Did former governor, now university president, Mitch Daniels seek to censor the late Howard Zinn, a Communist prof who wrote the anti-American bestseller A People’s History of the United States? No, but that’s what the AP suggested. “Mitch Daniels looked to censor opponents,” ran the headline. “[E]mails obtained by The Associated Press show Daniels went out of his way during his second term as governor to destroy what he considered liberal breeding grounds at Indiana’s public universities.” The second bit appears to be true. And congratulations to Mitch Daniels for his efforts at swamp-clearing. Public universities should not be breeding grounds for any ideology, Left or Right.
The AP writer doesn’t get that, of course. But it’s important that more dispassionate souls recognize that there is no connection between Mitch Daniels’s effort to depoliticize the university system in Indiana — a task that, given the ideological complexion of American higher education, meant showing leftists (the AP calls them “liberal,” but actually they are illiberal leftists) the door — there is no connection, I say, between that effort and the “censorship” he was alleged to have been engaged in.
The AP story is a sort of hit job, intended to discredit Daniels, who is coming up for his six-month review as head of Purdue University. Its actual effect, on me, anyway, was to increase my already high esteem for the man. Here is a chap that not only saved the state of Indiana from the fiscal nightmare that leftist-run states like Illinois and Michigan are suffering (remember Detroit?), but he is also someone who can spot a Communist fraud at 100 paces and isn’t afraid to say that left-wing propaganda is not the same as history and should not be purveyed as such on the taxpayer’s dime. Zinn’s book, wrote Daniels in one of those emails, “is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.” That’s exactly right. Also right were Daniels’s efforts to remove it from the curriculum: “Can someone assure me,” he asked “that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”
Turns out it was being taught at Indiana University, but that’s hardly a surprise. Zinn’s exercise in anti-American agit-prop — the historian Oscar Handlin called it a “deranged fairy tale” — is far and away the bestselling book of American history in the country. It has sold more than 2 million copies and is used in high schools and colleges across the country. Again, Daniels’s response was spot on: “This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session.” (Readers interested in a fuller version of my take on Zinn can find it in this piece for National Review.)
Note well, Daniels doesn’t say Zinn’s book oughtn’t to be allowed to be published. He doesn’t want to censor the book. He merely says it shouldn’t be taught as history. He would, I’d wager, say the same thing about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And he’d be right.
The Left is skirling that Mitch Daniels wants to deny academic freedom. No, he wants to support it. But he understands that academic freedom is not a license to engage in political propaganda. It is the freedom to pursue the truth. This is a point that Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, gets exactly right. “Academic freedom,” Wood writes in a column on the controversy for The Chronicle of Higher Education, ”is a principle that thrives only when it is sturdily woven together with academic responsibility. That’s what Daniels in his plain-speaking e-mails called for.”