Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was hailed as a visionary who could bring innovation despite his lack of academic credentials as he was introduced Thursday as the next president of Purdue University, quashing speculation he could be the GOP nominee for vice president.
Purdue officials announced the former White House budget director and Eli Lilly executive would be the university's 12th president following a unanimous vote by the school's Board of Trustees, eight of whom were appointed by Daniels. One trustee was out of the country and did not vote.
The governor will replace France Cordova, who is stepping down in July after five years at Purdue's helm.
“He's a visionary. He's a strategist. He's an innovator. But most of all, he's a doer,” said trustee Chairman Keith Krach.
Daniels will take office in January once his second term as governor expires. He said his appointment ends the possibility that presumptive nominee Mitt Romney might tap him as a running mate or, if elected, to a Cabinet post. He said he won't be involved in partisan politics after making one last out-of-state appearance this weekend.
“No campaigning, no commenting about anybody's campaigning – in the state or out state or anywhere else – no fundraising, nothing. I won't be a delegate to the national convention,” he said.
Daniels, 63, is expected to bring a business-minded approach, fundraising skill and an image as an efficient manager to the new job. But he'll also find himself on the flip side of a challenging education environment that has seen state money for public institutions decline dramatically in recent years.
Daniels, wearing a black and gold tie given to him by former Purdue President Martin Jischke, talked about speculation by some about whether there are too many students going to college and whether what they are learning is worth the expense, and that some say the traditional residential campuses may change.
“I do think there are some unprecedented challenges to higher ed, and I see a real opportunity for Purdue to manage whatever evolution is coming better than most,” he said.
Daniels said he understands people who question his credentials and said he plans to show he is worthy of the job, relying heavily on provost Timothy Sands and others to help him. Sands will serve as interim president until Daniels takes office.
“My single highest objective, and I'm going to start working on that right away, is to build personal relationships and better understanding,” Daniels said.
Daniels said he would spend much of the next six months asking questions and listening.
“I've not made a life in the academy, but I have spent my life reading and admiring and attempting to learn from those who do,” he said.
Krach said terms of the contract are still being worked on, but said a memorandum was in place. Search committee Chairman Michael Berghoff said the contract will be for at least five years.
As governor, Daniels ordered $150 million carved out of state higher education funding in December 2009 as the state's revenues declined. Purdue's state funding has fallen from a peak of $262 million in 2008-09 to $233.9 million for the just-completed school year.
The university also came under fire from state lawmakers over its tuition increases at the height of the recession. Purdue's in-state tuition rates have risen by as much as 62 percent since 2004, according to figures provided by the university.
Daniels has rejected university leaders' contention that state aid cuts have forced them to raise tuition.
Daniels has aggressively tackled education issues during his tenure, helping to establish Western Governors University, an online option for nontraditional students, and pushing the Legislature to reduce the number of credit hours it takes to achieve some degrees. He also led changes in K-12 education, including the nation's broadest use of school vouchers.
“I hope to become an audible and credible voice for the critical role of higher education in the nation's future, and an effective advocate of Purdue to those who might support its growth in quality and reputation,” Daniels said.
Daniels will also have to overcome the perception that his selection was preordained, because he appointed the trustees who chose him for the job, she said. Daniels reappointed three of the Purdue trustees on Tuesday and has appointed eight of the 10 current members
Margaret Ferguson, political science department chairwoman at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said Daniels will have to work harder than most presidents to show he understands academia.
His legislation opposing “credit creep” in universities missed the mark, she said, when it blamed faculty and administrators for students spending longer times completing undergraduate degrees. The Daniels proposal did not take into account that many students are either changing majors or transferring to other schools, thereby increasing the number of credits they take and debt they incur.
Daniels will also have to overcome the perception that his selection was rigged, because he appointed the trustees who chose him for the job, Ferguson said. Daniels reappointed three of the Purdue trustees on Tuesday and has appointed eight of the 10 current members.
“It's an insider's game,” Ferguson said of the selection process. “The faculty didn't really have an input, and even more so than usual where the governor chose the trustees who are then choosing him.”
Daniels let Krach answer a question about whether it was ethical for him to be named president by a board that he primarily appointed. Krach said Daniels was recommended by the search committee, which included faculty, deans and administrators.
Krach said Daniels was initially considered “a longshot” because people were encouraging him to run for president, but the committee decided to approach him anyway.
“With his name coming up left and right, I figured it couldn't hurt to ask,” he said.