Mitch Daniels for Secretary of Education

He would be a great choice to head the Department of Education -- if President Trump keeps that department.

Speculation swirls regarding whom President-elect Trump may choose to fill his Cabinet positions. One person who has been off the radar screen is former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. He is well qualified for several positions but among them would certainly be to head the Department of Education.  Mike Pence, who is in charge of Trump’s transition team, is personally close to his predecessor and would certainly be amenable to considering and endorsing Daniels for that post.

Mitch Daniels was the popular and very successful Republican Governor of Indiana from 2005 through 2013. During that time he pushed through changes in Indiana (including the right-to work law) that led to the boom in Indiana’s economy -- a boom that sucked in jobs from bordering blue states (such as Illinois). Growth rates climbed during his years, helping give a boost to Mike Pence’s campaign for governor in 2013. Indeed, Daniels was such a popular governor with a solid track record that he was touted as a prospect for president.

He chose to become president of Purdue University.

Under his leadership Prude has become a model of what all colleges and universities should aspire to become.

In an era of cry-ins, student riots, and identity politics demands, campuses have become safe havens for snowflakes. He rejects the cult of victimology and promotes the idea of earned success (in direct contradiction to Barack Obama’s views).

He said at a recent commencement address:

Among many pernicious notions of our time, perhaps the most dangerous is the idea, sometimes implied and sometimes expressed, that life is more or less a lottery. That we are less masters of our fate than corks floating in a sea of luck. Or, even more absurd, that most of us are victims of some kind, and therefore in desperate need of others to protect us against a world of predators and against our own gullibility.

I hope you will tune out anyone who, from this day on, tries to tell you that your achievements are not your own.

Safe spaces, therapy dogs, trigger warnings are out; learning, free speech, personal responsibility and duty are in.

But Daniels has gone beyond inspirational speeches. He has been a change agent, as he was when Indiana’s Governor. He instituted a tuition freeze that broke 36 years of non-stop price increases at Purdue.

Maureen Hayden writes of other changes Daniels has wrought

Daniels now enters his second year at the helm of Purdue with an expanded set of priorities but a continued commitment to cost cutting.

“For a land-grant university like Purdue, affordability is especially important,” said Daniels, who earned the nickname “The Blade” as head of the Office of Management and Budget for President George W. Bush. “We were put here to open the gates of higher education to people of all income levels.”  

Daniels is no stranger to national attention; at one time he was a potential Republican candidate for the White House. But in recent months he’s been appearing in the news sections of Bloomberg, Politico and the Wall Street Journal touting higher education reform.

Last summer he was presented as a national “thought leader” at an NBC-sponsored education summit where he talked about college access as a remedy to income inequality. In January, the Chronicle for Higher Education described him as “perhaps the most high-profile nontraditional college leader” in the nation.

“You know me,” Daniels said during a recent interview in his Purdue office. “I’m restless until I know we’ve got something big to move on.”

In his first year leading Indiana’s second-largest university, with more than 38,700 students, Daniels made big moves to rein in what he sees as the runaway costs of higher education. He instituted a two-year tuition freeze, which he now wants to extend into a third year, while calling for $40 million in university-wide spending cuts.

He also emphasized his focus on holding the university accountable to students who shoulder heavy debt and face uncertain job prospects, by pressing the faculty and staff to come with up performance-based metrics on which they can be graded.

He did so while often repeating the phrase, “College costs too much and delivers too little.”

Daniels also enters his second year having quieted some his critics.

When Purdue trustees named him to head the 145-year-old institution known best for its engineering, agriculture and veterinary schools, faculty leaders questioned picking a politician with a law degree as a university president. And they sharply criticized his record as a governor who reduced education spending and cut the state workforce by 7,000 employees.

“We couldn’t be on more different planets politically,” said David Williams, chairman of the faculty’s University Senate. “But I’ve come to believe he’s the right man at the right time in the right place.”

Williams said he hopes that Daniels — once a top executive for the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. — uses his business acumen and political expertise to help Purdue thrive as more colleges and universities show serious signs of stress. (snip)

Meanwhile, he remains focused on the 10-point plan he crafted during his first year as president. The “Purdue Moves” plan calls for more private investment in research at a time of dwindling federal dollars. It pushes faculty to embrace technology in the classroom to catch up with tech-savvy students.

And it commits the university to a new accountability metric designed to measure Purdue’s impact on graduates’ careers and quality of life. That new metric is called the Gallup-Purdue Index. It’s the result of a partnership Daniels forged with the Gallup polling organization.

Through it, researchers will collect data over the next several years from thousands of college graduates from Purdue and elsewhere. Beyond measuring what alumni earn, it will ask graduates about their well-being and workplace engagement to see how a college education impacts later happiness in life.

Daniels won support for the index from the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation dedicated to increasing college completion. Lumina president Jamie Merisotis said the Index reflects Daniels’ willingness — not always welcomed by his peers — to upset the higher education apple cart.

“He dove into his new job without hesitation,” Merisotis said, of Daniels’ willingness to acknowledge that universities are under increasing pressure to deliver much more for their students. “He’s really grappling (with changes in higher education) in the best possible way.”

In an open letter to the Purdue community explaining his priorities, Daniels warned that the university cannot rest on its laurels: “(H)istory is littered with extinct institutions, businesses, or entire industries that dallied in arrogant denial as the bases of their past success were undermined and washed away.”

Daniels insists Purdue deliver value to taxpayers, students and taxpayers. He is not even among the highest earners at Purdue. He brings political acumen and financial talent to a place, a university campus, that not only sorely lacks those qualities but abhors them. Yet he has done it with such flair and concern that he has won over even skeptics and critics. He was an outsider who took on the establishment and was victorious.    He has been glowing profiled in outlets as diverse as Bloomberg News, Inside Higher Education, and the Washington Post.

It is time to bring change not only to Washington but to college campuses across America.

Donald Trump may not be the only change agent coming to Washington.