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.”
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.
IMAGE: Indiana Public Media/Flickr