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              Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels speaks with reporters during the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Slammed by profs and historians, Mitch Daniels digs in

Photo of Robby Soave
Robby Soave
Reporter

Amidst new questions from the Organization of American Historians and his own faculty, Purdue President Mitch Daniels maintained that he did nothing wrong when he criticized a left-leaning scholar during his Indiana governorship.

Daniels is accused of considering ways to prevent the works of Howard Zinn, a far left historian and activist, from being taught in classrooms. An Associated Press report claimed that Daniels discussed censoring Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” at colleges, including the one where Daniels is now president.

But Daniels only wanted to keep Zinn out of K-12 classrooms, he said.

“ 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,” he said in a statement.

If Zinn were teaching at Purdue, Daniels would absolutely defend his academic freedoms, he said.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Zinn considered himself a socialist, and said that he wanted to restore the good name of socialism during a speech he made in Madison, Wisconsin in 2009.

Purdue faculty issued a ringing defense of Howard Zinn’s work, and lambasted Daniels for insinuating that it should not be taught.

“Throughout his career Zinn was a dedicated teacher, and until his death he was a well-respected member of the American Historical Association,” wrote 90 Purdue faculty in a letter to Daniels. “To call him ‘a fraud’ and to charge that he ‘purposely falsified American history’ … reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of academic discussion.”

In a reply to the letter, Daniels refused to back down.

“I do respectfully disagree that Prof. Zinn’s work is as widely accepted or as mainstream as you portray it,” he said. “By his own avowal, it expresses his biases in what it includes and just as notably in what it omits.”

Ronald Rodosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote a column concurring with Daniels about Zinn, whose thinking about communism was proven wrong.

“If conventional wisdom turns out to be accurate, it should not be overturned,” wrote Rodash. “In the case of American communism, which… Howard Zinn believe was a force for good in the fight against the would-be oppressors, they might ask whether or not in that case, the conventional wisdom of the time turned out to be more accurate than the revisionist case made by Zinn.”

Other scholars contend that the controversy merits closer monitoring of how history and academic freedom will fare at universities under the stewardship of politicians.