Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

May 15, 2014

DAVE BANGERT: Statute of limitations on Daniels' vow of no partisan politics

Purdue president set standard for himself; maybe he shouldn't have

(Continued)

Rationalizing here, one thing Daniels didn’t vow to do at Purdue was to give up hanging around political thinkers as a hobby. He’s obviously still in demand on that circuit, the way Córdova, a former chief scientist for NASA, was on space matters. (State politics might as well have been Daniels’ dissertation.)

But as Purdue president, Daniels hasn’t quite mastered the art of anticipating how joining a panel titled “How to Fix the States” during a private retreat for conservative policy makers might come across on campus — given his vow, not to mention given the campus expense of the jet.

Again, he seemed caught off guard and perturbed by questions back home after rubbing elbows with assorted senators and governors during a secluded weekend of political talk. Daniels called it a double standard applied to his work at Purdue, considering that, in this case, he saw other higher education officials in attendance.

Implied: What if France Córdova had done that? Would we even be having this conversation?

With Daniels, it’s a bit like watching a fantasy football fanatic who swears to his wife that he’ll behave at a wedding, only to get busted trying to sneak second quarter stats from a smartphone during the vows. Harmless, maybe. But it’s always going to earn a sharp elbow in the ribs for being untoward: “What are you doing?”

As distance grows between Daniels’ last time in the governor’s office and the end of his third full semester on campus, maybe it’s just time to recalibrate what that no-politics promise actually means.

By any measure, it would be difficult to prove that Daniels has been distracted from his job at Purdue. His work to contain student costs, expand the College of Engineering and other initiatives in his Purdue Moves agenda have been on point. Consider that news of his time with the think tank broke on a day when the first social media-driven Purdue Day of Giving generated $7.5 million in donations, accounting for 6,500 people — the sort of more modest donors the university figured felt lost amid the nonstop drive to land multimillion-dollar gifts. That’s a show of faith from alumni.

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