New Purdue appointee says university has global role

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At a lunch last month meant to help launch his appointment on campus, former World Bank President David Malpass offered the 75 guests of the Purdue University Research Center in Economics a deep read on World Bank projections that global economic growth will slow for a third consecutive year.

Malpass said a world economy expected to gain 2.4% this year (down from 2.6% growth in 2023 and 3% in 2022) was terrible news for developing countries facing unsustainable debt and “a grim outlook for the hundreds of millions of people living in countries that don’t have a path to debt relief or growth.”

The United States, Malpass said, “can’t be oblivious to this.”

“I think there’s such an opportunity for Purdue, as a university, to be part of global development [and] for global infrastructure,” Malpass said, introducing himself in a role meant to weave those aspects into the university’s interdisciplinary approach to finance at its new Daniels School of Business.

In November, Purdue President Mung Chiang announced that Malpass—who stepped down from his World Bank post in June—would open 2024 as a distinguished fellow of international finance and as the inaugural fellow of global business and infrastructure at Purdue@DC, the university’s presence in Washington, D.C. The university reported that Malpass would split his time between Purdue’s campuses in West Lafayette and Indianapolis, as well as in Washington, D.C.

Appointed by then-President Donald Trump to head the World Bank in 2019, Malpass spent four years there, leaving with one year remaining in a five-year term at a post that oversees billions of dollars in lending to developing countries. Chiang called Malpass “a truly impactful leader of international finance, infrastructure and business.” And he was the latest Daniels Schools of Business high-profile hire following the recruitment of Dean Jim Bullard, former president and chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, who started at Purdue in August.

Getting to the lectern at the Jan. 17 lunch forced Malpass to maneuver around the edges of the third-floor commons area of Rawls Hall. He was stuck asking one lunch guest to allow him to pass, given the layout of the tables. It turned out to be David Sanders, a Purdue biologist, a West Lafayette City Council member and a faculty senator who happened to be pressing a University Senate proposal to have Chiang and Bullard withdraw Malpass’ appointment.

Sanders, no stranger to agitating the Purdue administration, presented the proposal to the faculty-led University Senate in November.

The proposal raised several issues, including criticism Malpass endured in his final year at the World Bank from the White House and others for declining to say whether he accepted scientific conclusions about fossil fuels and their impact on global warming. (Malpass later said in an interview with CNN International: “I’m not a denier.”)

The University Senate proposal called the appointment an “unnecessary, ill-defined and political-featherbedding position” and said Malpass should step down. The resolution passed Jan. 22 on a 36-21 vote, with 15 senators abstaining.

The resolution has no binding power, and its sentiment seemed to bounce off Chiang and the university, which issued a statement after the vote that said Malpass “is bringing significant, specific and unique benefits to the Daniels School of Business.”

“The World Bank is a nonpartisan international organization designed to end world poverty,” the university’s statement read. “David’s diverse background in business allows him to provide invaluable world readiness preparation to our business students. …

“As to affiliation with political parties, even full-time faculty members at Purdue have run on partisan tickets in political campaigns,” the statement read. (Sanders, a West Lafayette City Council member, has run unsuccessful Democratic campaigns for Indiana Senate twice and U.S. House three times.)

The university concluded: “We are not starting a habit of canceling faculty or staff because of differences in opinion.”

With that backdrop, here are excerpts from a Q&A session with Malpass and local media after the Jan. 17 talk.

David Malpass says his new position as distinguished fellow of international finance and inaugural fellow of global business and infrastructure at Purdue@DC will involve quarterly visits to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bangert)

Why Purdue? What was the draw here? And how were you recruited? Who were the players?

I left the World Bank in June. I wanted to take some time and explore opportunities. I talked with other universities. Purdue has a special spot because of these inter- [and] multidisciplinary capabilities that include the business school, which is in a growth phase, and the engineering school and, really, several of the university schools.

So that attracted me.

And then, of course, there was the attraction, this strength of personality, of Mitch Daniels and Mung Chiang. I had known Mitch in previous decades. The vision that Mung has for the university, this excellence through scale, is, I think, really powerful.

And at the business school, the connection with [Dean] Jim [Bullard], who I’d known from the Federal Reserve System, is a big plus. As Jim Bullard sets up the new Daniels School of Business, that can be a really important part of U.S. success that I mentioned in my talk, the idea in global business of there being a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on global business and infrastructure.

Was Mitch Daniels the call to you at that point to bring you here? Or was it a tag team kind of thing? What was that initial contact?

I’d known Mitch for a long time. But Mung, we met in Niigata, Japan. So, the initial call was [last May]. Mung was there for a semiconductor event, where Purdue was a leading component of the global semiconductor movement. I was in Niigata for the G7 Finance Ministers meeting. So we hit it off. It was 6 a.m., and I get an email [asking]: “Any chance to meet?” I said: “Well, I’m up.” So we met at 6:30 a.m. in Niigata for breakfast and hit it off.

How do you plan to relay what you know to students?

This is my first working visit here. So we’re working on that from the standpoint of how I can share my experiences in Washington and then have those interact with the curriculum.

For example, I talked about currencies here. So I’ll be asking the next couple of days, to students and faculty, how do they learn about currencies? And is it factored in broadly enough? My view is that engineers, as they think about how you build things in the world, have to think about currencies, as well.

So that’s what I say with multidisciplinary. If you’re thinking about the semiconductor industry, you better know what the Taiwan dollar is doing and how that’s going to affect your pricing power.

Are you familiar with a resolution before the University Senate dealing with your hiring?

Not so much.

They’re asking [in the proposed resolution] for the university to step away from your appointment. Asking questions about your past. I guess the question would be, how do you react to that?

You know, there’s a tendency to politicize lots of areas. I’m very proud of my record at the World Bank, at the U.S. government and on Wall Street. I was the top-rated Wall Street analyst for years. I’m proud of that. I guess I should say a top-rated Wall Street analyst.

I was the U.S. undersecretary [at the Treasury Department], which is the position held very proudly by Paul Volcker and by Larry Summers, following that tradition of excellence within the U.S. government. …

Is it going to add value to Purdue and to the students at Purdue? I feel strongly that my experience is highly relevant to Purdue and its students and its advancement.

On the question of climate, as you talk to students about currencies and developing countries, as you said today, going backward [as the World Bank predicts the global economy will slow for a third consecutive year in 2024], how does that factor in as you talk to students about the coming crisis—or not a crisis—with the climate?

As was evident, the World Bank was a major leader in climate issues. We’ve doubled the spending on climate. It’s important for people to look at the challenges that the world faces of climate, of poverty, of health care. And that was done very successfully by me at the World Bank.

Will you be here lecturing on a daily basis? Or is this a visit-to-visit kind of situation?

This will be quarterly visits, like the one that you’re seeing here now. … We’re bringing together Purdue with Washington issues. I’m sharing my experience. And I really hope that the students and faculty at Purdue that are really interested in global development in all of its aspects welcome the sharing of experiences that can occur.

How was that assignment explained to you? Mung Chiang is very interested in D.C.—it’s the “D” part of his ABCD agenda. What is that assignment, as you understand it?

In D.C., it’s the same as in West Lafayette—sharing experiences and bringing together Purdue’s search for excellence at scale with the importance of global business, of global infrastructure, of global-policy issues with the D.C. community.

So has there been a petition of all of the thousands of Purdue students that want this engagement? … I do hope, as people report on the issues, that these deep issues facing the world are included in the reporting and not just the narrow group of political motivations.

I think it’s really important for Purdue, within its curriculum and for its students and professors, to be fully engaged in global issues and in the challenges facing people in developing countries. … I’m engaging with students and faculty, as we try to connect a multidisciplinary approach that brings in the importance of international policy, of Washington, of leaders around the world, which I was fully part of that system.

Does that benefit Purdue? Or is it more about Purdue benefiting the world?

I think it’s both. And that’s exactly the type of question that I think is relevant.

It benefits Purdue, because as Purdue seeks to train leaders of the future—whether in business or in engineering or in law or in all of the fields that Purdue’s a leader in—they’re engaging in global business, in global policy. So, I hope to bring that or help facilitate that.

And then, clearly, the world would benefit. I lived this every day at the World Bank. The world would benefit from Purdue’s engagement with the world in terms of its expertise in business, in semiconductors, in climate science, in engineering.

One of the things I did at the World Bank was form a relationship with historically Black colleges and universities. They have good expertise in STEM and in agriculture. And that’s very much needed in the developing countries. So I traveled in March to Niger and to Togo, two countries in Central Western Africa, where we had an engagement with U.S. universities that were both benefiting from … the sharing of the technologies on agriculture, which is really important to development.

That gets into all of the disciplines—efficiency and machines but also climate considerations. And all of those connect. I think the world can benefit from Purdue’s skills in those areas.•

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Bangert is founder of Based in Lafayette, a news website where this story initially appeared.

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