Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was introduced Thursday as the next president of Purdue University, quashing speculation that he would be tapped as a vice presidential candidate or a Cabinet appointee should Mitt Romney win the White House in November.
Purdue officials announced the former White House budget director and Eli Lilly executive Thursday would be the university's 12th president following a unanimous vote by the school's Board of Trustees, eight of whom were appointed by Daniels. One trustee was out of the country and did not vote.
The governor will replace France Cordova, who is stepping down in July after five years at Purdue's helm.
Daniels, 63, is expected to bring a business-minded approach and an image as an efficient manager to the job he takes over in January, after his second term as governor ends. But he'll also find himself on the flip side of a challenging education environment that has seen state money for public institutions decline dramatically in recent years.
As governor, Daniels ordered $150 million carved out of state higher education funding in December 2009 as the state's revenues declined. Purdue's state funding has fallen from a peak of $262 million in 2008-09 to $233.9 million for the just-completed school year.
The university also came under fire from state lawmakers over its tuition increases at the height of the recession. Purdue's in-state tuition rates have risen by as much as 62 percent since 2004, according to figures provided by the university.
Daniels has rejected university leaders' contention that state aid cuts have forced them to raise tuition.
"That's not true," Daniels said Wednesday. "The more money that's been poured in, the faster tuitions have gone up. It would be a very flawed analysis that suggested it worked the other way around."
Daniels has aggressively tackled education issues during his tenure, helping to establish Western Governors University, an online option for nontraditional students, and pushing the Legislature to reduce the number of credit hours it takes to achieve some degrees. He also led changes in K-12 education, including the nation's broadest use of school vouchers.
His reputation for pushing through aggressive change could get a mixed reception on the 40,000-student West Lafayette campus. During his tenure as governor, he has rankled union activists upset by Indiana's new right-to-work law and drew fire over state efforts to privatize the state's welfare system and cut public funding to Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions.
But analysts say he will bring to Purdue leadership skills and a national reputation from his days as a former White House budget director that will help him tackle the challenges ahead. He also will give Purdue coveted fundraising clout as the university aims to double its $200 million in annual gifts over the next decade.
Daniels has easily outpaced his Democratic opponents in his two campaigns for governor by tapping into a national network of donors who supported George W. Bush's presidential races.
"One of the top three jobs for a university president, no matter what the circumstances, is fundraising," said Dennis Barden, senior vice president with the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer.
"Your average politician is pretty fickle when it comes to connecting with people, engaging with them, building relationships with them, and stating a case for support. These are all the things that lead to excellent fundraising," Barden said.
Though Purdue's past presidents have largely been scholars or scientists — Cordova is an astrophysicist — Daniels isn't the first politician to take over a university. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates served as president of Texas A&M University and is now chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Former governors David Boren of Oklahoma and Richard Celeste of Ohio also have led universities.