RICH JAMES: Purdue's bonuses leave nasty aftertaste

2013-07-24T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Purdue's bonuses leave nasty aftertasteBy Rich James nwitimes.com
July 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

There is something a little incestuous going on at Purdue University.

I’m talking about Mitch Daniels and the Board of Trustees.

Yeah, that’s the same Daniels who spent eight years as Indiana governor and gained fame when he declined to run for president in 2012 even though every Republican worth his salt begged him to do so.

I’ll always wonder if Daniels knew he was going to end up as the Purdue president when he stiffed the Republican National Committee.

Daniels is a bright guy. You don’t get hired as a top executive at Eli Lilly if you don’t have a good deal of smarts. And you don’t get hired by a president to handle budgets if you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

And Daniels led folks to think he was one folksy guy as he drove that RV around the state eating country fried steak and peach cobbler and talking about Hoosier values during his first campaign for governor.

So, it wasn’t any great surprise when Purdue made Daniels its leader.

The university didn’t hire him because of his expertise in academia.

No, Purdue wanted Daniels for two primary reasons. First, Daniels is a good businessman who – as the saying goes – throws nickels around as if they were manhole covers.

While Purdue – as is the case with all state universities in Indiana – relies heavily on the Legislature for funding, it needs other sources of revenue.

Daniels was brought on board in part because the trustees knew he could raise barrels of money.

Not only does he have an in with the Legislature, Daniels also can call in favors from across the state. And he has.

So the Purdue trustees – the majority of whom Daniels appointed – hired Mitch to run the university.

It is kind of a quid pro quo, the very thing for which Lake County Democrats are criticized by downstate Republicans.

Personally, I’m glad Purdue chose Mitch. I like to think there is a corollary between his hiring and IU handing the Boilermakers their worst loss ever in basketball. But I digress.

While Daniels makes $420,000 annually, he also is eligible for $128,000 in bonuses if he meets goals.

Wouldn’t you know it, after just six months, the trustees have given Mitch a $58,000 bonus. That’ll buy a lot of peach cobbler.

There’s nothing wrong with what the trustees did. Nope, the potential bonuses are part of Mitch’s contract.

But there seems to be something wrong with the process.

It just doesn’t seem right that the Board of Trustees – the majority of whom were appointed by Daniels – is handing out bonuses they wrote into his contract.

That doesn’t sound like Hoosier values to me.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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