WEST LAFAYETTE — Mitch Daniels still occasionally gets called “governor” in deference to the eight years he spent as Indiana’s chief executive. Thirteen months after leaving office, the old title is the exception to his honorific as Purdue University’s high-profile “President Daniels.”
The ambitious agenda set by Daniels — including a tuition freeze that broke 36 years of price increases — has captured the kind of national attention he once earned as the state’s outspoken conservative governor. Daniels now enters his second year at the helm of Purdue with an expanded set of priorities but a continued commitment to cost cutting.
“For a land-grant university like Purdue, affordability is especially important,” said Daniels, who earned the nickname “The Blade” as head of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush. “We were put here to open the gates of higher education to people of all income levels.”
Daniels is no stranger to national attention. At one time, he was a potential Republican candidate for the White House. But in recent months he’s been appearing in the news sections of Bloomberg, Politico and the Wall Street Journal touting higher education reform.
Last summer, he was presented as a national “thought leader” at an NBC-sponsored education summit where he talked about college access as a remedy to income inequality. In January, the Chronicle for Higher Education described him as “perhaps the most high-profile nontraditional college leader” in the nation.
“You know me,” Daniels said during a recent interview in his Purdue office. “I’m restless until I know we’ve got something big to move on.”
"Too much ...too little"
In his first year leading Indiana’s second-largest university, with more than 38,700 students, Daniels made big moves to rein in what he sees as the runaway costs of higher education. He instituted a two-year tuition freeze, which he now wants to extend into a third year, while calling for $40 million in university-wide spending cuts.