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Daniels speech at conservative fundraiser raises some eyebrows at Purdue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Some faculty members at Purdue University are questioning whether Mitch Daniels violated his pledge to avoid partisan politics as the school’s president by deciding to speak at a fundraiser for a conservative Minnesota think tank.

Daniels spoke Monday in Minneapolis before supporters of the Center of the American Experiment, which promoted the speech as a review of the Republican’s eight years as Indiana governor.

The group promotes itself as backing right-to-work legislation, lower taxes and doing “nothing less than shifting Minnesota’s intellectual and political center of gravity to the right.”

Daniels’ choice to speak at the fundraiser breaks the pledge of avoiding partisan activities he made when accepting the Purdue presidency last year, English and American studies professor Bill Mullen told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1bUrFYm).

“There’s no reason the president of Purdue should be out giving public talks on lowering taxes in other states,” Mullen said. “President Daniels is still acting like a conservative Republican governor, just doing so from the platform of the presidency of Purdue.”

Shelley Triol, Purdue’s assistant vice president for external relations, said Daniels did nothing wrong with the speaking engagement.

“Mitch said he speaks to a lot of different groups,” Triol said. “On this occasion, he was asked to speak about Indiana’s fiscal transformation.”

The Center of the American Experiment event featured a $10,000 sponsorship level called “Boilermakers Row,” which included a private dinner and photo opportunity with Daniels.

Triol said neither Daniels nor Purdue gave the center permission to name the event’s highest sponsorship level after the Purdue sports nickname.

“The president said that if the event organizers had asked him about having a sponsorship level called Boilermakers Row, he would have told them not to do it,” Triol said. “He agrees with whomever questioned it.”

Purdue Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Spurgeon said he felt confident that Daniels, who was taking part Tuesday in NBC News’ Education Nation panel in New York, would make the right decisions about what speaking engagements to accept.

“I just feel very confident that he is not going to take some unusual or unique position other than the conservative positions he’s had in the past,” Spurgeon said.

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