Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

State News

February 28, 2014

Daniels making the transition

(Continued)

He also emphasized his focus on holding the university accountable to students who shoulder heavy debt and face uncertain job prospects, by pressing the faculty and staff to come with up performance-based metrics on which they can be graded.

He did so while often repeating the phrase, “College costs too much and delivers too little.”

Daniels also enters his second year having quieted some his critics.

When Purdue trustees named him to head the 145-year-old institution known best for its engineering, agriculture and veterinary schools, faculty leaders questioned picking a politician with a law degree as a university president. And they sharply criticized his record as a governor who reduced education spending and cut the state workforce by 7,000 employees.

“We couldn’t be on more different planets politically,” said David Williams, chairman of the faculty’s University Senate. “But I’ve come to believe he’s the right man at the right time in the right place.”

Williams said he hopes that Daniels – once a top executive for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. – uses his business acumen and political expertise to help Purdue thrive as more colleges and universities show serious signs of stress.

He said he now appreciates why the Purdue president keeps asking what he calls the “pajamas test question.” That is: With the advent of inexpensive and credible online learning, why would anyone want to leave the comfort of home to attend a costly traditional college?

“I’ve come to see him as a change agent,” Williams said of the 64-year-old Daniels. “It’s been good to have somebody like him. He’s forcing us to ask questions that we’ve long avoided asking ourselves.”

Still, Daniels can’t completely shake off his legacy as governor.

Last July, he drew fire when The Associated Press published emails revealing that, as governor in 2010, Daniels suggested banning from schools the book, “A People’s History of the United States,” written by the liberal historian Howard Zinn. In response, some Purdue professors and students staged a protest reading of the book after accusing Daniels of disrespecting the core tenets of academic freedom. As an added poke, they announced the creation of a Howard Zinn Memorial Scholarship.

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