Leadership Magazine Exclusive
This is Our Time...
Conversation with leaders Mitch Daniels, Keith Krach and Tim Sands
MITCHELL E. DANIELS JR. — already a fixture on the national stage — drew attention throughout the country when the Purdue University Board of Trustees unanimously selected the two-term Indiana governor as the University’s 12th president.
Keith Krach, board chairman, hailed Daniels’ appointment as “an innovative, game-changing move for Purdue.”
The necessary transition period — between the board’s out-of-the-box announcement in June and the conclusion of Daniels’ second term at the Statehouse in January — signaled that this administration would be out of the ordinary from the outset.
For the next six months, Provost TIM SANDS served as acting president with distinction. Meanwhile, Daniels did his “homework,” made numerous “field trips” to campus, bonded with a broad spectrum of University students, faculty and stakeholders, and absorbed the Purdue culture and community.
Watch the full video interview here.
The transition and working together in the future
PRESIDENT MITCH DANIELS [addressing Keith Krach and Tim Sands] / I don’t know how it looks to you guys or from a University standpoint but to me what began as a problem turned into a real blessing. … The six months between June and January was just invaluable to me. I was able to learn so much. Tim and others were terrific in organizing a “freshman orientation” as I kept calling it, and that gave me a running start. I don’t want to exaggerate but I told so many people here, it enabled me to arrive in third or fourth grade instead of kindergarten. It was still just a priceless opportunity to hit the ground, if not running at least jogging.
BOARD of TRUSTEES CHAIR KEITH KRACH / I have to say that from a trustees’ standpoint, our expectations were super high and they were exceeded beyond every level. Tim, I can’t thank you enough for that.
MITCH / Tim did such a good job. I kept expecting you to make a phone call and say, “You know what, forget the whole idea. Everything is going so well now.”
PROVOST TIM SANDS / It was a great experience for me, not just personally, but we were able to get to know some of the stakeholders at Purdue University that the provost wouldn’t normally get to know. I hope that is valuable to you [to Mitch Daniels] down the road where you can count on me if you need a backup. I can do some things that maybe a typical provost wouldn’t do.
MITCH / I really would see it as slightly differently, Tim. … A provost’s job at a university is a massive assignment, obviously, but get ready for yours to be even bigger because, as I told you during the interim, you have so many skills and so much credibility on the campus that I am going to rely on you and look to you for even more input and activity than a provost normally has come their way. So buckle up for that!
KEITH / You know I can tell you from a trustee perspective, kind of from a 50,000-foot level; it was really amazing to watch. It was just kind of amazing to see and also the power of the pen in your letter to the community. I think that was an absolute masterpiece in terms of framing the opportunity that is before Purdue. I just think we are off to a flying start, especially with that.
The importance of shared governance and inclusiveness — and accountability
MITCH / It is essential to get it right for two reasons. One, it is the right way to operate. It is in the nature of the organization of the community that we are — and faculty in particular — are the heart and enduring soul of the University, so they have to be squarely involved in its important decisions and its long-term decisions.
Beyond the appropriateness of that way of operating, it’s the only way we will meet the challenges we are facing. We are going to have to have everybody’s involvement. The two examples uppermost for me are student success and affordability. If we are going to make it more possible for students to move more surely and more swiftly to successful degrees at Purdue — in ways I don’t think we know yet — we are going to need colleges, departments and individual faculty members to be willing to make some adjustments in calendars and modes of instruction, and so forth.
"We can be at the forefront in the areas of learning, which are most urgent, and the ways of learning and teaching that are most effective."
Mitch Daniels / President, Purdue University
And likewise, if we are going to keep Purdue affordable and hang on to that priceless ideal that the students who can meet our standards from any income level can come here, then everyone is going to have to pitch in. So working with Tim and others, we’ll be finding ways to appropriately engage all those who are willing to share their opinion and willing to offer constructive suggestions. It is the right thing to do, and it is the only way to get the job done.
KEITH / I like the way you’ve messaged it [in Daniels’ letter to the Purdue community], which is not just bringing all our stakeholders into the discussion and the decision-making process. There is a responsibility side to that as well, and I think that will actually make the engagement much more meaningful.
… I think a big factor there is the whole accountability piece and the way that we’ve set out performance metrics and the leadership-by-example at the top. You know, our hope as trustees is that’s going to cascade throughout the organization, throughout the administration, throughout the faculty. With that accountability, it is really important to have that visibility because we are accountable to our major constituencies, whether it is the taxpayers, the parents and the students themselves. I think we are off to a fine start with that.
Keeping Purdue affordable and accessible and still a top-tier institution
Purdue Board of Trustees chairman
MITCH / I’m optimistic that Purdue is going to emerge and separate itself even further from the pack in a difficult time for higher education in terms of the central question people are going to ask: “What’s the value at university A, versus B and C and D.” Excellence and quality of instruction is clearly part of it.
The provable rigor that’s been maintained at Purdue; the provable success of those who do graduate is part of that. … On the other side of the equation, we can foster a culture that puts the students first in which everyone is mindful that every day they can contribute to holding the cost within range of the typical family.
KEITH / And I think affordability is fundamental to student success. So it is not only so that they can focus while they are here getting their education but when they graduate so they’re not strapped with this big mound of debt. In terms of student success, it goes beyond graduation; it allows our students to get off with a flying start.
TIM / You hear exactly that from our students. When they graduate, they are concerned about their debt. They make decisions based on that and it isn’t really the way we want them making decisions.
Purdue’s role as a leader in higher education reform
MITCH / I think there are countless opportunities ahead of Purdue, beyond almost any school I can think of, and I would sum them up this way:
First of all, areas in which we are already excellent I think have the chance to advance even further: the sciences and engineering; our agricultural education and research; both science and economics areas, to just name a few. These are areas of research that the world is calling out for and the nation is, in many cases, falling behind in. So to meet that need, and what I think is a rising student interest in these areas, is a huge opportunity for us. Not only to do well as a school but also to do well by the state and nation in which we live.
The ways of learning are changing. … I’m real excited about where Tim and his colleagues are going to lead us. … We can be at the forefront in the areas of learning, which are most urgent, and the ways of learning and teaching that are most effective. … As value for the tuition dollar becomes more and more focused, a school like ours that can say to the world, “You can’t get a finer education, but here you can get it at a price that won’t saddle you with lifelong debt … .” That’s a great proposition.
TIM / I agree with you completely. I think with the disciplinary mix that Purdue has, this is our time.
We have always been strong in certain areas and it turns out now from a global perspective and a local perspective, the disciplinary mix we have right now is not a bad place to be.
A lot of excellent academic institutions would want to have our mix. … This is our opportunity. This will help us move forward faster. And the opportunities in changing the way we educate and the ways the students learn are just enormous. We’ve got the talent to really be in the lead on that.
KEITH / The trustees have talked about being the leader in making significant changes in higher education, and you’re in a great spot. We are going to put together a great strategy, but that’s only as good as the leadership of the University. Tim, I believe you’re the best provost I can imagine, absolutely world class. And Mitch, with your incredible background, it’s an unbeatable combination, and I think it is really a tremendous opportunity for synergy.
‘Discovery with delivery,’ commercialization and innovation
MITCH / If there is an area where I see remarkable upside, and there are many, there are none greater than our possibilities in what has been called discovery with delivery. The transfer of the brilliance into society for commercial or societal benefit is so abundant on the Purdue campus.
The spirit of enterprise, the spirit of, I would call it engagement of the highest form, is really prevalent. But I think we can be a whole lot better about it. … What nobody doubts is that there is as much innovative brilliance on the Purdue campus as almost anywhere on the planet. So we are just looking for ways to unlock it, take down barriers, provide tools if they aren’t there, give encouragement and recognition to those who do it successfully.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE ...
Reading for pleasure recently?
MITCH / I am re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (by Robert Pirsig). I haven’t read it in 25 or 30 years. So that is as close to a pleasure book. … I have been reading a lot of homework books.
KEITH / The Art of War by Sun Tzu. A lot of that is really applicable to the business world.
TIM / I have been kind of captivated by our Common Reading Program that we have had for the last few years for entering freshmen. I really enjoyed the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (by William Kamkwamba). It is a straightforward book and we had a chance to have a conversation with the author. It is just an amazing story and very inspiring story. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skloot) was a good one as well.
What’s on your iPod?
KEITH /Music. My wife always says I just love female recording artists.
TIM / Well, I haven’t been listening to as much music as I used to but when I do have an opportunity, I tend to go back into the ’70’s or so because that is when I listened to a lot of music: The B-52’s or the Talking Heads. I haven’t been listening to as much, outside of classical music in the background.
MITCH / Mine is all country-and-western and “cave man rock ’n’ roll.” There are almost no female artists on mine, now that I think about it. You know, a lot of hillbilly stuff.
Sum up Purdue in one word.
MITCH / “Limitless.”
KEITH / That’s a good one. I will throw one out there that is maybe kind of strange — “gemütlichkeit.” It is a German word that there is no English translation for. It’s kind of the feeling that you get on Christmas morning. You have the little kids around and people are drinking coffee. It is just a kind of warm community feeling.
TIM / “Impact.” I think that is what Purdue is all about: Impact.
If you could be doing something completely different professionally ...
MITCH / Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
TIM / Probably a wildlife artist would be my alternative career.
KEITH / I would say astronomer.
KEITH / I can tell you from the perspective of being a Silicon Valley guy: I see tremendous opportunity in this area. What we talk about in Silicon Valley is “How do we achieve escape velocity?” To take something from an idea all the way — to whether it is a great sustaining company or making a great sustaining difference in the world — and what are the keys to making that happen. … It’s about the execution of those ideas and it’s about making a difference and having a sustainable business model. I look at our opportunity to add those ingredients and add that level of focus, and the sky’s the limit with great innovations and great brains that we have here.
TIM / When you start talking to faculty members and students about why they want to be involved in commercialization or entrepreneurship, you usually hear that they want to see their work, their life’s work, have impact while they are alive and that’s what will give them the biggest charge. It is not about bringing home a big check on the side; it’s nice when it happens but it is really more about seeing that impact. A conversation that has been going on around campus — since you arrived [Mitch Daniels] that is really positive — is about aligning everybody’s values and metrics along the lines of trying to enable our faculty and our students, and our staff as well, to see that impact happen. If we can do that really well, we can recruit the best faculty, staff and students. I think that conversation is a game-changer for Purdue.
MITCH / You are so right about the driving impulse in the people, young or old, who want to do this. When I think about some of the greatest friends Purdue has … invariably, as you visit with those folks, money wasn’t what drove them. It was creating something that wasn’t there before. It was creating jobs and opportunities for lots of other people and the fulfillment that came from that. That’s the spirit, that’s the culture that I think is all over the campus. We just have to encourage it and, as I say, maybe if there are barriers, take them down.
… I tripped over the fact that we have had a rule historically that if an undergraduate should happen to invent something that might be patentable the University owned it, so we changed that. I have already met several undergrads, more than you would suspect, who believe they have actually come up with something unique. We want to be a place where, from the newest freshmen to the most senior faculty member, people think this way and celebrate each other’s successes. … People who feel that they will be rewarded if and when they contribute … .
KEITH / I couldn’t agree more. The best thing we can do is getting some great, great successes, some great wins, so that people really believe that can happen. And that is game-changing.
Giving back to Purdue and philanthropy
MITCH / My view is that anyone whose heart moves them to contribute to a cause is fully entitled to choose the use of the money to the extent they want to do that. I do hope that a significant percentage of Purdue’s best friends will be really excited in the next era about investments in intellectual excellence, trying to attract the absolute finest minds and world-renowned minds to come here and build on what we have.
As a second category, [I hope] they will be really interested in helping young people partake of that excellence through scholarships or just the kind of assistance that enables the University to keep its charges moderate.
I am very encouraged about this. I am running into lots of alums and people who have been kind to this school and would like to continue. They are excited about the possibility of helping young people who might not otherwise make it to Purdue get there and they are really excited about the notion of attracting the best talent possible to build a university of absolute first-tier excellence. … We will be infinitely grateful, whatever their own interest.
KEITH / You know one of the things I have seen time and time again as we get our alumni involved with the students on campus, whether it be the Old Masters program or coming back to a particular group they were involved in, that really kind of gets the juices flowing. … I would challenge alumni to get one other person involved and we have doubled that base. If nothing else, that is a huge impact.
TIM / Well, I think there are a lot of angles to scholarships and how they enable student success. Part of it is affordability. That is probably the number-one issue we have right now, given the condition of the country right now. … As a land-grant institution, a public institution, we need to make sure that the students who are prepared for Purdue can come to Purdue regardless of what their financial situation is.
But, we also have a great opportunity in student leadership. We’ve been talking for a number of years about “Launching Tomorrow’s Leaders” and I think that is really going to be a hallmark for Purdue. We want our students to be known as leaders. They are the quiet leaders right now, but we want to give them the tools that will allow them to step right out into the first stage of their career, even if it happens while they are at Purdue, to know how to move things forward and know when to hang back, know how to build a team, know how to step up when it is time to step up. … Attracting students who are natural leaders is something that we’d like to see happen with our scholarships. I think affordability, encouraging and developing leadership are the two primary goals.
An era of change at Purdue
MITCH / As Tim said, it is our time but we’ll have to seize it. … And I emphasize we. It’s threaded through our discussion already, but it can’t be somebody else’s job for us to become more excellent, for us to become more efficient and more affordable, for us to become the best at devising new ways to transmit learning and knowledge and valuable skills. Everybody has to grab a piece of that burlap as they say. … We don’t need all of anybody’s time but we do need a little of everybody’s time and imagination on these common tasks. That stretches beyond this campus to our friends, in the alumni community, to partners that we might engage individually, corporate or otherwise here. Really shame on us if in a few years we can’t say that we did maximize the opportunity that was in front of this particular institution and separate it from so many of its counterparts.
KEITH / And I would say to go along with that, don’t be afraid of change. Embrace change. Change is the most powerful word in the English language. Those are the opportunities we are trying to give our students and we’ve got to practice what we preach. We’ve got to be bold. I think we have got to be courageous; we can’t be afraid to take risks. … We’ve got to embrace it and we’ve got to look at change as positive.
TIM / I reflect on the conversation you had with our scholarship winners about a year ago, Keith, said you told them to “jump in over your head and then do it again, keep doing it.” I thought that was a great message. … You have to encourage everybody, not just the students but also our faculty, our staff and all our stakeholders to raise your aspirations, to take them up a notch from where they are right now, take them up a little bit, aim a little higher. … I think it will be a cultural shift, and I think we will learn a lot and move forward quickly.