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Mitch Daniels and Higher Education

Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University, congratulates a graduate in 2014. (Purdue University / Mark Simons)

Many people wanted Mitch Daniels to be president — and he is: of Purdue University. That’s not what they had in mind, but it is something. I went to see him at his office in West Lafayette and have a write-up of this visit in the current issue of the magazine. This week, I will expand on the write-up in a three-part series online. Part I is here.

This part deals primarily with higher ed: the cost of it, the challenges to free expression within it, and so on.

I realize that plenty of people — especially younger people — don’t know who Daniels is, which is the way of the world. It was ever thus and ever will be. Toward the beginning of Part I, I have a refresher, or a primer:

He was born in 1949, making him 70 today. He went to Princeton University and later to Georgetown Law. He worked as an aide to Richard Lugar, the longtime Indiana senator. Then he was in the White House, with Reagan. Leaving the White House, he headed up a think tank, the Hudson Institute. Then he worked as an executive for Eli Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company. In the first two and a half years of the George W. Bush presidency, he was budget director. In 2004, he was elected governor of Indiana. In 2008, he was reelected. A lot of people wanted him to run for president in 2012, but he declined. In January 2013, the day his second term expired, he became president of Purdue. Moreover, he started writing a column for the Washington Post two years ago.

While I’m in an excerpting mood, let me excerpt this:

It occurs to me to ask Daniels, “Did you feel free to express yourself when you were an undergrad at Princeton?” “Oh, sure,” he says. “Of course, at that time, free speech was a banner of the Left,” so “there has been a role reversal.” Back then, crusty college administrations were thought to be stifling free-spirited, left-leaning students. Many of those left-leaners went on to be stiflers themselves. Yet some of them still hold the banner of free speech aloft, and Daniels cites two of them: Professor Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago Law School, who was the driving force behind the Chicago Principles, and Nadine Strossen, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991 to 2008. Both of them have been guests here at Purdue.

The “Chicago Principles” stem from the University of Chicago, and these principles say, in effect, that freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression will be protected on campus, and that an atmosphere of toleration and pluralism will prevail. The Chicago Principles have been adopted by some 70 colleges and universities, including Purdue. Daniels told me that he “xeroxed” them as fast as he could.

Another excerpt (brief):

Stone and Strossen, says Daniels, are “examples of people who understand the centrality of freedom of expression to maintaining all our other freedoms and found themselves a little disoriented when people with whom they might agree on many or most policies set themselves up as the enemies of freedom of expression.” He then says, “Hurray for them for holding fast to their principles.”

The mention of Nadine Strossen reminds me that Bill Buckley was good friends with Ira Glasser, the longtime executive director of the ACLU. In fact, Glasser took him to the only baseball games that he (WFB) ever attended: a Mets game and a Yankees game. (WFB didn’t stay long at either one, as I recall.)

When I mentioned this to Mitch Daniels, he said, “That must have been the only deficiency Mr. Buckley had” — a lack of knowledge about baseball. (Bill was introduced to several sports when young — all the Buckley children were — but sailing was the only one that took.)

Again, Part I with Mitch is here.