By Kevin Rader, WTHR political reporter - bio | email
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -
Purdue President Mitch Daniels says he never tried to quash academic freedom when he was governor of Indiana. He calls a report from the Associated Press unfair and erroneous others believe the story may not be quite so simple.
Daniels is taking some sharp criticism for emails he sent out in February 2010 that some have said smack of censorship. The emails concern the Howard Zinn book "A Peoples History of the United States."
One of the emails reads, "Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?"
Daniels says his only concern was that the book not be used as a textbook for kids in grades K-12. He said when he found out it wasn't, he simply dropped the matter.
Now serving as the president of Purdue University, the charge of censorship is of particular concern. He told Eyewitness News if Professor Zinn were teaching at Purdue, he would have been free to write what he wanted, but says, "this does not infer an immunity from criticism if you write rot, as Howard Zinn did, and it certainly doesn't confer an entitlement to have that falsification of history taught to your young people in public K-12 schools."
"Some of my friends thought I was being paranoid, saying we got audited again," said Charles Little, who runs the Indiana Urban Schools Association.
"I never really felt threatened. I felt these guys are serious. This is politics and they are going to check, so we are going to play by the rules, so that is where it is," Little said.
In fact, Little says his group was audited two times within a three-year period, but this was before the email was written.
"Don't want to give offense. I didn't know who he was. I didn't care then and I don't care now. I only care about the truth and true American history being taught in Hoosier classrooms," Daniels said.
"Being listed or targeted or whatever it is, that my name shows up is reminiscent of people who want to suppress discussion," Little said.
Little isn't sure how his name came up in the debate about Howard Zinn. He teaches finance for teacher development and says he has read Zinn's book and used to speak at roundtable meetings when public comment was allowed about the imbalance between capitalism and democracy.
Group calls for removal
Purdue University alumni are calling for Mitch Daniels' removal as president following the publication of emails showing he tried to silence critics in higher education and "disqualify the propaganda" at Indiana's teaching colleges while governor.
Society for an Open and Accountable Purdue spokesman Aaron Hoover said Wednesday that Daniels' emails are grounds for removal. Hoover and other alumni protested Daniels' selection for president last year by a board of trustees he appointed.
Daniels denies he ever attempted to limit speech at Indiana universities. But emails obtained by The Associated Press show he sought a "cleanup" of courses at the state's teaching colleges in 2010 as part of a quest to keep liberal historian Howard Zinn out of Indiana classrooms.
Daniels issued the following statement about the emails Wednesday afternoon: I would like to respond to a muddled and misleading article that has been in the media this week.
If the article were an accurate representation of my actions, I would be the first to agree with the many concerns I have heard.
In truth, my emails infringed on no one's academic freedom and proposed absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint. In fact, the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all.
I merely wanted to make certain that Howard Zinn's textbook, which represents a falsified version of history, was not being foisted upon our young people in Indiana's public K-12 classrooms.
No one need take my word that my concerns were well-founded. Respected scholars and communicators of all ideologies agree that the work of Howard Zinn was irredeemably slanted and unsuited for teaching to schoolchildren.
Arthur M. Schlesinger said, "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian." Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn's work as "bad history, albeit tilted with virtuous intentions" and said the book was more suited to a "conspiracy monger's website than to a work of scholarship." Reviewing the text in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced "the deranged quality of his fairy tale, in which the incidents are made to fit the legend, no matter how intractable the evidence of American history."
Stanford history education expert Sam Wineburg cautioned that exposing children to a heavily filtered and weighted interpretation such as Zinn's work is irresponsible when "we are talking about how we educate the young, those who do not yet get the interpretive game."
Many more such condemnations by persons of political viewpoints different from my own are available on request.
I want to be equally clear that if Howard Zinn had been a professor at Purdue University, I would have vigorously defended his right to publish and teach what he wanted. Academic freedom, however, does not immunize a person from criticism and certainly does not confer entitlement to have one's work inflicted upon our young people in the K-12 public school system.
As a university president, I am an unequivocal advocate of open inquiry and academic freedom, and I hope to be the strongest defender of that freedom that Purdue has ever had.
Board of Trustees statement
The Purdue University Board of Trustees also issued a statement Wednesday:
We have reviewed the recent article by the Associated Press regarding emails from then Indiana Governor and now Purdue President Mitch Daniels.
What we see is a complete misrepresentation of President Daniels' views and concerns. The exchange had nothing to do with academic freedom or censorship. Rather, it had to do with concerns over what is being taught in Indiana's K-12 public schools.
In his leadership role at Purdue University, President Daniels has stated and demonstrated his complete commitment to freedom of inquiry and has been an emphatic voice for that freedom.
The board rejects as totally misleading the original article and reaffirms its unanimous and complete support of President Daniels.