Former Governor, Now Purdue President, Wanted Howard Zinn Banned in Schools

Abby Ohlheiser

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who more or less appointed the Board of Trustees that ultimately decided to hire him on as the President of Purdue University in January, is facing a new round of scrutiny for some heavy-handed moves he underwent as governor to remove ideas he didn't like from school classrooms. According to a series of documents obtained by an Associated Press Freedom of Information Act request, Daniels also tried to use his position as governor to punish his enemies, including a professor at a local university. At the center of the story, however, is Daniels' special hatred for historian Howard Zinn. 

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Zinn, in case you're not familiar, was the author of A People's History of the United States, a book he described to the New York Times as a "history from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated." It was, and still is, a controversial book, both as a work of history and as a work embodying a particular kind of radical approach to confronting injustice. But it's a bestseller, hugely influential, and still used often in the classroom. Zinn died in 2010, while Daniels was in office. According to the Associated Press, here's how Daniels marked his passing in an email: 

This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away...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?

Daniels and David Shane, a school board member, then hatched a plan to begin a statewide review of higher education curricula in an attempt to remove Zinn and his ilk from classrooms. However, as the AP notes, A People's History is still taught in some education courses in the state. Daniels told the AP that his request was limited to K-12 classrooms. Daniels also found the time to try and audit and cut funding from a program run by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor Charles Little, an outspoken critic of the governor, something he didn't address directly in his response to the AP. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Business Journal notes that Davis's decision to hire on many of his former aides into the University is also raising eyebrows. 

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The former governor is the subject of criticism from many faculty, staffers, and alums of the college, both because of his conservative politics and because of his lack of academic credentials, given Purdue's status as a major, science-focused research center. In his short tenure as college president, however, Daniels has publicly supported free speech at universities. 

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The emails are below, via the AP: 

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Daniels 1 by Abby Ohlheiser

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Daniels 2 by Abby Ohlheiser