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As Purdue president announces replacement, some faculty question “secretive” selection process

Purdue faculty are raising concerns about the process with which the incoming University President was selected (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)
Purdue faculty are raising concerns about the process with which the incoming University President was selected (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Some Purdue University professors are calling the process for selecting the school’s new president “secretive” and a “disappointment.”

Last week, Purdue announced the retirement of current president Mitch Daniels at the end of 2022. His replacement, Dr. Mung Chiang, is the dean of the school’s college of engineering. In his own words, Daniels described giving candidates for the position bigger roles at the university so they could prove themselves.

During the board of trustees meeting Friday, board chair Michael Berghoff acknowledged that the board had been assessing potential candidates for years.

“We had an opportunity to observe a number of talented people in this university over the last five years,” he said. “It gave us a high degree of confidence on the selection of Mung as the follow-up to Mitch. We got to see him work, we got to see how he behaved – really a benefit to a body that is going to elect somebody that is unusual.”

In a statement released Monday, three Purdue chapters of the American Association of University Professors criticized the selection process. West Lafayette chapter president Leigh Raymond said his first reaction to the announcement was complete surprise.

“The additional reaction is a sense of alarm about the lack of any public engagement with the faculty or campus community about how such an important leadership decision was made,” he said.

Raymond said the board and Daniels should have conducted an open presidential search that allowed an opportunity for faculty input.

“Normally you would have a search committee, one that is externally and internally recognized,” he said. “The members of whom are public to the campus community, and includes representation usually of students, faculty, and other key stakeholders. There’s no evidence of that committee being formed here.”

The AAUP also pointed to a 1966 recommendation from the AAUP, American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Board of Universities and Colleges that “the selection of a chief administrative officer should follow upon a cooperative search by the governing board and the faculty.”

“None of that happened here,” Raymond said. “That’s a deviation from what we feel like are pretty longstanding norms, not just at Purdue but at universities in general that go back at least fifty years now.”

Alice Pawley, past president and current executive committee member with the West Lafayette AAUP chapter, said the hiring process fits a pattern for Purdue underneath Mitch Daniels’ leadership.

“We have an activist board and it feels increasingly arrogant,” Pawley said. “It keeps overreaching and thinking that it’s fine.”

The Purdue AAUP statement underlined that the association was not concerned about Dr. Chiang per se, but instead took issue specifically with the selection process.

The group also “expressed hope that there is a unique opportunity to improve the culture of shared governance at Purdue under the new administration.”

Pawley pointed out that Chiang is a faculty member who understands what it takes to be a professor.

“I don’t know how his [Chiang’s] expectations about how academic institutions should work will interact with a board that has become increasingly activist under a Daniels administration… in part because half of them were appointed by him,” Pawley said. “What does Dean Chiang want to do outside of the shadow of President Daniels? I think it’ll be interesting to see what that is, and what the board thinks.”

A Purdue University spokesperson did not respond to WBAA’s request for comment on the matter.