WEST LAFAYETTE – Gov. Mitch Daniels’ last six months in office will be a mix of safeguarding state government for his successor and building alliances to run Purdue University when his term ends in early January.
This double-duty began Thursday, moments after the Purdue Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hire him as the university’s next president.
He spent the day meeting faculty, glad-handing students and singing along to the fight song Hail Purdue!
But it’s back to work as governor today, including a scheduled meeting with key agency heads.
Daniels also cut his extracurricular obligations down by recusing himself from any partisan political activities or commentary, including the heated presidential race and the contest to replace him. He later said he had one fundraiser in Wisconsin next week for Tommy Thompson that he committed to before his moratorium.
The balance of this calendar year, I will use the time not consumed by my current duties to begin this process of earning by learning, the two-term Republican governor told a packed campus theater where the announcement was made.
Daniels replaces President France Córdova.
Trustee Michael Berghoff, the search chairman, called the process exhaustive and noted Daniels was the most oft-nominated name they received.
Berghoff called the governor a candidate we sought and recruited, adding that Daniels went through the same screening process as others, including three interviews and many probing questions.
Trustee Chairman Keith Krach listed three reasons for selecting Daniels – distinguished leader, passion for education and global statesman.
He’s a visionary. He’s a strategist. He’s an innovator, but most of all he’s a doer, he said of Daniels.
Krach said that Daniels has already brought tremendous attention to the university in recent days but in the long term, his presidency will set us apart as an institution open to big ideas and bold thinking.
Student trustee Miranda McCormack said she is excited about the future and has heard nothing but positive comments about the choice.
We want a president who is approachable, and I think we found it in Gov. Daniels, she said, noting he could talk to students in the halls like normal people.
Daniels’ contract will be for at least five years though his salary is not finalized.
When Daniels addressed the crowd, he immediately focused on concerns from some faculty that he doesn’t have enough academic experience.
He graduated from Princeton University and also has a law degree from Georgetown University, but he has never taught.
I have not made a life in the academy, but I have spent my life reading, admiring and attempting to learn from those who do, Daniels said. I will have to earn the honor of this appointment through strenuous work to build the understanding, alliances and personal relationships, especially with faculty, required for a successful presidency.
He acknowledged he will lean heavily on Provost Tim Sands – who will serve as interim president until Daniels can take over in January – to understand the governance and decision-making structure of the university.
Daniels also told reporters the decision wasn’t a slam-dunk. He originally thought it was a wonderful opportunity for someone else, but the more he learned and listened the more intrigued he became.
He said he will live on campus in the president’s home, though he mentioned that his current home north of Indianapolis is about an hour away, so there will be some back-and-forth.
Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, a 1971 Purdue alum, said he thinks Daniels has the potential to be one of the most dynamic presidents the university has ever had.
I think there are people that do tremendous things and he’s one of them. It’s a move up, he said. He has seen the other side of the story – the funding of higher education – and now he will put that to use on the other end.
Fellow Boilermaker alum Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, was wowed by the announcement.
He said he met with Daniels recently and encouraged him to use his talents in the future, thinking he would wind up in a Republican presidential Cabinet.
If he does half as good a job as president of Purdue as he was as governor he’ll be the best we’ve ever seen, Wyss said. I love it. I love it.
Daniels choked up when he spoke directly after the vote, noting he was wearing a Purdue tie that former Purdue President Martin Jischke gave him seven years ago.
I have worn it proudly many times since. Never so proudly or emotionally as today, he said.
There was also some levity at the event, with Berghoff presenting him a Harley-Davidson motorcycle jacket emblazoned with a gold P – even though there apparently is a no-motorcycle rule on campus.
Maybe he’ll change that, Berghoff said.