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Daniels denies trying to censor Indiana universities

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Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he never tried to quash academic freedom while serving as Indiana's governor and criticized an Associated Press report citing emails in which he opposed use of a book by historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn.

Conservative free-speech advocates rose to his defense, saying it was appropriate for Daniels to express concern about what was taught in the state's public institutions. The leader of the school's faculty senate, meanwhile, said it was too soon to say if the university's professors would conduct a review of Daniels' actions.

Emails published Tuesday by the AP show Daniels tried to ensure Zinn's book was not used in Indiana's K-12 classrooms and colleges, and that he wanted to "disqualify the propaganda" he said was being taught to teachers in training at Indiana's colleges.

In a statement posted on Purdue's website on Wednesday, Daniels said, "In truth, my emails infringed on no one's academic freedom and proposed absolutely no censorship of any person or viewpoint."

"In fact, the question I asked on one day in 2010 had nothing to do with higher education at all. 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."

The emails show, however, that Daniels ordered a "cleanup of what is credit-worthy" at Indiana's colleges after he was told Zinn's book was being used at an Indiana University summer course for teachers. And in another email unrelated to Zinn or K-12 classrooms, he discussed cutting funding for a program run by a university professor who was one of his sharpest critics.

Daniels called the AP report "unfair and erroneous" in interviews with reporters at Purdue on Wednesday, but declined to speak with the AP. Neither he nor his spokesperson replied to questions about his statement's focus on K-12 classrooms despite the emails' references to classes taught at the state's public universities.

Zinn was a historian, playwright and activist who taught political science at Boston University until retiring in 1988. His book, "A People's History of the United States," addresses American history from the viewpoint of those whose plights he said were often omitted from most history textbooks. It has been widely criticized by many conservatives and scholars and characterized by historian Eugene D. Genovese as "incoherent left-wing sloganizing."

In an email on Feb. 9, 2010, obtained by the AP through a public records request, Daniels called the book "a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page." He noted that it was widely used in high schools and colleges around the country.

His education adviser responded that the book was being used at Indiana University in a course for licensed teachers, who need such college credits to retain their license. Daniels quickly replied that the course should not be recognized for licensing teachers in Indiana.

Purdue spokeswoman Julie Rosa said Wednesday Daniels was questioning "whether the state should endorse through its regulatory approval 'professional development' training of already licensed teachers to use false history in their classrooms."

The publication of the emails sparked reaction in higher education circles, with some educators expressing alarm that a top state official would try to censor teachings.

"It is ultimately bad for democracy. No head of state should engage in any form of censorship," said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University College of Education.

Purdue alumni who opposed Daniels' selection last year renewed their call for his removal. They had earlier questioned his academic credentials and suitability for the position.

"I'm hopeful that this new information, which shows more people the side of Daniels we have always known existed, will energize people to work to have him removed," said Aaron Hoover, a spokesman for Society for an Open and Accountable Purdue and a 2008 graduate.

But some doubted the email revelation would have much impact on Daniels beyond initial discomfort because they were written long before he took over at Purdue. He was named the university's president in January after being unanimously selected by the board of trustees, most of whose members he appointed while governor. They reaffirmed their support for him on Wednesday.

"President Daniels has stated and demonstrated his complete commitment to freedom of inquiry and has been an emphatic voice for that freedom," the board said in a statement.

Robert O'Neil, former president of the University of Virginia and a leading expert on academic free speech issues, said the broader response to the emails would depend on whether such expressions by Daniels were limited to his time as governor or continued after taking over at Purdue.

"I suspect there are some Purdue faculty who would give him a pass and others who would find it censurable," O'Neil said.

David Williams, chairman of the Purdue University Senate, said he is waiting to see how the story is received before deciding to conduct any review of Daniels. He added he is confident Daniels has little power as president to quash dissenting views at the university.

"The academic side of Purdue University is controlled by the faculty. Period. End of story," Williams wrote in an email.

Daniels emails reflect his effort to change how teachers are trained in Indiana, including pushing students away from colleges of education, which conservatives nationwide argue instill liberal ideology in their students. The effort stalled somewhat after Daniels left office, but is still being pushed by his appointees to the State Board of Education.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group associated with conservative academic causes, said it was appropriate for Daniels to express concern about was taught in public institutions and to object to the use of Zinn's book, which Wood called "trashy pseudo-history."

"Faculty members make their own best judgments about what to teach and how to teach it," Wood said. "But that's not an absolute principle. They have to recognize that that academic freedom they enjoy comes with responsibilities."

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  • Smoking out daniels
    You can smoke daniels out, by asking; Is ‘embryonic stem cell research’ being conducted at Purdue? Yes – has funding changed since Daniels? No – why not? Would daniels allow it?
  • Does it suprise you
    Does this suprise either the people who love him or have strong resentment for him? Not me - I never much cared for him, but one thing for sure is he should let qualified people decide that kind of stuff. Becasue taht is waht a good leader does - listens, then makes a educated decision....... Again I knew of his work when he did his decision making on the IPL retirement $$. Wish we ahd the same info he did then and we could of made more prudetn decisions........ your man Mitch!
  • Not left leaning at all, but this is wrong
    Ted's comments are completely laughable...Gov. Daniels is a voracious reader who shares a must read list every year, please...what makes his list any better than the Professor who taught Zinn?...aboslutlely nothing Ted, except that you agree with him ideologically...because you are good with Daniels, his list is good and the Professor's is not, pure and simple...you have presented yourself as a conservative backer of Daniels when you are not conservative at all...you also want ideas and theories you don't agree with banned...real conservatives want the actual Bill of Rights to be observed, and the free expression of ideas allowed, whether we agree with them or not. I thought Daniels overall was a pretty good Governor but he was way out of bounds here...he is advocating censorship...completely inappropriate for someone in his position...I get so sick of politicians who want to tell us what to think and what we can read and have access to...do your job...create jobs, stimulate the economy, and get out of people's personal lives...our personal freedom, and the pain of having to sort through the morass of ideas we don't agree with to find our personal truth is an individual's right and responsibility for livng in a republic...no one was ever hurt simply by an idea that was expressed...same argument the gun lobby makes all the time, "guns don't kill people, people do"...ideas and books don't kill people...
  • Look at ALL textbooks
    If Daniels is concerned about the content of textbooks for K-12 students, he also needs to take a look at the religion-based textbooks (by A Beka and Bob Jones, for starters) used by schools funded with Indiana taxpayer money via vouchers. The outrageous stuff presented in these textbooks would be laughable if they weren't in use by so many schools. I pity the kids learning this stuff.
  • Vinnie Misinformed
    Obviously Vinnie does not know of which he speaks. Former Governor Daniels is a voracious reader on a wide variety of subjects and viewpoints, having shared a list of must read works each year at year-end. Vinnie is sadly examplar of the close-minded nature of left-leaning ideologues who fall back on sloganeering and personal insult, much as the purported author of the garbage with Vinnie either hasn't read or swallowed whole. Zinn is fully entitled to wallow in his ignorance and intolerance and write or speak whatever he chooses, but is not entitled to have it force fed as assigned reading to be purchased by the students who participated in the class in question. Doubtless the "educator" who taught the course assembled a similarly ideologically driven reading list.
  • National Media
    This is what happens when the National Level Media gets just enough information and try to make a story out of it! Sounds like mis-information and mis-interpretation as usual. The 21st Century Liberal mindset appears to remain operating to justify their predetermined causes, without hearing the facts first! Mitch's comment was for the K12 teaching, not the college level. Maybe the Trevon protestors can also work on this one for their attention seeking?
  • We want true History
    If you don't get the true History of our Country,how do you know where our country going?? I think Micth was right on. Why would anyone want to teach a lie to our children??? There is a place for art and it isn't in our History books of our country.
  • Has Daniels even read "Peoples History"?
    I would doubt that Daniels even read Zinn's "People's History" and was only told that the book was a left-wing bit of propaganda. In addition, I would also bet that Daniels could not name a single inaccuracy in the book off the top of his head even though he claims the book had falsehoods ON EVERY PAGE. Sadly, this is Indiana and Mitch is untouchable. Purdue must be so proud to have a man of Daniels intellectual heft at the helm.
  • Missed the main story IBJ!
    I want to know about the comment regarding the Professor he targeted." In another exchange, the Republican talks about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics." The Zinn discussion seems the least important of the 2 issues.

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  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............

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