WEST LAFAYETTE — Former Gov. Mitch Daniels has started his tenure as president of Purdue University with a fact-finding tour that students said impressed them with his willingness to engage them on changes he's considering for the university.
"He is very personable and makes a great effort to speak with as many students as he can," said sophomore Brian McGuire, an aeronautical engineering major from Indianapolis. "One of the most impressive things about him is that he is great with names. After having students tell him their names, he will continue to refer to people by name, which I think really shows that he is interested in the students."
Daniels took over last week as the university's 12th president and quickly got to work reviewing plans for a trimester system, administrative costs, campus diversity and college fundraising.
He also began a fact-finding tour that had him meeting with students, faculty and members of the University Senate. Wherever he went, his common refrain was to tell people to get in touch and make an offer to meet.
"I'm going to do every (request) I physically can," Daniels told the Journal and Courier of Lafayette.
"The mistake I don't want to make is to say 'yes' to so many things that come in the door that I don't have time for student interactions, faculty interactions and community interactions — and I'll be talking about West Lafayette and the big community," he added.
Daniels outlined some criticisms of the higher education community, many of them from nationally known conservatives, in a 3,000-word letter to students and staff last week.
"Purdue has a chance to set itself apart as a counterexample to much of the criticism lodged against higher ed in general," he wrote in the letter released Friday.
J. Paul Robinson, a professor and chairman of the University Senate, said so far Daniels has earned an "A+" for effort, but he said it remains to be seen how he'll be graded at semester's end. Robinson and other faculty leaders meet with Daniels on Thursday.
"I believe that the biggest problem he may have is differentiating what is fact and what is fiction, mainly because every interest group within the institution has tried very hard to get his attention to see things their way," Robinson wrote in an email Saturday in regard to the open letter. "This includes the faculty, of course, many of whom have made Purdue their lifelong academic family — and families plan for the long term, not the short term."
Daniels has already identified some areas where he will be pushing to overhaul the way Purdue works. The first is reviewing plans to take Purdue from a semester system to trimesters, something he supported when former Purdue president France Cordova first announced it. Since taking the job, however, Daniels said he has discovered the proposal had not yet been fully vetted and he wants more time to review it.
"The cake wasn't quite that well baked," he said last week.
Daniels also is looking at how Purdue can increase its minority enrollment from 13 percent to something closer to what other Big 10 conference schools have on average, about 21 percent of the student population.
He plans to look at ways to raise more money for the school — a prospect buttressed by the potential 30 percent bonus that could bring his annual salary to $546,000 if he meets performance requirements.
And, he'll be looking at where Purdue can save money, most likely on administrative costs. The number of non-faculty jobs has grown by 311 since 2007, to 2,171. At the same time, tenured and tenure-track faculty have hit their lowest point in close to a decade: 1,807.