WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Mitch Daniels is stepping down as Purdue's president at the end of 2022.
Today, I spent an hour with Daniels to learn about his highlights as the "Boiler Boss" and his plans for the future.
Daniels joked when I opened our conversation by asking why he was retiring.
"First, I don't use that word. Please don't use it around Cheri [Daniels]. I am moving on," Daniels said.
His 10 years as Boiler Boss are winding down. Daniels is proud of this year's record enrollment of 50,000 undergrad and graduate students in West Lafayette, rising rankings and applications doubling.
"We don't want to be known for how many students we turn away. We want to be known for how many students we turn out for the benefit of Indiana and the broader society," Daniels said.
Daniels' career includes working in President George W. Bush's administration, as an executive at Eli Lilly and two terms as Indiana's governor, leading some to wonder if he wanted his old job again.
"I'm not thinking about that. I don't know where those things get started, but it wasn't with me," Daniels said.
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Daniels took the top job at Purdue after considering a run for the White House — something he says he wouldn't consider in 2024.
"People say timing is everything. It probably is. That cycle 2012 election. It had an air of reality about it. I honestly believe, as objectively as I can be, we would have been nominated. I don't know if we would have won the election. Having passed on that for good reason, I've never given it another thought since," Daniels said.
According to Daniels, he's taken "a vow of political celibacy" at Purdue, wanting to stay neutral while leading "Boiler nation." But, the former Republican governor has observations about what's happening in Washington, D.C.
"I think both parties have come to be dominated by their fringe. Extreme left. Extreme right," Daniels said.
I asked Daniels if he had any thoughts about former President Donald Trump.
"I don't talk about him. Haven't up to this point. It's not the day to do that," Daniels said. "I never met him."
Daniels loves Purdue sports and also joked about the in-state rivalry with Indiana University.
"They need to up their game a little. We've been beating them like a drum the last few years," Daniels said.
Daniels told me his best day as president was watching Purdue upset undefeated and second-ranked Ohio State at Ross-Ade Stadium.
"That was the time of Tyler Trent. The incredibly courageous young man, who in so many ways, personified what we want Purdue students to be. Purposeful, courageous beyond words as he was dying from cancer," Daniels said. "But, if you remember, he predicted that win and predicted it on national TV and then, my goodness, it happened."
The Purdue president said college sports have taken some unfortunate turns.
"They're going to professionalize Division 1 football essentially," Daniels said. "It's perfectly understandable that these young men and women ought to be able to make some money and the reputations their skills have built. It's not going to stop there. They're going to have what amounts to paid professional athletes, probably unionized. It'll be entertaining, for the schools fortunate enough to be in that new stratum. It'll be very successful financially. But, it won't be college sports the way we've known it."
Daniels is concerned about the national debt and how it will impact future generations.
"The debts we've continued to pile up at such an unimaginable rate that we're going to deposit on an innocent younger generation. These are dollars that we didn't borrow to invest in their future. We've borrowed and spent them on today's adults," Daniels said.
According to Daniels, our state's economy is doing very well. He's happy Indiana lawmakers passed a law that includes a $200 refund check for Hoosiers.
"As the author of automatic rebate bill, I'm pleased each time it kicks in and leaves money in the pockets of those who earned it," Daniels said. "I said in promoting the idea, it's better to stay in your pocket than burn a hole in the pocket of government."
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For now, Daniels is concentrating on the job at hand. Five months to the finish line, Daniels said he hasn't thought about whether there's another race in his future.