Purdue University President Mitch Daniels is indignant over an Associated Press report this week that revealed provocative emails from his days as governor that suggest he sought to eliminate what he considered liberal “propaganda” at Indiana’s public universities.
The AP obtained the internal emails through a public records request. Some of the messages showed that 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 others, he talked about cutting funding for a program run by a local university professor who was one of his sharpest critics.
We’re willing to take at face value the former governor’s explanation that he was not trying to censor opinions or quash academic freedom, although it’s understandable to question him about that given that he’s now the leader of a major public institution of higher learning. He claimed he was only trying to prevent what he viewed as false or widely discredited versions of history from being taught in the state’s K-12 classrooms.
Mitch Daniels, after all, is a conservative with strong conservative credentials. It should come as no surprise that he espouses the oft-repeated conservative view that higher education is a bastion of elitist liberals who haven’t done a very good job of preparing its students for the real world.
Rather, our primary concern is Daniels’ reaction and response to the AP report. In its aftermath, he doesn’t just clarify the intent of his emails or explain his motivation for sending them. Instead, he attacked the article, which we published at the top of Page 1 on Wednesday, as “unfair and erroneous” in interviews with reporters at Purdue.
Unfair and erroneous. Serious charges, to be sure. What in the article was incorrect? What did Daniels view as unfair?
Would he care to elaborate? Apparently not. He now refuses to talk to the AP or answer those questions.
Having no specifics from Daniels to consider, we’re all left to judge the matter on our own.
And here’s how we see it. The Associated Press report is newsworthy, thorough, fair, well-researched and well-written. The story is told largely through Daniels’ own words via the emails obtained and contains a variety of comments from appropriate parties.
Without further explanation and discussion from Daniels, we find his response to the AP report to be weak and defensive.
None of this, of course, may matter much. His job is undoubtedly secure at Purdue, where he became the university’s president in January after being unanimously selected by the board of trustees, most of whose members he appointed while governor. As the AP reported, the trustees reaffirmed their support for him on Wednesday.
“President Daniels has stated and demonstrated his complete commitment to freedom of inquiry and has been an emphatic voice for that freedom,” the board said in a statement.
It should also be noted that the Purdue board followed Daniels’ lead in attacking the AP report.
“The board rejects as totally misleading the original article and reaffirms its unanimous and complete support of President Daniels,” its statement reads.
Totally misleading? Would Purdue trustees care to elaborate on that claim? Apparently not. That’s where the statement ends.
Daniels answers only to his board now. The people of Indiana have little direct influence over him. But, in terms of his reactions and responses to newsworthy items pertaining to him and his tenure as their governor, Hoosiers have a right to expect better.