Mitch Daniels’s Academic Freedom Problem

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’s appointment earlier this year as president of Purdue University was met with enthusiasm from education reformers. One Purdue PhD student praised his leadership skills and his education budget as governor, even the cuts, saying “He didn’t do it irresponsibly. I think he did his homework and got the information he needed and did what he needed for the financial health of the state.” He would take a lower salary than his predecessor. He “asked for a salary based upon achieving his goals for the university.”

But academic administration is not all about budgets, and one element of his tenure as governor is getting troublesome. As Andy Kroll explains at Mother Jones:

According to emails obtained by the AP, Daniels as governor tried to ban the works of historian Howard Zinn from the classrooms of Indiana’s public colleges. When Zinn died in February 2010, Daniels wrote in an email: “The terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away.” Daniel described Zinn’s celebrated and widely read book A People’s History of the United States as “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.”

He’s got something of problem with Howard Zinn, the leftist scholar who taught at Boston University from 1964 to 1988.

Everyone’s entitled to his opinion, but it appears Daniels requested that his education team “ban” all Zinn writings from Indiana classrooms. He also seems to have asked for a “cleanup” of college courses to remove Zinn-like “propaganda.”

Granted, it didn’t really seem to work. The AP notes that Zinn is still assigned material in several courses in Indiana public colleges. When confronted by the Associated Press Daniels responded with what sort of sounds like an anti-Zinn rant:

“We must not falsely teach American history in our schools,” he said in a Tuesday email to the AP. “We have a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn, and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students.”

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer