Former Purdue president France A. Córdova left behind a legacy of research at Purdue, as well as a strategic plan that ends in 2014. Now, President Mitch Daniels is looking to implement his own strategy for success, and one he said isn’t – and can’t be – all-inclusive.
“A real strategy is defined by what it leaves out,” Daniels said. “If you can’t name some important choices that were not included, it’s probably not a very good guide because you can’t try to do everything.”
The president criticized the 2008-2014 Strategic Plan as too broad and, though he agreed Purdue met the goals of the previous plan – “Launching Tomorrow’s Leaders, Discovery With Delivery and Meeting Global Challenges” – he cited his plan for moving forward as one that addresses the problem facing all of higher education now: staying relevant in the appearance of emerging alternatives.
“It’s hard to make change when everything seems to be working so well. Why would we change? That’s always the attitude that prevails in an incumbent industry or business where the better things have gone, the harder it is to accept that maybe tomorrow won’t look like yesterday,” Daniels said. “I like our chances. I see this as an opportunity for Purdue to separate from the pack.”
Initiatives like the new three-year degree and the competency-based degree are programs he thinks the University needs to consider. He foresees future retention as being based on multiple alternatives and trying new ways of attaining degrees to help students move through a traditional system in a nontraditional way.
“If you read, and I have, what happened to once-proud industries and businesses and institutions that finally got taken out by some new competitor, quite often a new technological breakthrough, the experts will all say the hardest thing to do is make change from the inside,” he said, speaking on the rise in popularity of online degree programs and lower-cost community colleges.
He said many individuals are pushing the “pajama test” theory in which the world’s leading scholars are available at your fingertips from the comfort of your living room. Competing against emerging degree-earning methods such as this is a challenge, but one Daniels feels he is ready to meet.
His investments for 2015 and beyond include investing in what we know, and what we can excel at. Coupled with his other initiative of halting the progress of what he calls the “tuition escalator,” the future for the University is looking strong.
“We want to be world-class. So it has to be something we are real good at today ... It (also) has to be something with genuine impact,” he said. “If we really are the place where great breakthroughs are made, the world will be much better.”
Department head and professor of agricultural and biological engineering Bernard Engel agrees with the views of the president that the fields of agriculture and biology are expanding in a promising way. Daniels alluded to the idea of additional funding to aid research in these fields in the coming years.
“One of the big challenges in the field is looking at the global problem of how to feed the nine billion people by 2040 or 2050 who need it,” Engel said. “To do that, there are many challenges and research subareas to (explore) to make that a reality.”
Though funding is being passed over to these expanding fields, Daniels made it clear he was hesitant on more building projects for some time in the future. Though he said he doesn’t regret the building decisions for Wang Hall, the Honors College and the Active Learning Center, pressure remains on higher education to innovate the academic environment and sitting on fixed capital like physical facilities is cause for caution.
Many attempts to tighten loose screws are evident in Daniels’ two year career as Purdue president from halting the increase of tuition to removing superfluous positions across disciplines. His successful career as a businessman prior to accepting his position as the leader of the University is being gradually revealed.
“(Being Purdue’s president) is a lot like my previous job. I used to get stopped by people at my last job who said, ‘Oh, I love it, you’re running government as a business.’ And I go, ‘Wait. Government is not a business. It’s not supposed to be a business.’ But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a lot more business-like,” Daniels said. “Frankly, it’s a dereliction of duty not to be business-like when you can be because it means you wasted money that could have educated another student or brought a new, great faculty member here or somehow enhanced the quality (of a Purdue education).”
He went on to scorn oppositional thinking, saying it was “shameful to be sloppy” with funds, and his efficiency with allocating grants and donations will help to keep Purdue “the leader of the pack” when it comes to a college education. Pride in the school, he said, is something he’s learned not to take for granted, and continued support from graduates is the last piece of Daniels’ strategic plan.
“Any enterprise that tries to do everything won’t do anything very well. An assignment like (making a strategic plan) is as much about making choices as it is about anything else,” Daniels said. “We can either invent the future or run the risk of being victimized by it.”