David Hoppe

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:: Daniels still the man

Higher Ed is latest target

by David Hoppe

Mitch Daniels is doubtless chuckling over the dust bunny raised by his recent speaking engagement in Minneapolis. Daniels flew to the Twin Cities in a Purdue jet to give a speech to a group called the Center of the American Experiment. This outfit says its aim is “nothing less than shifting Minnesota’s intellectual and political center of gravity to the right.”

The event took place in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, which apparently has plenty of dates available since its primary tenant, the Minnesota Orchestra, has been locked-out by its board for over a year. Given his anti-labor history, our man Mitch must have felt right at home.

Anyway, Daniels’ speech, for which he was paid an undisclosed amount (“Not revealing the compensation is at the request of the event organizers,” according to Purdue mouthpiece Shelley Triol, assistant vice president for external relations — an administrative position no self-respecting university president can live without), crossed a line according to some. That’s because Daniels swore he was leaving partisan politics behind when he took the Purdue job.

“President Daniels is still acting like a conservative Republican governor,” complained professor Bill Mullen, who has the temerity to still be teaching English and American Studies — those pillars of the increasingly unmarketable liberal arts — to budding Boilermakers.

The problem, of course, is that President Daniels (has a ring to it, no?) isn’t acting.

There is nothing nonpartisan about Mitch Daniels, whose appointment by a Purdue board he handpicked himself, was practically custom-tailored to provide the former governor with a platform to go after one of the most delectable targets in the right-wing rogue’s gallery: higher education.

Right-wingers have had it in for higher education since at least the 1960’s, when campuses were considered launching pads for all manner of challenges to the authority of the imperial American status quo. Here we were sending more kids to college than ever before and what happened? The country went to hell in a handbasket.

It took almost 50 years, but conservatives are finally putting things, er, right. Thanks, in part, to an academic hubris that has made the cost of college unconscionably high, more people are asking just what a college degree is good for.

Enter Mitch Daniels. The man who, as Indiana governor, tried to privatize the state’s public health and welfare system with famously disastrous results; who presided over a high-stakes testing regime in public schools that was manipulated to create winners and losers, is now an avatar in the right-wing attempt to put higher education in its place.

“We need you,” Daniels told a meeting of for-profit colleges and universities. “I’m only interested in the result per dollar charged. That’s the value equation.”

This may sound like common sense when the average graduate is carrying around $26,000 in debt and, too often, working a job where a high school diploma would suffice.

But Daniels’ “value equation” isn’t just about result per dollar charged. It’s also about finally controlling an unruly cultural resource. Partisan? That’s Daniels’ job description.