On Thursday, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels '71 returned to Princeton to deliver an afternoon lecture, "The Indiana Story," in which he explained his personal political philosophy. Following the lecture, The Daily Princetonian asked Daniels about how Princeton and Purdue — where he will serve as president starting in January — compare, whether Daniels thinks CIA Director David Petraeus GS ’87 could potentially be Princeton University president and why Daniels isn’t interested in leading Nassau Hall himself.
The Daily Princetonian: You mentioned a brief reference to [former University] President [William] Bowen GS ‘58 and how you guys were in communication. Can you talk a bit more about what advice he’s given you?
Mitch Daniels ’71: First of all, his book is a great manual. Princeton and Purdue are different in one important respect, which is that, as he would define it, Princeton is more of a unitary university; Purdue is as I have learned, as I sometimes say, a confederation of colleges. The colleges have a lot of autonomy, more than the departments here might.
He talked about — maybe a secondary matter — he reflected from his own experience when the University should be heard on public issues and when it shouldn’t. Simply those things touching higher ed — yes. Those things that are broader — maybe not.
[Interview interrupted by Daniels’ running into and greeting Wilson School professor Anne-Marie Slaughter]
He was very gracious and spent quite a long time talking to me, and his book’s going to be on my desk.
DP: Obviously here at Princeton, we now have a University presidency vacancy. And there’s been speculation about General David Petraeus GS ’87 potentially being interested in the University presidency. So I just wanted to ask you not about Petraeus specifically, but about the idea of people being involved in politics making the jump over to university governance.
MD: My guess is General Petraeus would be a success at anything that he could be recruited for. And the only thing beyond that I can say is — people have. It’s not quite as unusual, by the way, statistically, as some think. The data I’ve seen say that in private universities it’s something around a quarter or more of the presidents came from a nonacademic — or at least not straight from academic — background. And in public sector America, it’s about one in five. So it’s not quite as unusual a notion as some people think.
But you know, there’s a school of thought that says that higher ed is facing new challenges now; they’re everywhere ... If we’re at some sort of inflection point like that, maybe people, I hope, might bring complementary skills [and] can add a little something.
Now for instance, Princeton’s a hard school. Even those people who see huge dangers for much of higher ed, generally would put Princeton in a class of immunity. But that’s probably no way to think about it. If there’s a need for the whole area to make some changes, then this has always been a leadership institution and you’d hope it would remain that way.
I don’t know General Petraeus, but certainly he has broad capacities. He would belong on a list of candidates, I would think.
DP: I have to ask, now that there’s a University presidency vacancy here. Obviously you’re headed to Purdue in January, but could you ever envision yourself returning to Princeton in some sort of administrative post?
MD: [Laughter]. Maybe the school has higher standards, I don’t know.
No I would just say that I want to live in the state where I do. I saw the Purdue opportunity — I didn’t see it coming — and it took me a good while to take the idea seriously, but when I did, one reason was that it did look like a place where a person could make a useful contribution to the state I’ve been working hard on now for eight years.
Plus just residentially, that’s where the family is; that’s where I’m quite at home; that’s where I’d like to live out my days.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/26/31642/