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Opening Arguments

Mitch at Purdue

Mitch Daniels, just starting his second year as Purdue president, is winning praise from several quarters for his innovations there:


. . . many thought it was an odd match to have the famously conservative (especially fiscally) governor at the helm of a university. The move sparked a few protests from former students and wariness from faculty, many of whom were colorful with their predictions of doom.

Heading into the 2014 school year, Purdue students are enjoying the first tuition freeze in 36 years, a 10-percent drop in their dining hall prices, and now the possibility of a bunch of text book savings. If you have recently been in college or have kids who are, you know the serious chunk rising text book costs can take out of one’s income.

Thet textbook savings will come from an experimental partnership with Amazon, which he thinks can deliver the needed texts much cheaper than the book stores now being used (who aren't exactly thrilled with this arrangement. The Chicago Tribune had glowing praise for his efforts:

In 19 months as president of Purdue University, the former Indiana governor has frozen base tuition after 36 straight years of increases. The freeze lasts at least through the 2015-16 academic year.

Along the way, Daniels cut the cost of student dining services food by 10 percent. He’s saved big money by streamlining purchasing and finding other economies of scale. No saving is too small: He sold 10 school cars (about $10,000 each), cut rental storage in half ($160,000 saved) and repurposed used office furniture instead of buying new ($28,000 saved). “This place was not built to be efficient,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But “you’re not going to find many places where you just take a cleaver and hack off a big piece of fat. Just like a cow, it’s marbled through the whole enterprise.”

When Daniels arrived on campus 19 months ago, we said his tenure would test the business-as-usual, soak-the-middle-class-with-rising-tuition ethos that passes for leadership at most American universities. For openers, Daniels’ pay is based on performance. He is judged on whether he makes Purdue more affordable for students, hikes graduation rates and, of course, excels at the key mission of a university president:

It can be hard for the average taxpayer to appreciate the efforts of penny-pinching conservatives. Even if they feel some benefit from tax and spending cuts, it's hard to separate the state's actions from all the other numbers on that tax bill. Now, who did what, exactly? They dont know -- just that they pay a lot of taxes and don't get to keep nearly as much as they' d like. But these students and their parents will feel Daniels' actions directly and clearly. They will know exactly who is saving them money.

Conservatives get criticized for wanting to hold on to the past just because it's tradition. But true Burkean conservatives (which I sort of am and suspect Daniels is) don't insist on holding on to everything, just to the things we know have worked, as a foundation for the new things we want to add on. And if those new things promise to work, too, by all means, lets try them.