INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mitch Daniels did everything but confirm he’ll be the next Purdue University president Wednesday while talking about his credentials and stance on higher education.
He wouldn’t comment directly on today’s expected vote by the Purdue Board of Trustees, saying: “It’s just not appropriate. It’s not a topic for today.”
The trustees, the majority of whom Daniels appointed, meet at 10 a.m. today in West Lafayette to close out an ultra-secretive search.
Daniels did make clear at an Indianapolis jobs announcement that he will “absolutely” serve the rest of his term, which ends in January.
“Of course I’m committed to this job, whatever else does or doesn’t happen,” he said.
And Daniels was happy to talk about his administration’s position regarding higher education.
He reminded reporters he proposed a $1 billion higher education program that would have been funded by the privatization of the Hoosier Lottery. Legislators did not approve the program.
Daniels also worked last year to reduce so-called credit creep, or the growing number of credits it takes to earn certain degrees.
But the governor also cut operating and maintenance dollars for Indiana’s state-funded colleges and universities.
“There was a recession, and everybody had to tighten every belt a little. We reduced state government. We protected education – including higher education – more than any other area,” he said. “There’s a lot being written about what’s driving the costs of higher ed, but the more money that’s been poured in the faster tuitions have gone up.”
He also defended his credentials for the job – sort of.
Some in the university community have questioned whether Daniels, a public- and private-sector leader, has the academic qualifications to be president of the university.
He has a bachelor’s degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and a law degree from Georgetown University. But he hasn’t taught.
Daniels conceded a background in academia might be helpful.
“But I would also say this. You can’t pick up a magazine or newspaper these days without reading an article challenging higher ed as it is. For the first time, people are writing books and articles about ‘Is college worth it?’
“So let’s just say that maybe someone who reveres higher ed and wants very desperately to see it succeed as well as possible but comes at things with a slightly different, maybe complementary, set of experiences can contribute something.”
He said some key challenges are the affordability of higher education and getting young people to complete a degree in four years.
In fact, in a year-end interview with The Journal Gazette, Daniels lamented that higher education reform would be the one area he would leave undone.
“I think higher education is going to have to make all sorts of changes across the country to adapt to new technologies and to the economy of today. The more I learn about this whole area, the more I see there will be a lot of work to do there in the future. There is a lot of inertia in that system, as in any.”
He declined Wednesday to discuss whether it would be easier to reform higher education from the inside than from outside.
While addressing reporters, Daniels repeatedly sidestepped direct questions while still talking about the position.
He said his wife has pointed out that many times in his life he has been led to a new job or occupation outside his comfort zone.
“So this is a change that your family approves of?” Daniels was asked, referencing a family vote against him running for president.
“What change?” he responded, to laughter.