When he’s not in the governor’s office figuring out how to best represent his Hoosier constituents, Gov. Mitch Daniels, president-designate, is wandering Purdue’s campus figuring out how to best represent his future constituents – Boilermakers.
After the announcement in July that Daniels would be Purdue’s 12th president, a flurry of controversy and skepticism ensued. Those who didn’t agree with the appointment of the sitting Republican governor took to Twitter and Facebook to vent their concerns, and a small protest took place on campus. Since then, the rancor has subsided and the governor has tried to become a man of the people, specifically a man of the students.
Monday, he donned a Boiler Up shirt and Purdue ball cap at the Boiler Gold Rush pep rally. Afterward, he took a campus tour with one of the groups, engaging in all the Purdue traditions, including crossing the tracks between Stanley Coulter and Wetherill to signify a lifelong commitment as a Boilermaker.
His reception was warm and friendly as students asked for autographs and photos with their new president. He tries not to shy away from such attention because he understands it’s integral to effective leadership.
“One of the best ways to learn and do my own job is to get out with the people,” Daniels said. “I said on the day of the announcement, I want to be as engaged with students as much as they have interest in being engaged with me.”
His private and political records exemplify that. A couple of weeks ago marked Daniels 123rd visit to a Hoosier’s home, a trademark campaign strategy used during both of his gubernatorial campaigns.
Purdue Student Government president Joe Rust said he was surprised by Daniels’ humble attitude after his first speech to BGR participants Sunday evening.
“(Daniels) asked me, ‘Joe, do you think I said the right thing?’” Rust recounted. “He really does care about his position. I wasn’t expecting him to be hesitant.”
Daniels wants to continue connecting with the people by being immersed in the student culture – whether that be working out at the Córdova Rec Center, eating a burger in Wiley or having a round of beers with students at Harry’s.
He’s also looking forward to forging a close connection with Purdue’s international student population, ranked second for U.S. public schools, much like he did working with Chinese businesses during his tenure as governor.
The president-designate has made fostering globalization a priority. He’s already been exposed to the diversity of Purdue’s population and encourages his fellow Hoosiers to embrace it.
“(Monday morning), I came upon one group, one where there were three Chinese girls standing to one side,” Daniels said. “I politely introduced everybody to everybody ... to the American classmates, I said ‘Hey, don’t miss this chance.’”
Despite the quiet rumors, Daniels is here to stay. Some political analysts have speculated that his presidency might be a stepping stone to higher political office – perhaps the U.S. presidency – but Daniels is adamant that this is the only job he’s committed to working toward.
“If I wanted to consider higher office, I had a very open opportunity to do that in 2011 – amazingly so,” Daniels said. “When I didn’t do that, that should’ve convinced people that I’m not trying to step anywhere.”
His appointment as Purdue’s president was an unexpected path for Daniels, but one he has accepted with an open mind.
“I’m trying to know as many of their thoughts, worries and ideas for improvement as well as I can,” Daniels said. “Hopefully, we all agree to make Purdue as valuable a place as it can be.”