History

It began with a vision

The notion of an optometry school at Indiana University was first seriously discussed by Indiana optometrists John P. Davey and Noah A. Bixler in the late 1930s. As members of the Indiana State Board of Optometry, they held high standards for practice in Indiana, and they felt that a school at IU would help maintain these standards.

In 1944, Irvin M. Borish, a graduate of the Northern Illinois College of Optometry, moved to Kokomo, Indiana, because he recognized those high standards required of Indiana optometrists. Davey and Bixler recruited Borish to help in the effort to start a school of optometry at IU. That December, they met with IU president Herman B Wells, who asked the Indiana Association of Optometrists to set up a committee to negotiate founding the school.

The next five years marked a journey that made everything else possible.

Founding the IU School of Optometry

  • 1945: Indiana Association of Optometrists president Edgar Cain rallies the state’s most prominent optometrists behind the idea and forms the school committee. Herman B Wells appoints IU Vice President Herman Briscoe to work with the committee and to seek approval from the IU Trustees.
  • 1947: In October, the IU Board of Trustees initially approves a school of optometry. However, the following March, due to continuing opposition from the medical school, the IU trustees rescind their approval of the school.
  • 1949: The Indiana Optometric Association goes to the Indiana state legislature with an all-out effort to educate them on the need for a school of optometry in Indiana and to request the passage of a bill to establish the school.
  • 1951: The Indiana House votes unanimously in favor of the bill. The Indiana Senate passes the bill with 39 yes votes to 3 no votes, and the governor signs the bill into law.
Black and white image of the Foley House, a large, Victorian style house with a wraparound porch.
IU School of Optometry Class of 1956. Twenty men wearing suits and ties.
Irvin M. Borish examines a patient. Black and white archive image.

1951

The General Assembly of the State of Indiana establishes the IU Division of Optometry. The program operates as a division of the university, with its degrees granted by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School.

Building the curriculum

  • 1951: Preoptometry courses begin at IU, with two years scheduled for preoptometry curriculum, followed by three years of professional optometry courses.
  • 1954: IU’s first graduate program in physiological optics (now vision science) begins.
  • 1956: IU’s first optometry graduates receive their degrees. Sixteen graduates receive their Master of Optometry degrees, and three receive a Master of Science in Physiological Optics: William R. Baldwin, Paul W. Lappin, and Lester Ray Loper.
  • 1962: The first Ph.D. degrees are granted to John H. Carter, Jr., and Robert B. Mandell.
  • 1968: The first Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degrees are granted, after the optometry curriculum expands from three to four years through the 1960s, meeting university requirements for a doctoral degree.
Our building on Atwater Avenue

Our home on Atwater

1968: The building for the Division of Optometry and the Program in Physiological Optics is completed. This six-story, limestone-faced building located at 800 East Atwater Avenue provides space for classrooms, laboratories, offices, and a student resource center, and supports research and development activities.

Decades of visionary leadership

1970: Henry Hofstetter steps down as head of the optometry program, and Gordon Heath takes over the position. Subsequent deans have been Jack Bennett (1988–1998), Gerald Lowther (1998–2008), P. Sarita Soni (2008–2010), and Joseph A. Bonanno (2010–present).

Community clinics and rotations

  • 1972: The Community EyeCare Center, an off-campus clinic, opens on Bloomington’s west side and operates there for nearly 40 years.
  • 1975: The school initiates a six-week rotation program in the fourth year of the Doctor of Optometry curriculum, making IU one of the first optometry schools to utilize external rotation sites for the clinical training of optometry students. Some of the first external rotation sites were military bases and veterans administration facilities. The external rotations program has expanded so that fourth year students now do clinic work in four 12-week rotations.
  • 1976: Another off-campus clinic, the School of Optometry’s Illinois Street Eye Clinic, opens in Indianapolis. Today, it is the Indianapolis Eye Care Center.

1975

The IU Division of Optometry becomes the IU School of Optometry, a degree-granting school of Indiana University.

Growing our vision

Optometry class sizes grew from less than 30 students in 1966 to an average 75 today. These graduates go on to provide leadership in optometric education, optometric practice, and vision research—in Indiana, and far beyond.

  • 1992: The school opens the Indianapolis Eye Care Center (IECC) in a newly constructed building at 501 Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis, located near the IUPUI campus. The IECC offers an expanded scope of patient care services. Fourth-year optometry students receive additional clinical training through external rotations here, and at locations such as Veterans Administration facilities, military hospitals, and referral centers.
  • 1995: A portion of the clinic in the Optometry Building is dedicated as the Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research. The center’s mission is to abet and develop clinical and applied research support and to facilitate investigations into visual disorders, ocular pathologies, and systemic diseases that affect the eye.
A female optometry student examines a patient's eyes.

Giving back to the community

  • 2008: Atwater Eye Care Center moves from the second floor of the school to a new clinic building across the street. Later, this clinic grows and merges with the Community Eye Care Center to provide a comprehensive eye care environment in the city of Bloomington.
  • 2011: IU School of Optometry Community Outreach Program launches, dedicated to providing free eye exams and low-cost eye wear to low-income patients who are not eligible for Medicare services.
  • 2014: Borish Center for Ophthalmic Research doubles in size, encompassing two floors of the Optometry building.
  • 2017: A four-year renovation project concludes, with a complete modernization of the Atwater building and major upgrades to school didactic labs, clinical training labs, and the lecture hall.

See how we’re shaping the future of eye care.