INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dozens of Purdue University
professors questioned their new school president's commitment to
academic freedom Monday following the release of emails showing that as
governor Mitch Daniels tried to keep a liberal historian's textbook out
of Indiana classrooms.
Ninety professors signed the open letter to Daniels, saying they were
more troubled by his continued criticism of Howard Zinn's writings since
becoming Purdue's president than they were by the emails he sent as
governor more than three years ago.
"However much we disagree with your past statements, we are more
troubled by the fact that you continue to express these views today,
especially since you are now speaking as the chief representative of
Purdue University with the responsibility to embody the best of academic
inquiry and exchange," the professors wrote.
Daniels' efforts to keep Zinn's "A People's History of the United
States" out of the hands of K-12 students and educators has created a
firestorm in academic circles since The Associated Press last week
published emails in which he urged advisers to "disqualify the
propaganda" from teacher training courses. He also called Zinn's book "a
truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates
American history on every page."
In his letter, Daniels said, "I have never made any suggestion that any
university cease teaching whatever its faculty pleases, or cease using
any book." The emails, however, show that after Daniels was told Zinn's
book was being used at Indiana University in a professional development
course for existing teachers, he replied, "This crap should not be
accepted for any credit by the state" and he then signed off on a
suggestion that officials review such courses across the state.
A Republican fundraiser and state Board of Education member then
suggested a review of all teacher preparation programs at Indiana's
universities, and Daniels quickly signed off on it.
"Go for it," Daniels wrote. "Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if
there is any) the more useful offerings. Don't the ed schools have at
least some substantive PD (professional development) courseware to
upgrade knowledge of math, science, etc."
He has continued to defend his emails, issuing a statement last week
reiterating his argument that Zinn's work distorts history and quoting
numerous scholars who also have spoken against it.
The 90 professors represent only about 5 percent of Purdue's nearly
1,800 faculty members, but the letter was only circulated among liberal
arts colleges. Purdue's Board of Trustees, most of whose members were
appointed by Daniels while he was governor, reaffirmed its support for
him last week. The University Senate has not taken a position on the
The former Indiana governor responded to their concerns Monday with many
of the same arguments he made last week, saying his objections only
dealt with K-12 schools.
"Protecting the educational standards of middle schoolers, to me an
important duty of any governor, has nothing to do with protecting
against encroachments of academic freedom in higher education, a
similarly central duty of any university president. I have and will
attend to the latter duty with the same resoluteness I tried to bring to
the former," Daniels wrote.
He also added a new charge, that Zinn undercut the foundation of
scientific inquiry and research in an article titled "The Uses of
Daniels has come under fire at Purdue before. Some faculty expressed
skepticism last year that a non-academic would be an ardent supporter of
higher education. But concerns had quieted down as Daniels met with
faculty and listened to their concerns.
Kristina Bross, a Purdue English professor who coordinated the faculty
response, said Daniels should publicly defend his claims about Zinn in a
forum and called on him to explain to faculty how he came to his
"This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away," Daniels
wrote in a Feb. 9, 2010, email after Zinn's death. "The obits and
commentaries mentioned his book, 'A People's History of the United
States,' is the 'textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around
the country.' It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of
disinformation that misstates American history on every page."
Daniels has insisted Zinn should not be taught in Indiana's K-12
classrooms and believes he presents a "falsified" version of history.
Zinn's 1980 work explores history through the viewpoints of Native
Americans and others who he said weren't represented in traditional
Daniels said last week he would support Zinn's academic freedom if he
were tenured faculty at Purdue.
In his letter Monday, he said that he never had made any public comment
about Zinn, "other than a mention of him in a book I wrote in 2011,
until attacked in the recent AP story."