Leadership & Governance

In E-Mails, Former Indiana Governor Wanted Scholars Silenced

July 16, 2013

Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who was the governor of Indiana before he became president of Purdue University, in January, sought to purge a liberal scholar's writings from classrooms when he was the state's top executive, according to e-mails obtained by the Associated Press.

In a message sent on February 9, 2010, Mr. Daniels, a Republican, asked top state education officials for assurance that the works of Howard Zinn, the longtime Boston University historian and political activist, were not "in use anywhere in Indiana." Mr. Zinn, who died several days before Mr. Daniels sent his e-mail, is best known for A People's History of the United States, a wildly popular textbook that he said framed history through the eyes of oppressed people.

"This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away," Mr. Daniels wrote, referring to Mr. Zinn. "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 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?"

In a subsequent e-mail exchange, Mr. Daniels signed off on a plan to review university courses across the state in a "cleanup of what is creditworthy," the AP reported.

Mr. Daniels told the AP that his request was limited to elementary and secondary schools, whose curricula the state controls. He defended his criticism of Mr. Zinn, though.

"We have a law requiring state textbook oversight to guard against frauds like Zinn," he wrote in an e-mail to the AP, "and it was encouraging to find that no Hoosier school district had inflicted his book on its students."

In another e-mail, sent on April 11, 2009, Mr. Daniels said that a program run by Charles L. Little, a clinical professor of education leadership at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, should be audited and potentially barred from receiving state funds, the AP reported. Mr. Little, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, was a frequent critic of the governor.

The e-mail revelations give fodder to critics of Mr. Daniels, who came to the Purdue job with a long political résumé but little academic experience. Mr. Daniels holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a law degree from Georgetown University.