Daniels quickly makes mark as Purdue president
WEST LAFAYETTE — Mitch Daniels is following a blueprint he set out as governor as he leaves his mark on Purdue University in his first months as its president.
Since taking Purdue’s helm Jan. 14, Daniels has frozen tuition for the West Lafayette campus, limited staff raises and cut the position of the university’s marketing administrator.
But staff and students wary of Daniels’ reputation as a budget cutter during his tenures as governor and former President George W. Bush’s budget director also say Purdue’s president has shown himself to be open to ideas.
“(He’s) willing to listen and change his mind,” incoming University Senate chairman David Williams told the Journal & Courier.
Williams said a key example of that is Daniels’ change of heart on his plan to eliminate merit raises for staff making $50,000 or more. Less than a month after announcing the pay freeze, Daniels scrapped the idea after talking to faculty and staff who disagreed with the decision.
He opted instead for a 1 percent merit increase for faculty and staff. The move is expected to save Purdue $7 million — $2 million more than his initial plan would have.
Daniels has also backed away from a plan to put Purdue on a trimester schedule after receiving concerns that it hadn’t been fully vetted.
“He was not aware of this,” Williams said, “and, to his credit, he backed off a bit. That’s not to say he isn’t proceeding full speed ahead with promoting better use of our summer session, but the trimester has been recognized for what it is, a great idea that needs a lot of work to become a reality.”
Though many critics questioned whether Daniels, who cut higher education spending as governor, could adapt to his new work environment, C-SPAN founder and Purdue alumnus Brian Lamb said he’s impressed by Daniels’ first months on the job.
“He’s making the higher education process better, fine-tuning it, putting the emphasis on learning,” Lamb said. “I think it’s about as hard a job as anybody could ever have, the president of a university.”
Lamb said Daniels has reached out to those who were skeptical of him.
“He has gone to resident halls,” Lamb said. “He rides his motorcycle. He does all the things that human beings respond to, and he stays out of the ivory tower. You can’t help but like that.”
Even so, Daniels’ first months on the job haven’t been without a few bumps. A cameo appearance in a video created by engineering students drew criticism from members of the Purdue Antiracism Coalition, who wrote a guest column in the Journal & Courier condemning his appearance in the video they deemed “hipster racism.”
“Whether Daniels knew of the racist and sexist overtones of the entire video, his presence in this moment cements in the public’s mind his and Purdue’s administrative priorities,” wrote Aria S. Halliday and Bill V. Mullen in the column, which has been shared about 4,700 times on Facebook.