As it turns out, Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. may want to be president after all.
The Indiana Republican, who shattered the hopes of many party faithful when he decided against a White House run last spring, is slated to become the next president of Purdue University, several news outlets reported Tuesday.
Purdue's Board of Trustees is expected to name the university's 12th president Thursday morning, but the finalist's name is theoretically confidential.
Mr. Daniels has declined to comment on the reports. Keith J. Krach, chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees, told The Chronicle in an e-mail that any reports naming a finalist were pure "speculation," but he did not specifically refute sources who have identified Mr. Daniels as the university's next president.
Nontraditional presidents, particularly those with political backgrounds, are not new to higher education. But the appointment of a sitting governor with a national profile, like Mr. Daniels, would mark a true change of course for Purdue. France A. Córdova, who announced last July that she would resign when her five-year contract ends next month, is an astrophysicist.
Mr. Daniels, whose second term as governor ends in January, is a seasoned political operative with a long business résumé. He was chief executive of the Hudson Institute and president of Eli Lilly and Company's North American Pharmaceutical Operations. He also served as a senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
Mr. Daniels holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, along with a law degree from Georgetown University.
As with many political figures who aspire to college presidencies, Mr. Daniels very likely lacks the scholarly background Purdue professors have said they want in a new president. A 24-member faculty advisory committee, which included professors from the University Senate and each of the Purdue's regional campuses, was unequivocal in its assertion that the next president should have strong academic bona fides.
"It is essential that the next president be a recognized scholar with academic credentials equivalent to a tenured full professor," the group wrote in a report to the presidential search committee of the Purdue Board of Trustees. "A successful President must understand the culture of a successful academy in order to convey that perspective to the Board of Trustees for policy decisions that advance the academy."
Joseph W. Camp Jr., a member of the advisory committee, said he suspects Mr. Daniels' credentials are not in keeping with what faculty said they wanted, as reflected in surveys that were the basis of the committee's report.
"I would be surprised if this was the type" faculty desired, said Mr. Camp, a professor of veterinary parisitology at Purdue's main campus, in West Lafayette. "It will be interesting to see what happens Thursday."
Andrew M. Downs, an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, said Mr. Daniels would bring a unique set of political and philanthropic connections to the Purdue presidency, but surely attract controversy as well. The governor has overseen cuts to higher education, and his broad reputation for promoting "efficiency" invites faculty to question his views on issues as diverse as teaching loads and tenure, Mr. Downs said.
"You want something that's efficient? Teach four courses a semester instead of three courses a semester," Mr. Downs said. "Think of anything you've heard that scares people in academia, and they will say Mitch Daniels will try it."
As for his record as governor, Mr. Daniels has thrown his support behind online education as a viable and cost-effective way to reach adult students. In 2010, he took the unusual step of chartering Western Governors University Indiana as a state university. The fully online college is a spinoff of Western Governors University, an accredited nonprofit institution founded by governors in 19 states.
Mr. Daniels' decision to back Western Governors raised predictable questions about why it would not be better to work with Indiana's existing institutions to reach adult learners. Asked about this by The Chronicle last May, Mr. Daniels said he would like to see other Indiana colleges develop approaches similar to Western Governors, but was doubtful about how quickly that would happen.
"Higher education is highly resistant to change," he said.
Russell L. Hanson, chair of the political-science department at Indiana University at Bloomington, noted that Mr. Daniels frequently speaks about higher education in terms of its economic-development potential. For that reason, Mr. Daniels is probably best suited to lead a land-grant institution, like Purdue, rather than a college with a broader liberal arts focus, Mr. Hanson said.
"He has a very big set of shoes to fill, and the outgoing president was extremely popular and effective," Mr. Hanson said. "But given his political philosophy, the fit would be better at Purdue than Indiana University."
If Mr. Daniels were named Purdue's president, he would have the peculiar advantage of having appointed nearly all of his new bosses. Indeed, Mr. Daniels reappointed three of the board's 10 members on Tuesday.