches.
minority, equity, diverse, inclusive
President McRobbie uses the words country(s) and nation 136 times, and United States or America 63 times.
Start of the Great Recession
President McRobbie speaks at the Summit of Presidents from Minority-Serving institutions.
Consistent with his extensive scientific background, our analysis found that President McRobbie used the words “science,” “scientific” and “sciences” 1,492 times, and the words “god(s)” and “religion(s)” only 35 times.
A common theme throughout McRobbie’s speeches was his gratitude. Over his 501 speeches, he used the words “thanks,” “thank you” and “thank” more than 600 times to thank at least 565 unique people and organizations, according to our analysis.
These are some of the people he thanked the most.
Tom Morrison, IU vice president for capital planning and facilities
Brad Wheeler, former IU vice president for information technology
Karen Hanson, former IU-Bloomington provost
Paul O'Neill, former U.S. secretary of the treasury
Taking our analysis one step further, we wanted to simulate a presidential announcement. For example, how would McRobbie announce a new IU campus opening on Mars?
To test out what these speeches could look like, we trained a language model to mimic McRobbie’s speech style. Given a word, the model predicts the most likely word to follow that using information from previous speeches (see our methodology). Use the dropdown below to select a topic and see what the model returned.
Editor’s note: The following speeches were generated by a language model and edited for clarity. Neither McRobbie nor his office had input in them.
The presidential search process consists of two groups — a search committee and a search advisory committee — that guide the selection process for the next university president. IU will also receive assistance from R. William Funk and Associates, a recruiting agency for college and university leaders.
While the next president will probably not announce a new IU campus on Mars anytime soon, Carney said they will have a lot to live up to when it comes to public speaking.
“After 13 years, [McRobbie] certainly has developed a style that reflects the breadth of knowledge that he has on the subjects, not just IU, but he has a breadth of knowledge as a researcher and an administrator at the highest level,” Carney said.
We built web scrapers to extract 501 speeches from the president’s website and presidential archives. We excluded presidential statements and state of the union addresses to keep style consistent.
We then trained a language model, GPT-2, on this dataset. The model was fed prompts (in bold) and run more than once to generate multiple outputs. The different outputs were then lightly edited and paragraphs were rearranged for style and readability, just as an editor edits stories by human reporters.
For the analysis involving people President McRobbie thanked in his speeches, we looked for persons and institutions that appeared after the words ‘thanks,’ ‘thank you,’ or thanking.’
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