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He's Not 'Governor' or 'President', Just Mitch

Daniels busy, and shaking things up, as Purdue President

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He's just Mitch now.  "I'm trying to get people to call me by my name, and I'm getting there.  But, it's whatever people are comfortable with."

Listen to Mitch Daniels, with Ray Steele:

It may still be difficult for some to get used to idea of Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue.  After all, its only been a few months, or seven weeks as Mitch more precisely told me, since 'governor' came off his name.  But it isn't too hard for one group of people to get used to the idea of school president Daniels, and that would be the people on the campus, who seem to see him all the time - having dinner with students, on Twitter, or just walking around campus.  "If you really want to do your own job well, you better know the folks who are getting the real work done," Daniels said.  "Here at Purdue, that means getting out where I can interact as often as possible with faculty, with staff, but especially with those who matter most and that's young people."

Mitch Daniels didn't come to Purdue to hang out with folks and collect a paycheck.  He wrote an open letter to the Purdue community last month, bluntly saying there were some things at Purdue, and elsewhere in higher education, that had to change.   "We'll have to do things to improve the excellence and rigor of the place so that people know for certain that a Purdue degree means you really learned something.  We'll have to be prepared to go prove that.

Part of the change is cost.  Tuition increases can no longer be justified according to Daniels simply because everyone else is raising tuition, or that campus costs are going up.  Rising tuition means that something else is going up, something that hits close to home for the student and parent.  "There's more student debt than credit card debt in America," Daniels said.  "This program has run its course, and I believe that there will be some colleges out there that will really struggle the next few years.  They are charging an extraordinary amount of money for degrees of suspect value."

Last week, Daniels announced what could be called step one - a two-year tuition freeze for the West Lafayette campus.  Before I sat down with him, another person who works on campus asked me to ask him where their money was going to come from if tuition wasn't going up.  That isn't how Daniels thinks.  "Higher education, including Purdue, really does need to embrace a different culture and a different mindset.  It's been easy to look at what something is going to cost, and send students the bill for the difference.  We're going to start solving this equation from the other end.

It might be tough love at times, but Daniels says he loves Purdue, and it's keeping him busy, which means he doesn't have time to think of his former place of employment and what's happening there now.  "I don't know nearly as much about that as most attentive citizens do, and for sure I'm not going to say anything about.  I've had my say, and I've moved on to a different plow."

The freeze on tuition and most fees is not official yet - it still has to be approved by Purdue's Board of Trustees. But it's a good bet that it will be the first of many attempts at reform from a man who was known to toss them around liberally an hour and a half south of where he lives now.