The Saga Continues…..

A representative of an organization I had never previously heard of–despite 15+ years in the ‘groves of academe’ –has mounted a robust defense of Mitch Daniels’ censorship efforts.According to Google, The National Institute of Scholars “was founded to bring together conservatives in academia to fight the “liberal bias” on college and university campuses and to target multiculturalism and affirmative-action policies.”

Titled “Mitch Daniels was Right,” it was an apologist’s spin on the emails, taking considerable liberties with the characterization of their contents. But inaccuracies are almost beside the point. These “scholars” spend their time attacking the value of Howard Zinn’s work–a focus that demonstrates an utter obliviousness to the issue.

Let’s be clear. Daniels was perfectly within his rights to express his opinion of Zinn (who, incidentally, had been critical of Daniels’ tenure as Budget Director, although surely that had nothing to do with Daniels animus..). The Governor was NOT within his rights to dictate what can and  cannot be taught in public school or university classrooms, and certainly not within his rights to try to cut off funding for a respected academic program because the scholar in charge of that program had been critical of his education policies. He can criticize, he can generate a conversation with the appropriate people if he feels strongly enough that something does not belong in the classroom, but he is not the “decision-maker,” to appropriate a term favored by the President he last served.

There is a huge difference between a scholarly consensus that–for example–creationism isn’t science, or that the work of a particular historian is too error-ridden to merit inclusion in the classroom, and having an elected official, a government actor, dictate what scholars may teach. That’s why the merits  of Zinn’s work are ultimately beside the point. The question is, as I said in my previous post, WHO DECIDES?

If academic freedom means anything, it means that scholars make these decisions free of government interference. I get to be horrified when a creationist is given a science classroom because there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that says creationism isn’t science. I get to sound the alarm when someone teaches that the Holocaust never occurred, because historians of every ideology overwhelmingly acknowledge that it did. If Daniels was entitled to dictate what constitutes acceptable history or “good” science, we would soon find ourselves in a world where Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachmann are making decisions that should be made by the scholars in those disciplines.

It is noteworthy that even several scholars whom Daniels cited in his defense of his position on Zinn–scholars he claims supported his views–have weighed in to oppose him.

Michael Kammen disagreed with Daniels’ belief that Zinn “intentionally falsified” his work. While Kammen might not recommend the use of Zinn’s book in schools today, it is “only because it was written 35 years ago and there are now more balanced and judicious treatments of the US survey.” Kammen also rejected Daniels’ view about banning Zinn’s work from professional development classes for teachers: “I think that some teachers might need to know about its emphases because when Zinn wrote the US history textbooks omitted a great deal. Although it is not a great book, it remains a kind of historiographical landmark.  Teachers should at least be aware of it.” And Kammen emphatically opposed the idea of politicians deciding what books should be used in schools rather than historians and teachers: “Absolutely not!”

As John K. Wilson wrote on the Academe blog of the AAUP,

Of course, these critics of Zinn don’t necessarily represent a historical consensus about his work. There are many historians and educators who praise Zinn’s book. But there’s a big difference between academic criticism of a historian’s work, and a desire to see politicians banning him from the classroom. There are plenty of thinkers whom I strongly condemn, such as David Horowitz, but I don’t want to see him banned from classrooms. In fact, I’ve taught his work in my own classes.

No one objects to the fact that Daniels criticized Zinn’s work. Daniels’ attack on Zinn is so purely political (“anti-American”), so dishonest (“purposely falsified”), and so stupid (“phrenology”) that it raises serious questions about Daniels’ ability to do or even understand academic work.

But what’s most objectionable about Daniels is his desire to censor to Zinn’s work. And contrary to what he believes, that effort to censor teaching Zinn’s book is not supported, not even by the historians Daniels cites to justify what he did.

By focusing their arguments on the merits or errors of Zinn’s work, Daniels’ defenders not only miss the point: they reinforce the perception that Daniels does not belong at a major university.



  1. The photo of Daniels in full University Presidential regalia which accompanied his rebuttal to the original article regarding his texts calling for the removal of Zinn’s teachings, was his way of laughing at his detractors, giving us the finger and it was all topped off by receiving that bonus for his work above and beyond at Purdue in only six months. Right now he is on top of the pile; but it is a tenuous pile built on his political history in this state. Remember it took a long time to topple Nixon from his lofty perch; it also took a few years for the true Goldsmith to be revealed and fall from favor. Daniels admitted early in his first term that Goldsmith was one of his top advisors and the Goldsmith administration was a microcosm of the Nixon administration. This is essentially who those trustees are trusting and rewarding. Who was it who so wisely said, “Be nice to the little people on your way up because you are going to pass them on your way down.”? The higher he goes, the further he has to fall and all we can do is wait till he takes that one step too far and falls ass over teakettle to the bottom of that pile of smelly brown stuff his career is built on. Sheila’s articles and information from his other detractors will help bring him down – eventually. But; how much damage will he be allowed to do at Purdue with his appointees backing his every move, forgetting that their job is to guide and protect young minds who come there to learn and prepare themselves to become future leaders?

  2. I noticed that Wish TV-8 referred to the book as propaganda. (Fri 10PM & 11PM) I wrote to them about that but no response. Now our CBS station is spreading the disinformation. Yuck

  3. I wrote to WISH TV-8 last year after they published time and time again the disappearance of Lauren Speirer but never mentioned the young black man, Morgan Johnson, who disappeared around the same time after the initial reports. I do grieve for the Speirer family and their loss but, their money keeps Lauren’s name before the public repeatedly. Well; Morgan’s body was found in his submerged car on Friday, this was reported along with the reminder of Lauren’s disappearance. They couldn’t even give this young man the respect of concentrating on reporting his death as news, after ignoring his disappearance. Morgan’s family can now bury their child and try to find solace in this. I do wonder about CBS priorities politically and racially. Referring to the Zinn book as propaganda is supporting Daniels as they have done for the past 8 years.

  4. Mitch Daniels should be embarrassed. It would be a simple thing for him to say plainly. — I’m a conservative, I supported conservative causes and promulgated conservative ideas while in the political arena. I have a personal as well as political opinion. I expressed it but it came to nought. My role as University President, and at Purdue is completely different. I will honor the tradition of this institution. — Perhaps he feels he cannot be that honest but frankly, he’s already got the job. He’s get less criticism if he’d own his errency, state his current intention and quit trying to spin it. That’s a political skill misplaced, dishonorable in the current context.

  5. There are no materials that are “without sin”. None are perfect, and sometimes teachers take advantage of that fact, using Mao’s Little Book, Mein Kampf, racist tracts, screwy theological documents, etc. Sometimes the best essays for classroom use are the worst ones. They become the “teachable moments”, sometimes and especially when they are are mixture of the best and not so good. Zinn’s book, as all excellent educational experiences, causes people to argue, squirm, lose sleep and struggle, and when used in the context of a carefully constructed curriculum, it’s even better. A good teacher doesn’t teach a book, one teaches one’s self, one’s insights and one’s accumulated wisdom about a subject. Teaching is not so much the conveyance of literal revealed truth as it communicates a certain level of thoughtful uncertainty. That is what a “professor” does. Socrates did that brilliantly, which made him a very popular as well as very unpopular teacher, and, as with Zinn, the politicians happened to be among the latter group. If Daniels, or his advocates, do not appreciate that and what it means for our republic, and the teachers and students of this world do not stand against it, we are all in trouble, because we are faced with a revolution very different from the one that brought us into being.

  6. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that a willingness to censor the views of others reflects a lack of self-confidence and is the hallmark of authoritarianism. Attempts to put a positive spin on Mitch Daniels’ email messages by arguing about U.S. history fails to acknowledge the problem revealed by his words: not his private distaste for the opinions of a particular author, which is unsurprising, but his political willingness to prevent Indiana students from reading that author’s works, which is unconstitutional. Through their failure to recognize and reject the governor’s intent to censor, the Purdue trustees have undermined the university’s responsibility and reputation for teaching.

  7. Let me get this straight: So the purpose of the National Institute of Scholars is to fight the “goal” of the “liberal bias”, to compromise the integrity and purpose of education, by compromising their own integrity? Meanwhile, Mitch Daniels fought the “liberal bias”, “saving” the country by violating his oath to uphold the Constitution by engaging in something unconstitutional? Then by upholding Mitch’s attempt to undermine the Constitution, the Purdue Board of Trustees undermines the university’s responsibility and reputation for teaching? Doesn’t someone lose in this game? Is this something we have to watch for–any old means as long as long as they reach the goal, integrity notwithstanding?

  8. Might “help” if said “representative first created some kind of internet presence for himself. Nothing on the internet called “The National Institute of Scholars” that I could see this morning.
    Probably just some wannabe in Florida (or the like) who is trying to ingratiate himself with the Republican powers-that-be. “Scholar”? Bah, Humbug.

  9. If you google it, you’ll find references to it. It’s a small group of right-wing academics (ironic, since they claim there aren’t any rightwing academics).

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