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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The announcement on June 10 that Purdue University president Mitch Daniels would step down at the end of 2022 arguably came as a surprise.
The president – whose signature successes include freezing instate tuition at under $10,000 for more than a decade and, this fall, welcoming the largest freshman class in school history – gave no outward indications he was considering such plans that appear to be months in the making.
The announcement left those in certain circles less than pleased to learn of Daniels' plans, detailed at the same Board of Trustees meeting where his successor was picked.
The American Association of University Professors has released multiple statements calling Purdue University's "unilateral" appointment of Mung Chiang – executive vice president of Purdue University for strategic initiatives and the John A. Edwardson dean of the College of Engineering – as Purdue's 13th university president.
"...the Board failed to provide transparency and openness of the search process and criteria," the AAUP's June 13 statement said, "to involve stakeholders including faculty, and to offer candidates a public campus visit to engage with the campus community."
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Focus on 'my home institution'
The announcement of Chiang as the next Purdue president came about six months after the engineering dean took himself out of the search for a president at the University of South Carolina, according to the Associated Press on Dec. 6, 2021.
Two days earlier, the Columbia, S.C., Post and Courier, had reported Chiang as the front runner for the USC president's post.
“With various family considerations in mind and after much discussion in the family, we have decided that the best course of action at this time is for me to focus on family and on current responsibilities at my home institution and not on other leadership opportunities,” Chiang said in the AP report.
"Even though ultimately it is the board's decision," Leigh Raymond, president of the Purdue-West Lafayette chapter of the AAUP and professor of political science at Purdue, said, "...if I were on the board, I would want to know what the faculty thought. I'd really want to know the faculty's ideas about important priorities for the university for the next five or 10 years; and important things that we should be looking for in our next president."
An effort toward faculty and student input "on big calls" had been an important issue for a newly appointed Daniels, David Detmer, the PNW chapter president for the AAUP, pointed out. A professor of philosophy at Purdue University, Detmer referenced the Jan. 18, 2013, open letter from Daniels shortly after he began his presidency.
"...Because when Mitch Daniels became president, in January of (2013)," Detmer said, "he submitted a letter to the people of Purdue, giving his philosophy of how he wants to behave as president, and I want to read... just one short paragraph on shared governance."
Detmer quoted the following paragraph in Daniels' statement, titled "An Open Letter to the People of Purdue":
"Shared governance – I subscribe entirely to the concept that major decisions about the university and its future should be made under conditions of maximum practical inclusiveness and consultation," Daniels wrote. "The faculty must have the strongest single voice in these deliberations, but students and staff should also be heard whenever their interests are implicated.
"I will work hard to see that all viewpoints are fairly heard and considered on big calls, including the prioritization of university budgetary investments, and endeavor to avoid surprises even on minor matters to the extent possible."
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Lack of a public presidential search
When Daniels was rumored to be the 12th president of Purdue, according to a 2012 Journal & Courier article, a 14-member presidential search committee worked for around 11 months to eventually lead to Daniels' appointment, via the Board of Trustees.
This seems to be the AAUP's greatest sticking point in terms of the Board's process: a lack of a thorough, public presidential search.
Although it may not have been public, representatives from Purdue University emphasize the thoroughness of the vetting of Chiang as the next president of Purdue.
"...continuity was important to the Board, whose members had been closely watching the performance and readiness of dean Chiang for several years — in a role that was intentionally expanded over that period to test his leadership abilities in a variety of dimensions," Tim Doty, director of media and public relations for the university, said.
"Chairman (Michael) Berghoff made clear the board would have conducted a formal search process if it had been less than fully confident Dr. Chiang was uniquely qualified to lead Purdue into the future."
Doty defended the process in an email to Inside Higher Ed, saying, "Indiana law gives the Purdue Board of Trustees the authority and responsibility for electing the president of the university. Board deliberations in previous presidential selection processes at Purdue have been conducted in executive sessions, which are not open to the public. This is both customary and permitted in Indiana."
Berghoff, the board chairman, and Daniels commented on this confidence in Chiang at the June 10 meeting when the engineering dean was unanimously approved to serve as Purdue president, effective Jan. 1, 2023.
"The other benefit of doing this now," Berghoff said, "it provides both Mitch and Mung an opportunity to work together for six months in a transition period."
Daniels reiterated the university's confidence in Chiang at the same meeting.
"I don't know that we can cite an example of any such group who has ever approached it more thoroughly, carefully, methodically and thoughtfully than this one did," Daniels said.
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When asked about a timeline regarding the search and decision regarding Chiang, Doty stated that observation of Chiang and other members of the staff/faculty's level of ability across many areas of their careers took place over the course of several years. Berghoff seemed to confirm this at the June 10 meeting.
"We had an opportunity to observe a number of talented people in this university over the last five years," Berghoff said. "And it gave us a high degree of confidence in the selection of Mung as the follow-up to Mitch."
For members of the AAUP, this unilateral certainty is not enough.
"When we hire faculty members, all best practices show that you need to post a public job opening," Pawley said, "that you need to be careful in how you set up the criteria by which you judge the candidates to be unbiased and have clear metrics that are not gendered or raced.
"We need to document and give time for decision-making to help reduce implicit bias against diverse candidates. We need to treat all candidates as equally as possible so as not to make one candidate feel less comfortable than another, which might affect their interview adversely."
Students and staff face head-on the future of having Chiang as their university president, added Kayla Young, a fifth-year graduate student earning her PhD in political science at Purdue and PWL AAUP secretary and treasurer – especially seeing Chiang address issues such as shared governance.
"As a member of AAUP and a graduate student," Young said, "I'm looking forward to working with Dr. Chiang on improving shared governance and on other key issues facing graduate students, staff, and faculty."
Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Purdue defends process of picking Mitch Daniels' successor