by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A Republican who easily could leap to the front of his party’s gaggle of presidential contenders won’t do it, because he’s already a president—of Purdue University. Mitch Daniels is doing to that university what he did to Indiana when he was its governor: cutting costs and improving services. He has kept tuition flat, decreased the cost of room and board by 10%, and is trying to raise graduation rates, even as he expands admissions and, consequently, boosts revenue.
“We want to be known for the number of students we successfully send out, and not for the number we shut out,” he says, taking a shot at magazine rankings of universities that equate a low acceptance rate with academic superiority.
Daniels, a former pharmaceutical company executive, the former director of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, and one of the most effective governors in the history of Indiana, is a perennial favorite of the GOP’s rank and file. He has a knack for improving the performance of complex organizations run by seemingly intractable bureaucracies. Fortune this year placed him at No. 41 on its World’s Greatest Leaders list, lauding his “green eyeshade” approach to governing.
Based on Daniels’ achievements at every place he has run, be it Eli Lilly’s North American pharmaceutical operations, the OMB during the George W. Bush administration, or Indiana, he has the makings of a fine U.S. president. But Daniels, who turned 66 last week, says he isn’t interested, despite persistent entreaties. Instead, he intends to concentrate on his five-year gig at Purdue, which began in January 2013.