Slammed by profs and historians, Mitch Daniels digs in

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.

“This story has had some legs to it,” said Robert Dion, chairman of the political science department at the University of Evansville, in a statement. “I think it gets to a sense of unease in the academic world about the intrusion of outside forces, whether they are corporate forces or partisan forces.”

Daniels is not the only high-profile politician whose new role at a university is generating concerns. The University of California recently hired Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a Democrat and former governor of Arizona, as its president, provoking an outcry from pro-immigrant students who objected to her use of deportations in the Obama administration. And former CIA director David Petraeus’s extremely high salary as an adjunct professor at City University of New York garnered criticism from both left-leaning professors and conservative politicians.

The Purdue board of trustees issued a strong defense of Daniels.

“The board rejects as totally misleading the original article and reaffirms its unanimous and complete support of President Daniels,” said the board in a statement.

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