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Mitch Daniels’ War on “Liberal Propaganda” in Indiana Schools

Alex Constantine - July 17, 2013

When former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels became president of Purdue University, he said he promised to promote academic freedom, but the Associated Press reported that was not the case. According to e-mails obtained on a Freedom of Information Act request, Daniels was found to have ordered anti-war activist Howard Zinn's writings to be banned from classrooms.

Another e-mail showed the former governor talked about taking away the funding of a program run by a professor who had previously been one of Daniels' biggest critics.

The e-mails were from when Daniels, a Republican, was still governor and identified what he was trying to eliminate as "liberal propaganda."

Zinn's book is still being used in a course for aspiring teachers in Indiana, but Daniels did launch a campaign to change the courses teaching students would have to take for credit at Indiana schools. The effort is currently being pursued.

"What sets this apart is what appears to be a back-channel effort by the governor to limit access to ideas," said Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. "Under the First Amendment, the government is prohibited from trying to suppress expression with which it disagrees."

Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said it is not unusual for governors or mayors to denounce art, but that he could not find another example of one trying to censor it.

"This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away," Daniels wrote. "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 wrote in a 2010 e-mail exchange with Tony Bennett, then Superintendent of Public Instruction. "Can someone assure me 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?"

Scott Jenkins, Daniels' education adviser, quickly responded saying it was being used in an Indiana University Civil Rights course.

Daniels answered three minutes later saying: "This crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state. No student will be better taught because someone sat through this session. Which board has jurisdiction over what counts and what doesn't?"

Shortly after that, David Shane, a top fundraiser and state school board member, proposed a plan for a statewide review of course material, saying it "would force to daylight a lot of excrement."

Daniels approved the idea not even ten minutes later saying: "Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings."

However, he stood by his e-mailed comments Tuesday in a statement to the AP.

"We must not falsely teach American history in our schools," he said. "We have a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn, and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students."

Cary Nelson served six years as president of the American Association of University Professors and said she was shocked to hear such words coming from an education official.

"It is astonishing and shocking that such a person is now the head of a major research university, making decisions about the curriculum, that one painfully suspects embodies the same ignorance and racism these comments embody."

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