Daniels’ hiring of ex-aides for Purdue posts draws scrutiny

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels' decisions to staff his administration with top officials from his time as governor and in business are drawing scrutiny from critics who question whether some of the appointments skirt state ethics laws.

About 30 new management or professional hires have appeared on Purdue's payroll since Daniels took office in January. At least six are former colleagues from Daniels' days as governor and as a top executive at Eli Lilly and Co., the Journal & Courier reported.

Experts say the administrative turnover is a normal occurrence in higher education after a new leader arrives. Former Purdue President France A. Cordova hired, promoted or created new roles for nine vice presidents from 2007 to 2011.

Daniels says it's no surprise that he's tapped top performers whom he knows from previous circles.

"We're not going to disqualify an all-star because they once were involved in public service," he said. "If it's clearly a necessary job, we want the best possible talent," Daniels said. "We don't need people who just want to punch a clock."

The state ethics commission has signed off on the hires of two former Daniels-appointed state commissioners who decided to leave Gov. Mike Pence's administration. But a faculty group says the growing number of hires with ties to Daniels raises a red flag.

"Whenever you have somebody that's been such a political person and they come into a position like this, you're always concerned they're bringing people in based on their abilities and not on their political affiliations or the fact they worked for him as governor," said Marcus Rogers, a cyberforensics professor and president of Purdue's chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Rogers said faculty members want to ensure that all hires are done above-board and that Indiana executive branch appointees don't become a trend.

"If they're the best people for the job and it's a transparent process that got them there, then that's fine," Rogers said. "Anything less than that starts becoming a little bit of an issue."

Others have questioned the strength of Indiana's ethics rules after Pence waived a rule that would have required former Department of Transportation commissioner Michael Cline to participate in a one-year cooling-off period before being hired as Purdue's vice president for physical facilities. The state ethics commission signed off on former Department of Administration commissioner Robert Wynkoop's selection as managing director for the office of the executive vice president and treasurer.

Richard Skinner, a senior higher education recruitment consultant at Ohio-based Harris Search Associates, said it's fairly normal for a new university president to cherry-pick employees from previous roles but acknowledged that Purdue's numbers were "a little more than we would typically see."

"My impression is President Daniels has a fairly aggressive agenda for Purdue, and he may feel he needs to have trusted confidants working for him," Skinner said. "There's probably going to be some raised eyebrows for the first six or seven months."

Deborah Hohlt, who lobbied for the Daniels administration in Washington, D.C., and now does the same for Purdue on a contractual basis, said she's not surprised that Daniels' former colleagues want to join him at Purdue.

"My former colleagues in the governor's office would agree—when you ride the Daniels train, setting the standard for others to follow, unbreakable bonds of friendship, respect and loyalty are created that last a lifetime," Hohlt told the Journal & Courier in an email.

Daniels said his primary focus is on getting the right people in place to improve Purdue.

"The approach is demand the very best talent and performance," he said. "Then then public relations of it all will follow."

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