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Dozens of Purdue Faculty Chide Mitch Daniels, But He stands His Ground

Dozens of faculty members at Purdue University have chided campus President Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana, for what they contend is his lack of support for academic freedom.

In an open letter signed by more than 90 faculty members and published July 22 in the campus newspaper, The Exponent, they stated his strong disdain for controversial historian and textbook author Howard Zinn and his support for Zinn’s work to be removed from K-12 schools underlies a larger problem.

“First, your assessment of Zinn’s work goes against the judgment of Purdue’s own faculty members, many of whom do include his work in their syllabi or in their published research—not to mention historians across the nation and the world,” the educators stated. “Whatever their political stripe, most experts in the field of U.S. history do not take issue with Howard Zinn’s facts, even when they do take issue with his conclusions.”

“In the end, this issue transcends one author and one book,” the faculty added. “It concerns the very legitimacy of academic discourse. Scholarship emerges virtually every day that challenges the ‘conventional wisdom’ of prior generations. Do we assess such scholarship critically, or do we censor uncomfortable ideas out of hand? The very viability of academic inquiry and the university’s mission is at stake.”

In response to the reprimand, Daniels had a few words of his own, reports the Journal and Courier:

“I appreciate the civil tone of your letter and the sincerity I know underlies it,” said Daniels in the letter after addressing each of their points. “I accepted Purdue’s invitation, not to quarrel with anyone, but to support the work of all its scholars and the freedom necessary for them to pursue that work. As time and other duties permit, I will be glad to listen further and respond as needed.”

Daniels continued to criticize Zinn’s work.

“I understand fully that there are multiple competing theories of historiography, and of the proper understanding of American history in specific,” Daniels wrote. “On this campus, all should be free to contend, with the beneficial consequences your letter discusses. I do respectfully disagree that Prof. Zinn’s work is as widely accepted or as mainstream as you portray it. By his own avowal, it expresses his biases in what it includes and just as notably in what it omits.”

For more insightful analysis on this ongoing controversy, visit Minding The Campus, which detailed in a piece by Ronald Radosh how there’s a lot wrong with Zinn’s work, and summarized by concluding:

The Purdue professors claim … they seek to introduce students to “critical thinking,” and that for that esteemed reason, Zinn must be included in any curriculum. Teachers, they say, have the duty to use “controversial scholarship” if they so choose, so that the “conventional wisdom” of past generations can be challenged. In making that case, they reveal their own limited and false view of what history offers us. History is a way of learning about the past, so that we can understand from what roots we came. It is not a mechanism meant to provide inspiration for leftist agendas, or for that matter, for conservative ones. If conventional wisdom turns out to be accurate, it should not be overturned.

In the case of American communism, which both Professor Foner and the late 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 and Foner. It is my hope in that his honest and forthright decision to oppose the teaching of Howard Zinn, President Mitch Daniels, Jr. of Purdue University will stand firm, and continue to teach his faculty and the rest of America a real lesson in the true meaning of academic freedom and courage in fighting against the forces of leftist political correctness.

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  • Jeff Ludwig

    Mitch Daniels is right on target. When I first arrived at a high school in NYC 18 years ago (I’m not there now), the U.S. History teachers met to coordinate about the coming term. Most of the teachers said how they photocopied large sections from Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of the U.S. I told them that Zinn was a self-avowed communist, and that the book was replete with errors. Further his concept of “people” systematically excluded all kinds of “people” in the U.S. They scoffed venomously at my assertions. One colleague said to me in a hostile tone, “What do you know anyway? Have you ever published anything?”
    There are so many articles out there critiquing Zinn’s book that anyone can find on the Internet. Yes, it is a best seller, but it’s not history; it’s propaganda. Further, it presents and advocates for a worldview that is utterly offensive to any fair-minded person. It is anti-educational insofar as it is not balanced. The fact that it is a best seller is a sign of how far down the road of self-destruction we have gone as a culture. Zinn and his communism may have a right to exist, but like the Muslim Brotherhood the communists in our midst are all for freedom of speech until they are in a position to ban books, ban speakers, and suppress other ways of thinking. I’m not saying the Zinn book should be removed from reading lists, but public officials who are right-minded like Mitch Daniels as well as others would do well to denounce the book publicly even if it is permitted.
    By the way, a week after I had this confrontation with the communist teachers in my department, one of them came up to me and said, “Communism is over in the Soviet Union, but it’s alive and well in this high school.” I will never forget that statement, and will write here that that teacher is, in my opinion, a disgrace to the teaching profession and doing a disservice to the students. Fortunately, many many students in the school objected to the biases and distortions of the lefties and mocked them behind their backs, but sadly I’m afraid that many young people were influenced by them to walk on the wrong path.

  • Donald J DaCosta

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    This points to what is likely behind the lefts
    resurgence in 21st century America. Back in the sixties there was a
    furor over the Vietnam War. The most vociferous of the critics were
    young college students. Some went to college for a draft deferment
    and some went to Canada to avoid being drafted and sent off to die or
    worse for what they and many of their fellow countrymen saw as an ill
    defined, anti-communist cause in the jungles of Vietnam. The toll of
    this tragic, “imperialistic farce” was 58,220 of their young
    contemporaries dead and 303,644 wounded (
    ). Many Americans who were beyond draft age, heard the protests, the
    supporting rationale and were impressed by both the logic and its
    major sources, the college and university campuses across the
    country. Professors who taught at the undergraduate and graduate
    level and their students were and still are, to a great extent,
    considered the intellectual elite, the most intelligent folks on the
    planet. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if these folks and their ilk
    could somehow be put in charge and apply that considerable intellect
    and problem solving ability to solve the worlds problems, starting
    with the homeland.

    Other groups of that era saw this too; the
    radicals who started out with a strategy of violent confrontation to
    authority. The cops were pigs. The military and especially the
    veterans of the Vietnam war were reviled, spat upon on their return
    to the home front. Military recruitment centers were picketed and
    occasionally vandalized or worse.

    This strategy did not endear the radicals to the
    general public and some among them soon saw that the way forward was
    not the short, violent, revolutionary approach but the much longer
    and far more likely to succeed approach of infiltrating the
    institutions they knew so well. Institutions where their radical
    ideas could be freely taught on the basis that they “defied
    conventional wisdom,” an idea that naturally occurs in the minds of
    nearly all young, immature adults overjoyed at the prospect of
    getting away from the watchful, critical eye of their “overbearing
    parents.” Ripe targets for indoctrination; in possession of an
    almost universal disdain for authority.

    A reliable measure of superior knowledge and
    intellect became the degree to which the particular idea defies
    conventional wisdom. Whether or not the idea is an improvement or
    more factual than that which it replaces is irrelevant. It’s
    unconventional which automatically evokes a euphoric acceptance of
    its superiority. Out with the old in with the new. New, unproven
    paradigms or old, failed social constructs tweaked with
    unconventional, untried, intellectually derived modifications, are
    the preferred “solutions.” “Give peace a chance.” Out with
    the rich, handouts for the poor. Out with fossil fuels, up with Green
    energy. Cut global CO2 emissions or the world will die of a massive
    heat stroke. Apologize to the world for America’s ugly past and bask
    in the glow of the accolades to follow. Government, and ever more of
    it, in the hands of “intellectual giants” unspoiled and
    uncontaminated by real world experience. Welcome to Obama’s
    transformation of America. Scratching your head searching for
    logical, conventional answers is a frustrating exercise in futility.