Mitch Daniels wrote a response to the 90 Purdue professors who wrote to him about the controversy over Howard Zinn. Daniels claimed, “I have never made any suggestion that any university cease teaching whatever its faculty pleases, or cease using any book.” He apparently does not recall his demand in the original emails that the state stop allowing university faculty to teach Zinn’s book in professional development programs.
Daniels also declared, “I believe other, more mainstream textbooks should be used in Hoosier K-12 schools.” This statement shows just how narrow-minded Daniels’ approach to K-12 education is. Why should only one mainstream point of view be allowed in schools? Why can’t K-12 schools be more like higher education and allow a wide range of ideas to be heard?
Daniels wrote, “Most important, no one tried to ‘censor’ anyone’s right to express any opinion they might hold. As many others have observed, this was a careless and inappropriate use of that inflammatory word.” As far as we know, Daniels’ demand for censorship of Zinn’s book was not put into practice only because Zinn’s book wasn’t being used in any Indiana school, not because Daniels opposed censorship. The word “censor” was an entirely accurate and appropriate word for what Daniels sought and has continued to defend.
Worst of all, Daniels took this opportunity to make one more misguided attack on Zinn that suggests a deep misunderstanding of academic freedom and the scholarly work of a university:
Prof. Zinn’s disdain for the idea of objective truth went far beyond American history. In his essay, “The Uses of Scholarship”, Prof. Zinn criticized “disinterested scholarship,” “objective study” and the “scientific method” across the disciplines, thus attacking the foundations of Purdue’s entire research enterprise.
This is absolutely false. Zinn’s brilliant critique of whether scholarship can be objective and disinterested is not an attack on the foundations of Purdue’s “entire research enterprise,” it is a fundamental kind of good research. By writing this, Daniels seems to be suggesting that any professor who fails to use “scientific method” or who criticizes the idea of objectivity, is not actually engaged in research. And since research is essential to getting tenure and promotion at Purdue, this statement (whether intentional or not) suggests that Purdue will be imposing a peculiar right-wing agenda in evaluating faculty, to purge anyone who agrees with Zinn’s critique of traditional scholarship.
As Zinn pointed out in his essay, “There is no question then of a ‘disinterested’ university, only a question about what kinds of interests the university will serve.” Sadly, Mitch Daniels keeps indicating what kinds of interests he wants Purdue University to serve, and criticism of the status quo is not part of it.