Mitch’s VERY Bad Day

Let’s talk about censorship and academic freedom and Mitch Daniels‘ desire to use the power of government to protect unsuspecting students from “wrong” ideas being foisted on them by books with which he disagreed.

There is no principle more basic to the academy and to the American constitutional system than the principle that forbids such behavior.

The Founders did not minimize the danger of bad ideas; they believed, however, that empowering government to suppress “dangerous” or “offensive” ideas would be far more dangerous than the expression of those ideas—that once we hand over to the state the authority to decide which ideas have value, no ideas are safe.

As Justice Jackson so eloquently opined in Barnette v. West Virginia Board of Education, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion…”

In these United States, We the People get to decide for ourselves what books we read, what websites we visit, what videos we watch, what ideas we entertain, free of government interference. Your mother can censor you, and in certain situations your boss can censor you–but not your Governor.

Academic freedom is the application of that foundational principle to institutions of higher education.Free intellectual inquiry is an absolutely essential ingredient of genuine education (albeit not so central to job training, with which Mitch often seems to confuse it). Education  requires the freedom to examine any and all ideas, to determine which are good and which not so good. It also requires that we protect scholars who come to unpopular conclusions or hold unpopular views from reprisals (that protection is the purpose of tenure).

Some citizens will make poor choices of reading materials or ideologies. Some Professors will embrace perspectives that disturb or offend students and Governors. Despite hysterical rhetoric from the Right, the percentage of college professors who use their classrooms to propagandize is vanishingly small, but just as putting up with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their clones is the price liberals pay for free speech, and putting up with the likes of me is the price conservatives pay, putting up with the occasional academic ideologue is a small price to pay for intellectual freedom.

The search for truth requires that we examine contending ideas, but it does not require the sort of artificial “balance” that ignores scholarly integrity in order to teach creationism in a science class, or that the holocaust never happened in a history class.  As a statement from the AAU put it some years back,

Self-appointed political critics of the academy have presented equal representation for conservative and progressive points of views as the key to quality. But the college classroom is not a talk show.  Rather, it is a dedicated context in which students and teachers seriously engage difficult and contested questions with the goal of reaching beyond differing viewpoints to a critical evaluation of the relative claims of different positions. Central to the educational aims and spirit of academic freedom, diversity of perspectives is a means to an end in higher education, not an end in itself. Including diversity is a step in the larger quest for new understanding and insight. But an overemphasis on diversity of perspectives as an end in itself threatens to distort the larger responsibilitiesof intellectual work in the academy.

So what are we to make of the disclosure that, while Governor, Mitch Daniels tried to use the power of that position to ensure that teachers and professors did not use a book of which he disapproved, and that he tried to cut funding for a professor who had criticized  his policies?

The emails display a breathtaking arrogance, ruthless partisanship, and an autocratic mindset. But most of all–and most troubling, given his current position–they display an absolute ignorance of, and disregard for, the essential purpose  and nature of the academy.

Howard Zinn was a reputable if controversial historian. Much of what he wrote was a valuable corrective to the histories of his era; some was oversimplified twaddle. But opinions about the value of his–or any–book are beside the point.  The question is “who decides what books are used in the classroom,” and the answer is not “the governor”. Government functionaries do not get to decide what scholarship is acceptable for classroom use or debate, and elected officials absolutely and emphatically do not get to retaliate against critics by cutting their funding or getting them fired.

I think I was most struck by the unintended irony of Daniels’ emails. He rants about indoctrination while trying to control what students read and see. (I guess it’s only propaganda when its done by someone with whom you disagree.) A Governor who talked endlessly about “limited government” and “freedom” when he was pushing his economic agenda evidently had a very different approach to the marketplace of ideas. (It’s sort of like those “family values” guys who frequent prostitutes and play footsie in airport restrooms.)

Bottom line: the politician as hypocrite and wanna-be autocrat are one thing.

Allowing someone who is so clearly contemptuous of the very purpose of education to lead a great university is an absolute travesty.


  1. Well, when you believe that education is training people what to think, and that what they think should conform to simply ideology, this is what you get. If you believe that education is confronting people with ideas and teaching them how to think, things get more complicated, but that’s education. Like the guy says, “Education is proceeding from cocksure ignorance to thoughtful uncertainty”. So now, people have to proceed with the romantic illusion of Mitch as ideological angel to Mitch the something else.

    Why is it that I believe that this nonsense is only the tip of the iceberg?

  2. Stuart; you believe this is the tip of the iceberg because you have been paying attention the past 8 years. Don’t stop now; I’m sure we are in store for more “suprises” about Daniels to be uncovered…poor Purdue.

  3. I would be shocked if Daniels had ever read Zinn, which he decried as an “anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.” Even more shocked if Tony Bennett had read it, as Zinn uses several very large words.

  4. The comment from the president of the faculty was revealing. He might as well have simply said, “He better not mess with us, because we run it”.

    Too bad there wasn’t a true uproar over his abominable ethics in getting the job. He would have been tarred and feathered at I.U.

    In any case, Mitch is now getting the press he has so richly deserved.

  5. I found the exact quote and the source I just mentioned. The article was by Tom LoBianco in station WRTV (cited by Doug Masson). The quote was from J. Paul Robinson, former chairman of the Purdue Senate:
    “Even though I think that the administrators have grown very powerful at Purdue over the years, the faculty still are the ones that establish the academic standards and the curricula — and we are not easily moved,” Robinson said. “Mitch knows this, and I am pretty sure he respects it — even more now that he is here than when he was outside.”

    Sounds like a “better not try it here” comment to me.

  6. I think the alumni of Purdue will rise up and make sure this President is replaced and pronto. He’s a disgrace to that fine institution that the world knows graduates some of the best in their fields.

    Frankly, I would love to see Daniels disgraced and I’ll be rooting for those alumni that scream the loudest.

  7. I find it particularly interesting the Daniels is concerned with “propaganda” in an academic environment but has no trouble signing the bill that requires doctors to lie to their patients here in Indiana.

  8. I think this is an area in which paradox is the rule rather than the exception, and while politics is rife with that, this reaches a level of hypocrisy in which they take a loud vocal moral stand and then engage in some dubious behavior.

  9. Gov. Daniels is now trying to make distinctions between higher ed. and K-12, but his original comments show disdain for educators at both levels.

    I am concerned that his attack on Charles Little’s organization (urban schools) and David Shane’s comments are getting so little copy. Thank you Sheila for calling attention to the attack on
    Chuck Little (a career educator) and the organization which advocates for urban students and schools.

    But David Shane is still sitting on the State Board of Education and making policy for ALL public and charter schools, ALL private schools which accept vouchers, AND ALL teacher preparation and licensing programs in Indiana. He is in a position to be much more dangerous (and hidden) than Mitch Daniels.

    Shane’s comments about educators could hardly be more offensive, but they also revealed his eagerness to get his hands dirty in the business of censorship and retribution against educators.

    If that’s the way Dave Shane feels and does business, it would be understandable if Governor Pence replaced Shane with someone who demonstrated “Christian” values more in keeping with those espoused by the new Governor.

  10. Both sides represent an abyss into which we don’t want education to fall. It’s like the tightrope walker trying decide whether to fall on one side or the other. They both lead to destruction.

  11. “and elected officials absolutely and emphatically do not get to retaliate against critics by cutting their funding or getting them fired.”

    Welcome to the American Taliban, or as we know them…the republican party.
    I’m guessing Daniels looks forward to the day the Flintstones cartoons replace all those nasty documentaries in schools about the dinosaurs and the age of our planet. In a few generations we will see them worshiping Fred and Wilma along with their existing deity.

    Education is the enemy of the Republican Taliban as well as an informed voter.

  12. Professor, lol, a week ago you were calling for the censorship of a Ball State faculty member, COME ON!

    Seriously, have you read Zinn’s stuff? It’s generally riddled with unverified secondary sources, there’s always an over-the-top theme, and even his most popular works are critically panned.

    I went to a politically agnostic school system, and we had a lot of this “alternative” history. I was taught we didn’t HAVE to drop nukes in WW2 (extremely untrue), the initial Rodney King verdict was all about race (ditto), and so on. You can call it alternative or revisionist or whatever you want, it’s still agenda driven and it’s still wrong.

    Again, you’re in academia, how in the living heck can you justify calling for censorship of somebody with whom you disagree one day and then belittle Mitch Daniels for the same thing a few days later? The height of hypocrisy…

  13. Marco,

    The two things are totally different and it seems you enjoy comparing apples to elephants. The Ball State issue stemmed from them hiring a SCIENCE teacher (physics/astronomy) who promotes RELIGION (intelligent design). By all means this would have been ok, if this was a religious studies class, but we are talking about a science course here. Not only science, but physics, in which gravity and the beginning of life derive their origins (see Einsteins theory of general relativity/the Big Bang). As professor Kennedy notes in her earlier column, all courts that have ruled on intelligent design deem it religion not to be taught in public science courses.

    As for Mitch, he wanted to ban the book in a summer class for teachers who were getting re-certified. Though the book is questionable at some points, it does offer a view of history that is glossed over in most standard textbooks (I’ve read a few chapters, and one particularly good one is the exploitation of labor and government/industry corruption during the Industrial Revolution). This point was made in the column above.

    Again, two completely different points here.

  14. “I was taught we didn’t HAVE to drop nukes in WW2 (extremely untrue)”

    I agree with this whole heartily having a Navy WW II veteran Uncle who drove a Landing Craft during the Island hopping campaign against the Japanese empire (remember, they thought their Emperor a God).
    The stories he told of landing craft being blown out of the water to his left and right around him causing him and the Marines he carried to be covered with blood and brain matter of their fellow Marines before they even entered the fight…were shocking to a young mind.
    Near the end the Japanese citizens were being trained to fight to the death against the US invaders…and the estimated US causalities reached a million.

    Two bombs from 30,000 feet and it ended…and apparently the only thing religious fanatics understand. If they can’t bleed their enemy without sustaining heave losses to their leaders themselves…they’ll quit !

  15. “how in the living heck can you justify calling for censorship of somebody with whom you disagree one day and then belittle Mitch Daniels for the same thing a few days later? The height of hypocrisy…”

    The big picture is violation of Church and State and how it is applied to education.
    1) The Ball State Professor is seen as bringing religious beliefs to public education that is sustained with gov tax funds.
    2) Daniels wishes to suppress anyone that doesn’t agree with his flavor of religion within education.

    Both are violations of church and state.

  16. So much for faculty or alumni having any say in what goes on at Purdue; I just copied and past the information below from a Star article on Facebook.

    Despite recent reports that Mitch Daniels tried to censor academic texts while he was governor, Purdue University trustees voted today to give him extra pay, saying he “exceeded expectations” during his first six months as the university’s president. Do you think Daniels deserves more money?

  17. The trustees at Purdue have set no written goals for Daniels to achieve. How then could he have “exceeded expectations”? Daniels appointed eight out of ten trustees who were, as we now can surmise, appointed for the purpose of naming him president. These same trustees then gave him a performance bonus, as this is also what they were apparently appointed for. The lesson we can take from this? Mitch Daniels always gets what he wants. Always.

  18. “Mitch Daniels always gets what he wants. Always.”

    …and apparently what he wants is greed related…the good christian that he is, like all I’ve ever meet, money drives their ambition and NOT the good of mankind.

Comments are closed.