With the departure of France Cordova and about six months until Governor Mitch Daniels becomes president, the university is without a permanent leader. For the interim, Provost Tim Sands will serve as acting president – a first for Purdue.
Sands is no stranger to the university. He joined Purdue a decade ago as the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering in the school of materials engineering, and electrical and computer engineering. Sands also served as director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Discovery Park.
The board of trustees approved his appointment as provost in April, 2010, and those same people have put the university in his hands until January.
“I didn’t understand the full implications of what might be coming forward when I was first approached about whether I would consider doing something like that," said Sands. "I thought about it and said, 'Sure.'
"The idea from my perspective was I should be prepared, and I was happy to be asked, to do whatever it takes to manage through the transition. I was happy to do it.”
But Sands said there was some concern on his part about what was coming next. At the time he was approached about being acting president, he didn’t know Governor Mitch Daniels was the leading contender for the permanent job.
“So, at the time I first started thinking about it, I didn’t know what the plan was. I didn’t know whether it was for a week, six-months or a year. There were some questions," Sands recalls. "But I’m thrilled to be asked. Should be an interesting experience, and it already has been.”
In the past few weeks since Daniels was appointed, and there was confirmation that an acting president was coming, Sands said the focus has been on how to prepare the governor to lead the university.
“My transition is pretty straight forward. I’ve been in Hovde Hall now for a little over two years. I know the people. I know the people upstairs in the president’s office and I’m fairly familiar with the operation of the president’s office. It’s going to be a very smooth transition, I think. I expect everything will go quite well.”
An acting provost will help with the transition. Vic Lechtenberg will serve in that role, one he’s familiar with after being a vice provost and interim provost before Sands was appointed to the post. Lechtenberg came to Purdue in 1971 and his support, in Sands words, is essential.
“He knows Purdue. He knows the state extremely well. He’s familiar with all of our colleges. He understands the land grant mission, the research mission. Everybody knows him, so I’m very fortunate that he was willing to do that.”
After consulting with many people, Sands chose Lechtenberg for a specific reason. He wants to keep the university’s momentum going forward.
“We have a lot of projects that we’ve started over the last couple of years – the decadal funding plan, the outcomes-based core curriculum under construction, the honors college, we have a lot of momentum in research and engagement. It would be a shame to say, ‘OK, let’s just hold steady for six months.’ With Vic in this office and with the continuity because of my familiarity with the university and all of our deans and vice provosts onboard, I really don’t think we’re going to skip a step.”
In addition to running the university, Sands and other administrators will be meeting with Governor Daniels, getting him up to speed on the role of Purdue’s president.
“One of the things I’ve discussed with him and I think we both have the same perspective on it. This six month period is actually a blessing from many perspectives. It gives him time to become familiar with Purdue so that in January it’s not a shock. It also gives Purdue time to get ready for him. I really think that is the way it should be done. We’re known for gracefully transitions in athletics and I think it’s similar here. We’re going to make this as smooth and graceful as we can.”
Sands says there are concerns, as there would be with any transition. However, he says there is more excitement over a new president who is curious about the university, its students and faculty, who wants to learn about them and wants to enhance Purdue’s reputation.
Sands says he plans to return to the provost’s office in January with a new insight he thinks will only serve Daniels and the university better.