Michael Conroy, Associated Press
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With Indiana hemorrhaging revenue during the Great Recession, Gov. Mitch Daniels targeted higher education to help fill the gap — including nearly $30 million in state cuts at Purdue University.
On Thursday, trustees there unanimously approved him as the school's 12th president. Students, faculty members and legislators wondered how the governor would transition to a new job with such starkly different duties — particularly considering he still has six months left in his old one.
Daniels said it will involve a lot of listening. The former White House budget director and Eli Lilly executive has a Princeton bachelor's degree and Georgetown law degree but virtually no experience working in academia.
"I don't even know what I don't know yet. All I know is there's a lot I don't know," he told about 100 students at an afternoon gathering on campus.
Besides segueing from budget hawk to higher-ed advocate, the change for Daniels also will be extreme in the world of politics. The outspoken conservative was once considered such a rising star that many Republicans encouraged him to seek the presidency — or at least make himself available as a potential running mate or Cabinet choice for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
He said his appointment means 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, will take office in January once his second term as governor expires.
That sudden withdrawal from the political spotlight is a sharp change for Daniels, who has written op-ed pieces, spoken on Republican causes to gatherings of conservatives, been a fixture on Sunday morning news shows and delivered the GOP's response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address this year.
The stance is one of necessity. University presidents need to be able to unite, not divide, said Robert Bontempo, who teaches executive education at the Columbia Business School in New York.
"You can't give people orders and tell them what to do," he said. "You have to lead by consensus, because they have lifetime jobs."
Bontempo said politicians tend to make the transition to university leadership more successfully than private sector executives. He cited Bob Kerrey, a former governor and two-term senator from Nebraska who is running for the Senate again after 10 years as president of the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Since 2009, Daniels has ordered more than $150 million in cuts to public education — about one-fifth of that to Purdue. Adam Hoover, a 2008 Purdue graduate who is organizing a public protest over Daniels' selection, said he thinks Daniels is hostile to the cause.
"It's disturbing that one man could both cut the budget of a public university and control the exact impact of those cuts," Hoover said in an email to The Associated Press.
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.
As governor, Daniels approved a new right to work law that angered unions and signed off on a law that would cut most public funding to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions. He also pushed through the nation's largest school voucher program, drawing fire from critics who said using taxpayer money so students could to attend private schools violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
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