July 25, 2012

Purdue’s one percent solution

— One quote that applies to the next stop on Mitch Daniels’ career path is thought provoking.

Ayn Rand once said, “It’s not a matter of who’s going to let me. It’s a matter of who’s going to stop me.”

As Daniels serves out his second four-year term as Indiana governor, the meter is still running on one decision he made that some of his supporters might call bold, but an Indianapolis judge ruling against the state has described as a reckless attempt of government privatization.

David Dreyer ruled last week that Indiana must pay an additional $12 million to IBM for the botched privatization of Medicaid. That’s on top of the $40 million the state already owes, and it doesn’t include the $9.6 million in attorney fees Indiana owes Barnes & Thornburgh and one of its attorneys, former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Peter Rusthoven.

That tab will grow if Daniels, as reported, pursues an appeal of the ruling.

Daniels presumably has no more outstanding state sinkholes of debt to step into in the remaining months on his term, but as he prepares to become Purdue’s next president, the question is “Who will stop him from making similar missteps in West Lafayette?” The answer is probably not the Purdue board of trustees, who voted unanimously to hire the man who appointed 80 percent of them. Campaign finance reports as reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier indicate members contributed $27,000 to Daniels’ campaigns.

The trustees have “let” Daniels make the move from sitting governor to president of a state university, a move that will likely quadruple Daniels’ existing $107,000 salary. But they also have allowed a governor worth an estimated $50 million, according to The Indianapolis Star, to stockpile even more cash.

While The Star has reported that Daniels is spending down his existing campaign accounts and will avoid being active politically, Daniels has not indicated whether he will continue to be at least passively involved in politics through his own contributions to Super PACs, which allow candidates to receive unlimited funding from unnamed sources that don’t want to be traced. In theory, Daniels will be able to direct millions to political campaigns privately.

This is potentially problematic for running a major research university if you’re Daniels, who has no academic background.

While he was tacitly exploring a presidential bid in his second term as a sitting governor, he signed onto state budget cuts, unaware that corporate taxes held in one account accumulated to more than $300 million, forcing cuts throughout the state.

Who will “stop” him or at least hold him accountable or question him for those kinds of mistakes at Purdue? The answer is apparently no one. The trustees have already indicated where their allegiances are, and they’re not going to go back on a decision that will make them look bad. If this sounds eerily similar to what’s just happened at Penn State, it should.

It also should be interesting to some that one of the moves the trustees made five years ago when they hired outgoing Purdue President France Cordova was to pass over the resume of another candidate, Sally Frost Mason. She went on to become the University of Iowa president, and that took some gumption from the Purdue board because Mason and her husband had made millions in donations to Purdue. Cordova hadn’t given a dime.

It was a sign that Purdue was willing to hire what trustees perceived to be the best qualified person for the job, even though Mason had a sterling record as Purdue’s provost, the No. 2 position on campus.

In choosing Daniels, the trustees, some of whom served when Cordova was hired, have apparently chosen politics over academic performance. That led at least one former dean, Marilyn Haring, to travel back to West Lafayette to speak against the hiring. Haring reasoned at a rally that a major research university such as Purdue needs a president with a background in higher education, which Daniels does not have, she rescinded a $1 million gift she had pledged to the university in her will.

During Cordova’s tenure, the trustees watched as she established an elite group of American peer universities including the Big Ten and Stanford. It’s unlikely any university in that peer group, including Stanford, would hire a non-academic to head one of the leading universities in the nation, if not the world.

Former Oklahoma Sen. David Boren went on to lead the University of Oklahoma, which is better known for producing college football powerhouses than Rhodes Scholars. Former Indiana Congressman John Brademas was courted to lead New York University, but that was many years ago — and after Brademas was defeated in a bid for another term. Boren is a Republican. Brademas is a Democrat.

If what Daniels did in pursuing the Purdue presidency had been done in Illinois, where the last two governors – one from each party – are serving prison time, it’s likely voters would be skeptical about the connection and the conflict of interest. Illinois has had more experience with disastrous moves by its governors than Indiana, and that may explain why.

It’s ironic that the same party that produced Daniels also produced Abraham Lincoln, who signed legislation creating Purdue and other land grant universities across the nation. It was a move designed to open educational access to all, or in 21st century terminology, “the 99 percent” of Americans who aren’t connected enough to be able to be admitted to a private college or be able to pay for an education at one.

In choosing Daniels to be Purdue’s next president, the university’s trustees have come up with a “one percent solution” to its presidential search. They’ve also answered questions about Daniels’ recent job performance, his lack of academic background and the public controversy that his appointment has caused. Their absurd answer is “It doesn’t matter.”

• Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at