By Suzannah Couch
The university's board of trustees nominated and unanimously approved the two-term Republican governor during a meeting Thursday, as students and faculty members in the auditorium watched and cheered.
"I can conceive of no other assignment in which a person has the chance to contribute more to building the kind of Indiana of which we dream," Daniels said.
Daniels will begin his term as president in January after he finishes his second term as governor. Timothy Sands, the provost at Purdue University, will serve as the interim president until Daniels is able to take over.
Keith Krach, the chairman of Purdue's board of trustees, said he asked Daniels to considering the job and introduced him to the university's presidential search committee after Daniels decided against running for president of the United States.
At first, Daniels said, he was not sure whether he was the right person for the position.
"I don't mind saying for quite a long time (I thought) that this is a wonderful opportunity for someone, but I'm not the right person," Daniels said. It's "not the right thing for me."
But Daniels said he became more intrigued as he talked longer to Purdue officials and he told them a couple weeks ago that he'd say yes if asked.
Daniels was approached by a number of universities about presidencies, but Purdue was the only one he considered.
"No institution of any kind means more to Indiana today or tomorrow as Purdue University. It educates at the highest level the engineers, scientists, agricultural experts and information technologists on whom our stage and national success disproportionately depend," Daniels said.
He said Purdue also had the tools needed to adapt in the future as higher education changes.
For now, Daniels said he will focus on his job as governor. But he announced that effective next week, he will no longer participate in partisan politics or commentary.
He will attend one fundraising event for U.S. Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin on Monday. After that, the governor said he plans to abstain from political commentary or activities - including fundraisers and voicing support for candidates running for office in November.
Krach said there are three reasons the trustees are excited about Daniels becoming the next Purdue president. He said Daniels is a distinguished leader who has a passion for higher education and who is a global statesman.
"He is a visionary, a strategist, an innovator, but most of all, he is a doer," Krach said. "These are critical qualities at a time when higher education is at such an inflection point."
Daniels said he plans to live on campus in the president's house, although he will also spend time in his own house where he now lives with his wife in a northern Indianapolis suburb. For the past eight years, Daniels has not lived at the Governor's Residence, although he has spent nights there occasionally.
The governor said students can expect to see him on campus often. He said he wants to establish a close relationship with students.
"I likewise look forward to as much direct engagement with Purdue students as they are willing to have with me," Daniels said.
Some students are expecting a lot from their new president.
Kayla Hudson, a senior atmosphere science major, said she expects Daniels to get acclimated with campus when he first becomes president and then wants to be able to see him around a lot on campus.
"Overall, I expect him to be a great leader," Hudson said.
Sophomore Anna Horton also said she expects him to be involved in campus once he takes the job.
"I think he'll be a great president and he'll do good and really connect with the students in a way we haven't seen recently," Horton said.
Other students were concerned about rising tuition and fees. Senior meteorology major Austin Pearson said hopes Daniels will be able to help lower tuition.
So does sophomore Chris Vas, a chemical engineering major.
"I really see him as a good candidate to really help out economically as far as rising tuition rates," Vas said.
That's an issue that has been important to Daniels as governor. He's pushed universities to reduce the credits they require for graduation so students spend less and graduate faster. And he's leaned on college presidents to hold down costs.
And on Thursday, the governor briefly mentioned college costs in his remarks.
"Helping this great institution achieve even higher levels of research and intellectual excellence, by recruiting the finest minds and students anywhere in the world, and delivering to those students an exceptional, affordable education, is the highest calling to which anyone who loves this state as I do could aspire," he said.
Opponents of the Purdue trustees' decision launched a petition Wednesday that asked the board to remove Daniels from consideration because the governor had appointed the trustees, creating a conflict of interest.
But Krach said Thursday that trustees were not worried about a possible conflict because the search committee was a "diverse" group made up of people who had nothing to do with Daniels.
Current Purdue President France Cordova, whose tenure ends July 15, said she knows Daniels enjoys Purdue students.
"I know that he cherishes the creativity and energy of our students, and will continue to listen to and respect their ideas," Cordova said.
Daniels said he plans to work to develop relationships with faculty members who are worried about his lack of experience in the academic world. He has a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Georgetown University, but no doctorate and no teaching experience.
"I hope to bring some assets to the university that compliments those that are already abundant in the faculty," he said. "I think there could be ways that I could support them and further their success maybe a little better in some ways."
After Daniels accepted the job, the trustees gave him a leather Harley-Davidson jacket with the Purdue logo as well as a Purdue license plate. As for his motorcycle, Daniels will have to ride off campus. Motorcycles are banned at Purdue.
Suzannah Couch is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.
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