Agent Of Academic Change (Opinion)

Monday, July 2, 2012

As Republican governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels has been an efficiency maven, and his scalpel has gone after higher education along with everything else. He has also introduced price competition by welcoming Western Governors University Indiana, a low-cost online college that, among other heresies, gives credit for experience.

The announcement that Daniels will become president of Purdue University led to speculation that he is eager to make a mark in the roiling universe of higher education.

Certainly, the nation’s colleges require much greater fiscal discipline, and Daniels will provide some of that.

But he wouldn’t have taken the job if it was just about cost-cutting. The recent tumult at the University of Virginia is a microcosm of a broader conflict: the staid, slow- moving university pitted against the business exigencies of a competitive future. The Virginia faculty rallied to the defense of Teresa Sullivan, the president, spurring a protest of 2,000 people on campus and condemnation of the board of trustees for its secretive tactics. The professors won this round. But the debate in Virginia was not over whether the university has to change, but how fast. Such conflicts are likely to proliferate.

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