Purdue University President Mitch Daniels says he never tried to quash academic freedom while serving as Indiana's governor and is criticizing an Associated Press report citing emails in which he opposed use of a book by antiwar activist Howard Zinn.
Emails published Tuesday by the AP show Daniels tried to ensure Zinn's book was not used in Indiana's K-12 and college classrooms and that he worked to "disqualify the propaganda" he said was being taught to teachers in training at Indiana's colleges.
Daniels on Wednesday told reporters at Purdue the story was "unfair and erroneous." He had previously told AP he was only referring to Zinn's book appearing in K-12 classrooms and did not immediately reply to questions from AP on Wednesday about what he found to be in error.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels pledged to promote academic freedom when he became president of Purdue University in January, but newly released emails show he attempted to eliminate what he considered liberal "propaganda" at Indiana's public universities while governor.
Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request show Daniels requested that historian and anti-war activist Howard Zinn's writings be banned from classrooms and asked for a "cleanup" of college courses. In another exchange, the Republican talks about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics.
The success of those efforts remains unclear; Zinn's book, for example, is still used in some courses for aspiring teachers. But Daniels did launch an expansive push while governor to change what courses those hopeful teachers could take for credit at Indiana colleges. That effort is ongoing.
The emails are raising eyebrows about Daniels' appointment as president of a major research university just months after critics questioned his lack of academic credentials and his hiring by a board of trustees he appointed.
Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said it's not unusual for governors or mayors to denounce art, music or popular culture. But he said he couldn't find any other examples of governors trying to censor political opponents.
"What sets this apart is what appears to be a back-channel effort by the governor to limit access to ideas," said Paulson, also 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."
In a rapid exchange of emails between top state education officials on Feb. 9, 2010, including then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Daniels sought assurance that a Zinn book exploring historical events that Zinn said got little attention was removed from Indiana classrooms.
"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.
"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 by noting it was being used at Indiana University in a course for teachers on the Civil Rights, feminist and labor movements.
"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?" Daniels responded three minutes later.
David Shane, a top fundraiser and state school board member, quickly replied with a strategy directing Bennett and Indiana's commissioner for higher education to review university courses across the state. Shane later added that a statewide review "would force to daylight a lot of excrement."
Seven minutes later, Daniels signed off on the plan.
"Go for it. Disqualify propaganda and highlight (if there is any) the more useful offerings. Don't the ed schools have at least some substantive PD (professional development) courseware to upgrade knowledge of math, science, etc," Daniels wrote.
In a separate round of emails in April 2009, Daniels called for an audit and possible funding cut for a program run by Charles Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association and a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Little had been highly critical of Daniels' education overhaul in internal emails and he often critiqued the governor's performance at public meetings.