News Column

Mitch Daniels Tried to Eliminate Liberal Breeding Grounds

July 19, 2013

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels pledged to promote academic freedom, not stifle it, when he became president at Purdue University in January. But emails obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Daniels took rare steps during his second term as governor to eliminate what he considered liberal breeding grounds at Indiana's public universities, requesting that historian Howard Zinn's writings be banned from classrooms and asking for a "cleanup" of college courses he called "propaganda." In another exchange, Daniels talks about cutting funding to a program run by one of his sharpest critics, Charles Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association and an Indiana university professor.

The efforts to silence voices he disagreed with as governor have raised new questions about Daniels' appointment as president of a major research university just months after critics questioned his lack of academic credentials and his hiring by a board of trustees he appointed.

Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said it's not unusual for governors or mayors to denounce art, music or popular culture. He cited Mayor Rudy Giuliani's against provocative art in New York City. But he said he couldn't find any other examples of governors censoring political opponents.

"What sets this apart is what appears to be a back-channel effort by the governor to limit access to ideas," said Paulson, who also is the dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. "Under the First Amendment, the government is prohibited from trying to suppress expression with which it disagrees."

Daniels didn't appear to share that view in a Feb. 9, 2010, email sent to top state education officials, including then- Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

"This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away," Daniels wrote, referring to Zinn. "The obits and commentaries mentioned his book 'A People's History of the United States' is the 'textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.' It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are forcefed a totally false version of our history?"

Daniels' concerns about Zinn's book punctuated a sharp, rapid- fire exchange between the governor and his top aides.

Scott Jenkins, Daniels' education adviser, was the first to respond to the governor's question about Zinn's book. He noted it was being used at an Indiana University course for teachers on the Civil Rights, Feminist and Labor movements.

It remains unclear exactly how successful Daniels was. Zinn's book is still being taught in some courses and the 2010 course singled out by Jenkins was still taught that summer.

For more stories covering politics, please see HispanicBusiness' Politics Channel

Source: Copyright Evansville Courier & Press (IN) 2013

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters