Episode 31: COVID-19
It’s Our Duty to Find a Way
(former) Governor Mitch Daniels, President, Purdue University
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In this episode of Fireside Chat, we sit down with Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and President of Purdue University. In this conversation, we explore the challenges higher education is facing due to the COVID-19 crisis and what leaders can do in the days ahead.

Please note: The number of COVID-19 cases and the situation referenced in this episode were based on reported data at the time of the interview and are subject to change.

Meet Mitch Daniels

Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. is the 12th president of Purdue University and the former governor of Indiana. He was elected Indiana’s 49th governor in 2004 in his first bid for any elected office, and then re-elected in 2008 with more votes than any governor in the state’s history. Read more…

Transcription

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Mitch Daniels 0:04
Between the time I was elected and sworn in, I went to one or two programs somebody had for incoming governors. And I was sitting around, at that point, the retired governor. And somebody at the table said, “What’s the one thing you would encourage us to study up on or think about that we might not otherwise?” And everybody expect him to say, “Oh, you know, education or corrections or, or environmental policy,” something. He immediately said crisis management. He said, you’re going to have one sometime, and he didn’t want to start your homework then. And he was right.

Gary Bisbee 0:44
That was former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, currently president of Purdue University, responding to the question about a governor’s most important responsibility. I’m Gary Bisbee, and this is Fireside Chat. Purdue was a leader in committing to reopening for classes in the fall, and a growing number of universities are following suit. Governor Daniels outline the extensive steps that Purdue is taking to narrow the risk for faculty employees and students. Governor Daniels has substantial healthcare experience as a board member of a large healthcare IT company and former executive of Eli Lilly. He is well qualified to discuss the similarities between higher ed and healthcare COVID has impacted lives and the economy and sports may be lower down the list and importance but college sports have wide interest. Let’s listen to President Daniels’ view.

Mitch Daniels 1:35
This is another trend by the way that was already underway. People were saying but we’re doing is unsustainable and in some cases, irresponsible so much money and so forth. And that reform was necessary and probably inevitable. And now I think again, this has been accelerated a lot every day. Now again this morning looking in the press and another school canceling sports or paring back or laying people off. So I don’t know where it’s coming out. But like so many other things it will not look just the same when this is over.

Gary Bisbee 2:09
Governor Daniels commented on the importance of COVID in the forthcoming presidential election, difficult COVID related decisions being made by governors, and the important characteristics for leaders during a crisis. I’m delighted to welcome governor mitch daniels to the microphone.

Well, welcome to the podcast. Governor.

Mitch Daniels 2:30
Thanks for having me.

Gary Bisbee 2:31
I’m pleased to have you at this microphone. You’ve been president of Purdue now for seven years following two terms as governor of Indiana. Let’s start with a description of Purdue University. Could you describe Purdue for us please?

Mitch Daniels 2:44
I’m always glad to talk about it. free advertising is one of my favorite things. Purdue is a research one university and we do the most research of any university in the country, I believe, that doesn’t have a medical school. Some people don’t know we’re as big as we are. We have 34 thousand undergrads and 10 or 11,000 graduate students at the main campus, plus some regionals. We’re a land grant school, some people don’t know that. But we have a very special mission that comes with that. And I guess the other thing is that we are one of the most STEM-centric, that is science, engineering, math, and so forth, schools in the country. About two-thirds of our undergrads and a higher percentage of our grad students are in one of those disciplines. And that’s very much by strategic choice. We’ve been moving further in that direction the last eight years, believing that that’s a special contribution that we can make to this state and country in this knowledge-driven age.

Gary Bisbee 3:37
The COVID crisis is affecting all of us and clearly higher education. How are you working through the balance between life must go on and health at Purdue?

Mitch Daniels 3:48
We walked around that question early on during these days when even less was understood, and it is now about this virus and its implications, but we decided two or three weeks ago, in large part because of the manifest interest from our students telling us they really want to be back on campus and continue their education in its full dimension. So we think it’s our job to do that. And we announced earlier than others that it’s our intention to bring them back in the fall, and going to do everything. We took dramatic transformations of the way we teach and live on campus to do that. We are out to achieve that. Happily for us in the last couple, three weeks, more and more schools have come to the same conclusion. So we’ll be working on this together.

Gary Bisbee 4:33
I see that at least one other Big-10 school and several the Ivy’s have announced and as you say, I think that list is growing day by day isn’t it?

Mitch Daniels 4:43
It is. The White House organized the zoom meeting a couple of days before we’re taping this, and I think there were 14 or 15 schools represented. Some very important institutions, including Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, UVA, and others. Everybody now is at least in that group, expressing the viewpoint that it’s our job. It’s our duty to find a way to enable these young people to learn and not have to take an important year out of their lives because we can’t figure out how to keep them safe or more to the point, keep the people teaching and serving them safe. The people we now all know, are far more vulnerable to this virus than young people themselves.

Gary Bisbee 5:22
I’m sure parents are concerned as well as students, faculty employees. What measures are you going to take to protect all of these people on campus?

Mitch Daniels 5:32
Now the short answer is everything we can think of. The interesting thing about a college campus, at least one the size of ours, to me is that my shorthand is we have the density of New York City but the demographics of an African nation. Which say we literally have as many people we’re gonna win the same acreage as a major city. But their demographics are so different. 82% of the people on or right around our campus are under the age of 35. We’re the reverse of a nursing home, let’s say. And so although it won’t be easy, we do believe if we focus our every effort on the protection of vulnerable sometimes means their separation. We’ve learned like every enterprise a lot about telework in the last few weeks, we believe and we have an instruction, now a mandate from our board to move at least a third of our administrative jobs off of campus. So that’s a couple thousand people who won’t be exposed at all. We will have many of our faculty choose or we will ask them to teach remotely on every occasion they can we know a lot more about that than we used to. We’re changing our physical spaces. That is to say we’re calculating how much distance needs to be kept in those settings like putting up Plexiglas and other protective barriers. Of course, we hope to be testing and tracing as comprehensively as anybody can. We’ve already set aside several hundred dollars for the temporary as isolation of people who test positive, so there’s more than that. We have six teams arranged around these goals. And I’m working with them on a daily basis to make sure we use all the time we have to get ready for August 24.

Gary Bisbee 7:21
It sounds like new learning models are being developed at the core of your approach. Would that be an accurate thing to say?

Mitch Daniels 7:29
Yes, it would people have been reminded during this experience that catastrophes like this, it’s been noted for a long time that don’t so much create brand new trends as they do accelerate trends that were already in motion. And the hybridization of learning using more remote instruction is something that’s been called for and slowly coming through the ponderous institution that is higher education in America. And this is obviously propelled that trend into moving into a much higher gear.

Gary Bisbee 8:02
I was just wondering about Purdue global and whether that gave Purdue a jumpstart on understanding online learning?

Mitch Daniels 8:10
Yes, it did. We purchased an existing and very successful online university teaching a new student group. That is to say, adult learners trying to enhance their marketability and their incomes and success in life. And we did that in part because we weren’t, as far as I was concerned, learning enough fast enough about this new world of online education. And once again, hiring has been one of the most ossified sectors it’s been so insulated and protected makes me think of healthcare in some ways.

Gary Bisbee 8:44
And we’ll get to that in a minute governor.

Mitch Daniels 8:47
And it was in business terms a “build or buy” decision. We bought it. And yes, it has helped us a lot. We know a whole lot more than we did. We are still learning like everyone, but there are certainly ways not to completely replace for most students, at least traditional students there’s still invaluable learning that happens on a campus learning from more intimate contact with faculty and learning from in our case, certainly the laboratory experience. The undergraduate research that we try to make a universal on our campus and learning from each other and students learning from each other. So I’m very, very glad Purdue Global is succeeding on its own. But it has also certainly been a learning experience for us at the mothership.

Gary Bisbee 9:35
Well, it was a prescient decision by you and the board at Purdue so well done as an educator. Another question comes to mind which is the primary-secondary students are missing at least three months, maybe more in the classroom. Any thoughts about what long term impact that might have on them?

Mitch Daniels 9:54
Can’t be positive. I think some colleges… I’d like to think ours is warranted. Pretty good, pretty credible job of finishing the semester remotely. But I don’t hear anything good about what happened in K-12. And I’m not blaming it, I don’t think we should blame anybody they had even less experience with this we did. But I think it was a highly unsatisfactory experience as we certainly hear this from parents of incoming freshmen. They got a few weeks exposure to online at least at the K-12 level, and it did not impress them at all. But I again, it’s like so much else about this experience. A lot of mistakes have been made. A lot of things have not been done well, but I’d probably be more charitable and forgiving and some people have been I don’t think second-guessing something so new and novel should go too far.

Gary Bisbee 10:49
There are many more important things in sports that COVID has changed and affected, obviously but college sports are a big part of our society. Who makes a decision on returning to college competition? Is that the NCAA, the conferences, or schools themselves?

Mitch Daniels 11:04
I don’t think schools themselves can do it. I’m not sure any individual conference can do it maybe in one or two exceptional cases. Now, I think it’ll have to be a much more collective decision. And this is another trend by the way that was already underway. People were saying what we’re doing is unsustainable, and in some cases, irresponsible, so much money and so forth. And that reform was necessary and probably inevitable. And now I think again, this has been accelerated a lot every day now. But like so many other things. It will not look just the same when this is over.

Gary Bisbee 11:50
Yeah, for sure. On to healthcare and education, which you brought up earlier. You encompass higher ed as President of Purdue of course and healthcare by sitting on the board of a healthcare IT company and having been an executive at Eli Lilly, what do higher education and healthcare have in common, Mitch?

Mitch Daniels 12:09
A lot. I wrote a somewhat whimsical newspaper column about this a couple three years ago. And I think the parallels are pretty obvious. First of all, both of us are selling what is deemed the necessity of your home. Obviously, your health is your first priority and the college degree has seemed like a must-do item to many people. You have little or no transparency in pricing, people can’t tell exactly what they’re paying or whether it’s too much or whether there’s better value available somewhere else. Biggest parallel is both areas are awash in third party financing, which is to say people are insulated and don’t feel the true cost of what they’re consuming. In the case of fire, they may feel it later because a lot of it may have gotten borrowed that they didn’t feel at the time. I sometimes say if you tried to if you set out to do design a system built for overpricing, it would look a lot like that? Well, in both cases, there’s been incredible pricing power, that is to say, the ability to raise tuition, raise healthcare prices, and you don’t lose business. Some cases in higher ed, you actually got more business because people had no other way than the sticker price to judge quality. The other parallel did observe for a long time that these two sectors for all their size and importance have lagged in terms of effective use of technology. I think it’s even more true in higher ed than it is in healthcare. But in both cases, you haven’t seen the efficiency gains from technology that it is brought to essentially every other realm of life.

Gary Bisbee 13:44
Correct. A crisis, as you pointed out, generally accelerates trends already underway. So what were the trends in higher ed that will be accelerated through this crisis?

Mitch Daniels 13:55
Right. One is that we’ve discussed already was using new forms of education on and so forth, no question a lot of that is going to stick. There were already forecasts for quite some time without a weed out in higher education, you got viewers, we’re not making enough children in this country. So you have 18-year-olds entering the system, pricing well out of control that finally there’s resistance there and you got a cost structure that’s very difficult to change. This rather unusual arrangement of tenure that we have a means that it’s hard to adjust a cost structure to deal with a financial challenge. Anyway, we’ve been losing about a dozen schools a year, little ones generally winking out here and there, you’re gonna see a lot more of that you already have. I told somebody the other day that some of these small super expensive private schools are the 80-year-old as medics of this area, that is to say, they were extremely vulnerable to start with, and this episode we’re going through is probably going to be fatal or permanently impaired. A whole lot more of them.

Gary Bisbee 15:01
Can universities sustain their current revenue model? You’re suggesting high costs third party payers, lack of transparency, and so on. But if the bulk of classes are online, will the customer perceive that the current revenue model is sustainable?

Mitch Daniels 15:18
Short answer’s no. The model probably wasn’t sustainable. It was already starting to fray and fail in some cases. And this I think, is really exposed and absolutely the sudden exposure of many more people, to at least today’s version of online education, has convinced many of them that it’s not the same as the full experience and they’re right. We think that at our place that the quality of the instruction can be maintained and that we do in fact we insist on it. But that leaves out all the other learning that can it comes from being on the campus. I should add that we’re not completely unique. We may have been steps ahead of some. But a very high percentage of our on-campus students, were already taking at least one online course every year. A lot of them in the summer but others while they’re on campus during the regular school year, and there’s nothing new about that. But again, that alone leaves out an awful lot of participatory learning that can only come from being in the community we call what you’re discussing relative to higher ed, affordability, and healthcare.

Gary Bisbee 16:29
And much of the discussion that you’re having about higher ed is applicable of course to health care which leads to another question. Many people are speaking about a new normal for healthcare because of the crisis. Sounds like we’re going to see something similar in higher ed, but what are your thoughts about what might constitute a new normal for higher ed,

Mitch Daniels 16:51
I’m tempted to quote Joe Inline in 1949 when somebody has asked him about the historical meaning of the French Revolution, and he said too soon to tell. I do think it’s a little too soon to tell. But almost certainly, there will be, I think, finally a flight to quality and flight to value. I think that we’re going to see a shakeout of many of the small like colleges. This may look like many of the small rural hospitals that have been either consolidated up or simply closed for lack of sufficient business. And I do believe there’ll be a lasting replacement of expensive untouchable labor with either more contingent faculty that’s been going on anyway, in many places, not at our place. Incidentally, we still have one of the highest ratios of tenure track faculty in the country cited. In other places, there’s already been a shift to so-called contingent or temporary, and the next transition will be to technologically deliver instruction in on a much broader scale. After that, I can’t tell you. Don’t bet against the model entirely. A lot of appeal to it. And there’s still a lot of value in it when it’s well done.

Gary Bisbee 18:07
Yeah, for sure. We’d like to focus on leadership in these conversations, thinking about the change that might be coming. As the leader of the institution. What opportunity does a crisis like this give you to tweak the model or change the model?

Mitch Daniels 18:25
There’s no question. That’s the case. I guess the question is, how much of that opportunity will boards and leaders choose to exercise or be forced to exercise. But I don’t think any of the changes we’re talking about were not speculated about or taught or called for before. It’s just that now their urgency and in many cases in the necessity of doing on this is more plain.

Gary Bisbee 18:48
Turn into politics. You of course were a two-term governor of Indiana, led OMB during the Bush administration. The presidential election is six months away. How much of a role will COVID play do you think in the presidential election?

Mitch Daniels 19:03
Well, it has to be central, but I don’t think we have any idea yet. In what way? I think there will at some stage, and it probably happens before the fall, there will be as we learn more, and people live this more, I think you’re already beginning to see a lot of questions about whether the rather absolutist approach we have taken with lockdowns and so forth was really the wisest course. And that may be more debated by far what but again, we will just have to see how the epidemiology moves as well as the economy. But if in fact, it remains the case that this is a disease that is especially or is very dangerous in certain subpopulations and not particularly dangerous elsewhere. Then I think you’ll see a lot of second-guessing some would probably, you know, in called for. But that’s what happens in elections.

Gary Bisbee 20:02
Just to make that point in a recent Washington Post commentary, you referred to HRD, which was an acronym for hindsight recrimination disorder. Can you share with us? What prompted the writing of that commentary, Mitch?

Mitch Daniels 20:15
Oh, it was just on my mind that we have such an instinct in this tribal society we’ve drifted into for people to pounce on every opportunity to castigate the other side, whoever, whichever side you’re not on. And we’re seeing it already with people who are spending more time arguing about whose fault this is, then they are trying to fix the problem. But it’s as I just suggested, it may prove easy over time to say the Swedes were the smart ones. We destroyed a lot of lives and actually cost a lot of lives by reacting as we did. I wrote the column just to say how about we all just forswear that people are doing the best they can. They’ve been dealing with inadequate information. We didn’t understand the bug to start with, in a way as well as we already do. And wouldn’t it be better to just indicate all tell ourselves right now, in whatever direction things take, let’s just stipulate to the good intentions and the best efforts of all the people who’ve been working on this now? And some of their judgments inevitably will not look smart, later. But let’s not claim that it was all because they had a hidden agenda or some special interest of their own. You know, the example I gave was the Iraq war where the decision that looked very flawed, in retrospect was built on the best intelligence available at the time. So it ought to be enough to say, those were bad decisions. How do we make sure that next time the intelligence is better than the choices made are better, but you don’t have to go around tell say that everybody was a liar when they want.

Gary Bisbee 21:56
Yeah, for sure. Well, you made an interesting point also in that same comment, I believe, which is, you wondered if the family might make a resurgence around a dinner table since everybody’s working from home?

Mitch Daniels 22:08
Well, yeah, actually, that was a separate column. But I did. I was scratching around early on this thing for things that might be positive coming out of it. And that was one that people might rediscover some of the virtues of family life, including eating at home, which was only happening about half the time in America prior to this. So I also expressed however, the hope that maybe this would bring our tribes together a little bit more and get out of some of this partisanship. That one hasn’t worked out so far. Sometimes there are silver linings and I speculated on to in that piece. Well,

Gary Bisbee 22:41
Well, if it’s not COVID. What will cool down the hyper-partisanship in Washington, Mitch?

Mitch Daniels 22:46
I wish I could tell you. Unfortunately, the data now tell us something that I hoped was not the case. What I hope was the case and there was still commentary to this effect fairly recently that there were people who were talking about an exhausted idea. The idea being that the hyper partisans, were a small percentage on either end, and they dominate the discussion. They dominate the airwaves, they dominate the primary process, which is a big issue, the process by which the two major parties select their officeholders. Unless you’re the one I used to be that it just could be that at least for now, most Americans and I think it’s more of cultural expression than, say an economic matter, have chosen to try chosen a team. And once you’re there, it’s hard to get past that, you know, I suppose one party or the other could suffer and sooner or later, we’ll take the seat and regroup in a way that created a new consensus that’s happened a few times in our history and some political scientists has forecasts that it’s going to happen again, maybe that might be the way to a broader and a little less partisan future.

Gary Bisbee 23:58
So going back to the Bullmoose Party with Roosevelt, I guess

Mitch Daniels 24:01
The collapse of the Whigs produced the Republican Party, the collapse of the Federalists produced a long era of dominance by the democrats the day so it doesn’t happen often, but it can happen.

Gary Bisbee 24:12
You made reference to 9/11. I believe you were in the White House literally that day, then 9/11 happened. Can you share with us some of your thoughts and how that they evolved?

Mitch Daniels 24:23
Well, I remember pretty well. In other situations you can look back and say, Gosh, even the minimal preparations hadn’t been made. No, I remember there was no communication system at all, or literally somebody running around going to tell everyone to leave. That was the alarm system that morning. And of course, just like this situation. In a flash, basically, all of the priorities fell away. And dealing with that issue became the dominant assignment really for everybody. I certainly spent the next month working on very little else or everything I did seemed related one way or another, to the response whether it was managing the support of the rebuilding. Oh, gosh, the compensation of the victims was a huge issue. How do you do that fairly and with some sense of fiscal restraint? How do you get the airline’s protected so they get back in business at all? Issues like that. It’s a little bit of fog thinking back, but certainly a lot of very vivid memories in there.

Gary Bisbee 25:32
One thing the COVID crisis and that crisis had in common was lack of information on uncertainty. Right when it was happening, how long did it take you to actually figure out what had happened?

Mitch Daniels 25:43
Oh, I think we did it almost instantly. Now what to do about that? It took a little while longer. And yet, if you think about it, the President had this nation in motion against the Haven harbor in Afghanistan within a couple of months at the time, and it seemed like every day was an eternity. But in fact, the response got going pretty quickly. And that was certainly true on the home front, the rebuilding front. I will say that there were lots of overreactions. And that’s only natural in a situation like this one. I remember so much as every congressman competing outbid the next one on what they could buy for so-called Homeland Security. And later on as governor, I saw a lot of, oh, I don’t know, unused gas masks of rotting away in some fireman’s trunk in rural Indiana. But excess and overreaction are I guess a natural consequence of an event is terrible.

Gary Bisbee 26:40
As a result of 911 of course, Homeland Security was created. Do you see any kind of similar response to this crisis? Perhaps a cabinet department for overseeing future health crises?

Mitch Daniels 26:53
Oh, boy, I hope not. We may have needed more PPE and advanced research in this area but what we don’t need another cabinet department. No, I think they bureaucratic machinery is there and if anything in surplus, and you know, the existing, certainly the agencies, HHS and the Department of Homeland Security that was created among them not be able to take the assignments to. So we’re better prepared next time

Gary Bisbee 27:17
Thinking about the role of a governor during a crisis like this. Several the governors are beginning to reopen their states. Now, of course, uncertain situations, the state has multiple regions, and this surge is different in each region. How difficult does it become for a governor to deal with an issue like this?

Mitch Daniels 27:37
One, of course, is difficult, and then I have a lot of sympathy for them. And I think it as a general rule, they’re doing it very well. There’s a reason that always no matter when they’re asked that people express greater confidence in their state governments and usually local governments, then the federal government. And I think that confidence has probably been justified in this experience. But you know, we dealt with things not quite this long-lasting but things very, very, very serious during my time and without assignment. Half of our state was flooded and underwater for weeks and weeks and 2008 a very devastating situation. I saw the role is that making sure the necessary resources were available. Taking down obstacles is a big part of it. You have to just pull those people who want to protect turf or assert authority that gets in the way of somebody else’s doing their job, you know, demand results and every way and measure them but also try to project some sense of calm and competence. Remember that this is what you’re hired for. You know, suddenly this certainly reminds me that between the time I was elected and sworn in, I went to one or two programs somebody had for incoming governor and I was sitting around talking to a very wise at that point, retired governor, and somebody at the table said, “What’s the one thing you would encourage us to study us on or think about that we might not otherwise,” and everybody expecting me to say,” Oh, you know, education or corrections or, or environmental policy,” something/ He immediately said crisis management. He said you’re gonna have one sometime. And you don’t want to start your homework man. And he was right.

Gary Bisbee 29:28
He was right to the point then. So what’s the governor’s most important responsibility during the crisis?

Mitch Daniels 29:34
Yeah, I think it’s the things I just talked about. You have to mobilize centralized people. It’s not usually turf protection, usually trying to do what they think they’re supposed to and every agency wants to round. So on its own thing, you get a lot of waste. You don’t centralize necessarily procurement that way, but worse, we’re still folks getting each other’s way. I still remember going to one of our worst-hit counties early on in that flood that I talked about and beginning to discover all the different needs people had food, income, temporary housing, I lost my identification, everything. And I remember saying to somebody I want every single agency, state, local or federal in one building, take the know-how about that high school gym down the street, which is actually what they use. We made the model everywhere. So that was one place and we put one person in charge so that we simplified the task for each citizen who in need. That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen naturally unless somebody cracks a whip, and that is that somebody is usually the governor,

Gary Bisbee 30:40
Peggy Noonan in a recent column suggested that politicians need to provide hope to their constituents during a crisis. How do you think about that, Mitch?

Mitch Daniels 30:49
Yes, of course. But when I said something about trying to project calm and competence and encourage people to believe that we’ll get through this, you know, I think frankly there has been again with good intentions, people thought if we don’t really drive home the dangers here, people won’t cooperate. So they effectively scared a whole nation into their homes and probably the right thing to do, at least initially. But at the same time, encouraging people to see that, like all problems ultimately, this one’s manageable. You know, another person I taken in as an old friend of mine, I read every word she writes, she’s great. Another person in that category is George Gilder and George wrote a piece about the same time rather ironically, for him. Praising politicians in Georgia as one of the most astute knowledgeable scholars of science that we have. But he pointed out and I thought this was so important that science has to inform our public decisions, but it can’t default the whole system of choice to them or to any one dimension, we hire politicians like her and the President to balance interests. That is a pretty fair definition as leaders to make wise choices, reconciling competing interests. You know, for every benefit, there is a cost. Somebody has to calculate these things and try to think about the overall public interest and survey. I think, in part because so many of our politicians have no scientific background, they, in some cases been too deferential to people whose life mission is one dimensional, God bless them for it. But that’s not the mission of the people in public office. By the way, George wrote something I think that’s pertinent to this conversation. In that piece. He said, the healthcare system is not separate from the economy, but a crucial part of the healthcare system saves lives. The economy provides everything we need to live, there are not and never will be scientific answers to all public problems. That’s where the politicians coming in or should work.

Gary Bisbee 32:59
Well said, we began our discussion talking about Purdue, which brings to mind governance as of course you’re on several boards. But how active has the Purdue board been and working through your decision to open classes in the fall?

Mitch Daniels 33:14
They’re very central to it, they have to be. You know, my view is that too many college boards have abdicated over the last decades, their full responsibility. I mean, look at the bylaws of any school, public or private, and you will always find that ultimate authority rests. None of that has been ceded or conceited over time to administrators, faculty, and others. And I think it explains many of the problems that higher ed has. So I’ve always felt the Purdue board out to be primary everything we do, we have already taken. We have three meetings scheduled in the space of a month. At the first of those they already approved the first six actions of what will ultimately be a multiple of that, that we will take and I will take all the actions and everything that we discussed earlier and more to that board for their review and I and I hope approval. You know, at the first meeting, for instance, they mandated that a change in our academic calendar, we won’t have a labor day break, we won’t have a fall break. Why? Because we don’t want people coming and going unnecessarily more avoidable to and from the campus. Possibly hastening the spread, they mandated the maximum possible testing and tracing regime they mandated standard flu vaccinations before anybody can work or study at Purdue, etc. I’ve said many, many times to audiences of influential people like those who probably listen to this podcast that if you’re on a college board or in a position of influence as a prominent alum or a donor for goodness sakes, press for reform press for more value and affordability press for changes that protect thought all these things. And if you’re not prepared to do that, let somebody else have the job. I have to believe this is true of a lot of hospitals and healthcare boards too. You have been close to enough to some of them that some love the institution so much that they don’t challenge it very often and as often as they should.

Gary Bisbee 35:20
Now, that’s great advice. So I take your board meetings have been virtual,

Mitch Daniels 35:24
Yes, is that the chairman and I were in the room at the campus and everybody else was working. I think that’ll continue, certainly through the next two. And beyond that, we’ll just play the ball where it lies.

Gary Bisbee 35:35
But one of the questions I’m asking all of the health system CEOs is any tips for how to manage a smooth virtual board meeting.

Mitch Daniels 35:44
You know, so many of us have become much more familiar with these technologies. Once again, that’s something that will not revert completely to the way it was before because in many cases, I think they’re superior I think meetings and my experience, I don’t know that yours That meetings tend to be a little tighter than they might have been in person. Not everybody feels like they have to speak to every single point. And when people do get their minutes on the screen, they tend to be a little more concise and thoughtful about what they say. So it’s very like I think, other forms of work or the instruction on our campus, not a full substitute. But some blend of virtual and traditional is probably what we’re going to have when the smoke clears.

Gary Bisbee 36:28
But back to leadership for a moment, what are the characteristics of a CEO or president of a university that will allow them to excel during a crisis?

Mitch Daniels 36:38
Oh, well, you know, I could make all the obvious points about what’s helpful, but I think that the one that may not be quite as obvious is that sometimes it can be hard for someone raised in a system in a sector, socialized to that sector a lifer, you know in higher ed or in like, possibly in Healthcare to move as aggressively decisively, as one of these situations often calls for. People are just naturally reluctant to close down the department they used to lead, to let go the person they’ve known for so long, it can just be harder for all the most human of reasons. That’s not an argument for rushing out and bringing in an outsider, it’s just to say that boards who have people who have been particularly built their whole career in a given institution or system probably have to be a little extra vigilant, a little extra, maybe aggressive themselves.

Gary Bisbee 37:37
Mitch, this has just been a terrific interview. We thank you for your time. One last question, if I could. That is you’ve lived through September 11 and were intimately involved in that. Your floods in Indiana, the Great Recession. What advice do you give us all for just balancing what we’re feeling now with this crisis and what some kind of normality might be in the future.

Mitch Daniels 38:00
If I’m imagining correctly, that sort of leadership, people who would take advantage of your podcast… be vocal about the need for some balance. About the costs that aren’t as visible as the current anecdote of someone who is victimized by this virus. I think it’s time anyway. Now for medical voices, scientific voices. I said the same thing that two counterparts from other universities the other day to speak up, again, without any criticism of choices made up to now, but to talk about where we go next, and help people to understand the dangers that that aren’t there, as well as the ones that are and understand that we will get past this but we don’t want to do too much permanent damage or unnecessary damage to people in their lives because of timidity about that transition.

Gary Bisbee 38:54
Governor, many thanks again for your time today. Just an excellent job. Thanks Mitch.

Mitch Daniels 38:58
I enjoyed it.

Gary Bisbee 38:59
This episode of fireside chat is produced by Strafire please subscribe to Fireside Chat on Apple podcasts or wherever you’re listening right now. Be sure to rate and review fireside chat so we can continue to explore key issues with innovative and dynamic healthcare leaders. In addition to subscribing and rating we have found that podcasts are known through word of mouth. We appreciate your spreading the word to friends or those who might be interested Fireside Chat is brought to you from our nation’s capital in Washington DC, where we explore the intersection of healthcare politics, financing, and delivery. For additional perspectives on health policy and leadership. Read my weekly blog Bisby’s brief. For questions and suggestions about fireside chat contact me through our website, fireside chat podcast dot com, or Gary at hm Academy dot com. Thanks for listening.