Mitch Daniels's gift to academic freedom

Did Mr. Daniels—the future university president—violate academic freedom with his outburst? A July 22 open letter signed by 90 Purdue professors suggested as much, saying the teachers were “troubled” by his actions, in particular by his continuing to criticize Zinn’s book after taking over at the university. Demanding retaliatory funding cuts or preventing college faculty from teaching or publishing certain ideas would have amounted to such a violation. It appears Mr. Daniels, either as governor or as Purdue president, did none of these. In his emails, he aired his unhappiness with Zinn’s account of American history, but there is currently no evidence that anything was done by him or his staff to act upon his heated remarks.

Moreover, in a written response to the Purdue professors’ letter, he explained that as governor he was only concerned about the teaching of Zinn’s book in Indiana’s K-12 schools, and that he is “passionately dedicated to the freest realm of inquiry possible at Purdue.”

But what about his criticism? Do politicians or outside groups violate academic freedom when they criticize academics? Again, the answer is no.

Inquiries of this sort about teaching materials are not unusual in the life of a university president. Presidents take such inquiries seriously and follow up to make sure that the curriculum and materials are of the highest quality. Public scrutiny helps institutions fulfill their mission. It rightly keeps institutions on their toes.

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