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What Mitch Daniels–and Purdue’s Trustees–Don’t Understand about Censorship

Yesterday, I posted about Mitch Daniels’ disturbing attacks as governor on the teaching of Howard Zinn’s books. Daniels and the Purdue University Board of Trustees have issued statements (reprinted below).

In his statement, Daniels claims that “my emails infringed on no one’s academic freedom and proposed absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint.” It is simply ridiculous for anyone to claim that a governor who demands that a book by Howard Zinn must not be taught in any public school in the state is engaged in “absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint.” Of course that’s censorship. That’s the quintessential definition of censorship. Indeed, the only defense Daniels could make is that because Zinn wasn’t being taught in schools, Daniels’ demand for censorship had little effect. But he certainly proposed censorship of Zinn’s work by political authorities, and he continues to justify doing so.

According to the Purdue Board of Trustees, “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.”

Mitch Daniels has been president of Purdue University for six months, so he’s barely had time to do anything on campus, beneficial or malicious. His attack on Howard Zinn didn’t occur until after he was governor for five years, and we only learned about it three years later due to the luck of the Associated Press getting hold of secret emails. But we do know about one way that Daniels is not an emphatic voice for freedom of inquiry, and that is in the continued defense of his indefensible actions as governor toward scholars and teachers who like Zinn’s book.

Sadly, the Board of Trustees is guilty of the very same defense of Daniels’ attacks on freedom of inquiry: “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.”

Here the Board is simply being disingenuous. Obviously, the governor of a state ordering a review to ensure that a book by Howard Zinn is not being taught in any public schools is, in fact, an act of censorship. Now, you can argue it has nothing to do with academic freedom, but only if you believe that K-12 teachers have no academic freedom, and if you believe that the college professors who teach K-12 instructors have no academic freedom. If that’s what Mitch Daniels and the Purdue University trustees believe, then it is extremely disturbing.

Here’s the full statement from Mitch Daniels as well as the Purdue University Board of Trustees:

A Statement from President Daniels
July 17, 2013

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 described 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 criticized “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.
A Statement from the Board of Trustees
July 17, 2013

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.

About John K. Wilson

Author of "Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies."

4 comments on “What Mitch Daniels–and Purdue’s Trustees–Don’t Understand about Censorship

  1. Purdue Watchdog
    July 18, 2013

    Purdue Alums are calling for the removal of University President, Mitch Daniels (VIDEO) http://www.indianasnewscenter.com/news/local/Purdue-President-Denies-Censorship-Allegations-215993481.html

  2. Purdue Watchdog
    July 18, 2013

    State representative seeks Mitch Daniels’ resignation over emails as Purdue Trustee’s considering giving him a raise at Friday meeting

    http://www.jconline.com/viewart/20130718/NEWS0501/307180018/Ind-rep-seeks-Daniels-resignation-over-emails

  3. Purdue Watchdog
    July 18, 2013

    The Journal Courier & other media have been asking Purdue for specific performance metrics for Mitch Daniels for 18 months to no avail, yet tomorrow the Trustee’s consider giving him a performance based pay boost anyway.

    http://www.indystar.com/article/20130718/NEWS04/307180093/Purdue-consider-performance-based-pay-boost-Mitch-Daniels

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2013 by in academic freedom and tagged , , , .
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