Follow The Republic:
MITCH Daniels called to express some concerns about a column I’d written about him, the late Howard Zinn and academic freedom.
Daniels, former Indiana governor and current Purdue University president, told me that the stories about an email exchange between him and his education advisers, have been misrepresented. The emails questioned whether Indiana students should be taught Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” In the column, I criticized Daniels for attempting to squelch free speech.
As we talked, I told him I’d listen to him and then write another column that simply expresses his point of view.
He said that suppressing the free expression of ideas on college campuses was the furthest thing from his mind. He said that, in the emails, he merely wanted to be certain that Zinn’s book wasn’t being taught in Indiana middle-school classrooms.
It wasn’t appropriate, he said, for eighth-graders to read and that’s what he wanted to stop if it were happening.
His commitment to free speech and academic freedom on college campuses, he said, is pretty close to absolute.
Daniels said that his commitment to academic freedom was the reason he invited Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to Purdue’s campus this spring. FIRE defends free expression rights for faculty and students on American campuses.
Daniels added that, if Howard Zinn still were alive and a Purdue faculty member, Daniels would defend to the end Zinn’s right to believe, say, write and teach what he wants.
That does not mean, he says, that he believes that Zinn was a good historian.
He began to list the many ways he finds Zinn’s work to be in error.
Daniels notes that Zinn’s work does not include mentions of the battle of Gettysburg, the Gettysburg Address, Washington’s Farewell Address, Appomattox, the Treaty of Versailles or historical figures such as U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee or George Patton.
Daniels said that Zinn’s work, though, does feature passages that charge the Founding Fathers with favoring a strong central government in order to protect the interests of the wealthy and Bill Clinton with emphasizing crime prevention, welfare reform and foreign policy as to distract attention from “the failures of the American system.”
Daniels said that if Zinn were a member of the Purdue faculty, he would defend Zinn’s right to say or write what he wants.
Daniels said that he normally lets stories critical of his performance as governor slide by without comment.
This story, though, is different for two reasons, he says.
The first is the stories’ implied argument that he supports censorship.
“Once that gets out there,” Daniels says, “it stays forever, even if it’s not fair.”
The second reason is that this controversy affects more than just his reputation.
“It reflects upon Purdue,” Daniels says. “And the university has done nothing to deserve that.”
Mitch Daniels closed the conversation by saying that he appreciates the chance to be heard — and then turned to his next duty as Purdue University’s president.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
Note: All comments left on our sites are first reviewed by an automated comment moderation system. Your comment may take up to 5 minutes to appear. If for any reason your comment can not be approved you will receive an email from this system with a detailed explanation.
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.