We normally try to shy away from politics around here, but obviously the big university-related news in Indiana is that outgoing Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, whose term expires on January 14, 2013, is expected to then become the president of Purdue University.
I have to say that I was floored by yesterday's announcement, and still have no idea what to make of it. It's not unprecedented for a university to hire someone from outside of academia, but it's pretty rare for a major university to hire someone with no university experience except as a student. The other issue, of course, is that Daniels has stepped on some toes at Indiana's state universities, although not to the degree that he has done so at the primary/secondary level. Can "the Blade" credibly switch sides and begin lobbying legislators for increased in the funding that he and his party have not supported in recent years? Will he even try? Is Purdue throwing in the towel, accepting that state funding is going to be an increasingly unreliable resource and that even a nominally public school has to focus on other revenue streams? Did Mitch approach the Purdue trustees (the vast majority of whom were appointed by him) or vice versa? If the former, isn't that a little bit of an issue?
Of course, the main question here is what this does for IU, for good or for ill. This certainly is, by the standards of university administrative hires, a high profile hire. Daniels is among the nation's best-known governors and may well have given Mitt Romney a run for his money (or, he might have split the non-Tea Party vote with Mitt and caused a Santorum nomination). Purdue's name will be on the national news (although this news may cause some people to realize that Purdue is not an Ivy League school but rather is a land grant institution in west central Indiana, since Purdue alumni tell us that is such a common misconception). I guess I'm betraying a bit of my bias when I say that Mitch seems to be something of a Teflon politician. Unquestionably, he is an intelligent and able guy, but it's always been a mystery to be how someone who ran OMB during the early years of George W. Bush's presidency could be called "the Blade" anything but ironically, and I'm similarly baffled about how he gets loads of credit for the revamp of the BMV (which was indeed awesome) but little blame for mismanagement in the Lottery, DCS, etc. But, I do love me some Eastern Daylight time, so there's that. All that is not necessarily to try to start a debate about the merits of his policies, but to explain my perception that Mitch is considered a genius no matter how things are actually going, and I wonder if that will happen at Purdue as well. My personal theory (and I know you that's why you come here) is that unless a politician is truly a rock star (think Kennedy/Reagan/Obama), he is better off going the full uncharismatic dork route (think Daniels or Dick Cheney) than trying but failing to be the cool guy (think John Kerry, Mitt Romney). If a wee little man of 5-3 with a bad combover can get himself elected governor, then he is presumed to be an intellectual powerhouse and a statesman. I do think Mitch is a very bright man, but I also think he's the most effective type of politician--the type who can convince the public and the media that he isn't really a politician.
But I digress. IU and Purdue are in a strange position in relation to each other. They serve the same state and they are partners in two regional campuses, but they are competitors for students and research dollars. If Mitch is able to get the General Assembly to increase higher ed funding, then that would help IU as well as Purdue. But I don't really think that is going to be his approach, and I'm not sure it would work even if he tried. It's going to be very interesting, to say the least. Thoughts?
I understand that it's inevitable that a thread about a politician will be somewhat political. But let's do our best to avoid name-calling and personal attacks. At the very least, rest assured that AJ and I, the two Indiana residents writing for this site are, if not on far opposite poles ideologically, are at least on opposite sides of the aisle in terms of party affiliation. So, fair and balanced!