Blogs > Jim Loewen > "'Confronting' Mitch Daniels at Purdue"

Nov 3, 2013 10:15 pm


"'Confronting' Mitch Daniels at Purdue"

tags: Mitch Daniels



On Tuesday evening, November 5, 2013, I speak at Purdue University. This is hardly startling news. After all, various other institutions around Indiana have engaged me to speak and lead workshops for years, including Ball State, Indiana University, Indiana University/Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI), Notre Dame, Southern Indiana, and at least three liberal arts colleges. As well, I've worked with other Indiana organizations, like Bloomington United, the South Bend Center for History, and the Indianapolis Public Schools. I've also spoken to national or regional conferences meeting in Indiana, such as the General Assembly of the Unitarian — Universalist Church, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the Great Lakes Council for the Social Studies.

Especially in this context, however, Purdue's invitation was newsworthy. That's because it didn't exactly come from Purdue. Instead, it came from a handful of faculty members in various departments, using what seems to be their own money, at least in part, and donations from "across Indiana and across the country," according to one of the event organizers. In fact, almost no money seems to be involved. Purdue offered me exactly $4,000 less than my usual speaking fee, which is $4,000. They are paying my travel expenses.

When they first asked me to speak, I asked the professors to get Purdue to invite me as a regular speaker, the way other institutions do. Although I speak for nothing at times, Purdue hardly qualifies as a shoestring community organization in need of my charity. Moreover, all the other Indiana schools paid my fee, some more than once.

The professors replied, "Funding your visit would be a challenge," as one put it. Another was even clearer: "Some senior administrators at Purdue expressed 'concern' that having you come to campus could be considered 'confrontational' to our President." These included at least two department chairs, I believe.

Who is "our President?" Why, Mitch Daniels, formerly the right-wing Republican governor of Indiana. When chosen president of Purdue by its Board of Trustees, all of whom he had appointed, people at Purdue and across the nation raised questions about whether Daniels would respect academic freedom. The first threat to academic freedom at Purdue, however, seems not to be Mitch Daniels as president, but the idea of Mitch Daniels as president. Just having him as president means no speaker deemed "antagonistic" (another word used) to Daniels or his ideas will be considered. Mr. Daniels need do nothing. The censorship lies upstream of him.

This chilling response to Daniels's mere existence reminds me of all too many authors of K-12 textbooks in U.S. history. They told me that they rarely experienced censorship from publishers or editors. Of course, they rarely wrote anything that might be considered "confrontational." As Mark Lytle, co-author of one textbook, told me, explaining why a major publisher had sought out him and James Davidson, relative unknowns, "They didn't want famous people, because we'd be more tractable."

"Were you?" I asked.

"We were reasonably tractable," he replied.

Again, the censorship comes upstream of the publishers. Few editors ever have to censor anything, few authors must resist any demand to tone anything down, and the resulting textbooks will never offend anyone. Of course, since they never say anything critical about the United States, they can never treat some subjects accurately, but who cares? We don't want eighteen-year-olds who can think for themselves anyway.

Howard Zinn was never tractable. This upcoming Purdue event is newsworthy in some other ways, because I am part of an array of speakers for an evening billed as a "Howard Zinn Read-In." Some other campuses in Indiana will host events in solidarity with Purdue's. The evening celebrates the work of the controversial political scientist and historian who wrote, most famously, A People's History of the United States.

By now it has become public knowledge that President Daniels, while governor, tried to keep the ideas of Howard Zinn from being taught anywhere in the state of Indiana. Daniels claimed this was no infringement of academic freedom, because there is no right to academic freedom in K-12. That is not precisely correct, but in addition, Daniels also tried to stop Zinn from being taught in state-funded colleges of education, which do have academic freedom.

My experience of Howard Zinn was mostly positive. Often, after I gave a talk lamenting how badly history is taught in most high schools, an audience member came up afterward to tell me that their history teacher was different. "She assigned us People's History as well as the regular textbook, and her course was interesting." Howard and I only met three times, I think, but he was always generous in his praise of my work.

At times, Zinn did make glaring errors. Also, like the textbooks he despised, People's History has no footnotes. But to expunge him from Indiana amounts to the claim that he has nothing of value to teach. This is wrong. His work brings in many facts, voices, and points of view that mainstream textbooks deliberately leave out.

When Zinn pointed out that the United States intervened around the world not for the cause of "freedom," but to instill anti-democratic dictators, he was not wrong, but right. When Zinn told the details of the 1877 labor revolt against the immense social inequality capitalism was then (and again is now) building up, he was not wrong, but right. Surely it is likely that Gov. Daniels tried to ban Zinn not because he was wrong, but because he was right.

I speak from experience about Mr. Daniels, because he also tried his best to keep me from speaking in Indiana. This attempted censorship came in the fall of 2007. I was scheduled to speak in a total of five venues in central Indiana, mostly on the subject of sundown towns in Indiana. Sundown towns are of course communities that for decades were — some still are — all-white on purpose. Indiana abounds in sundown towns. I estimate that a majority of all incorporated communities — and several entire counties — in the Hoosier state flatly kept out African Americans. As a result of this work, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission volunteered not only to have me speak to their agency (and other people in state government), but also to coordinate a modest speaking tour.

Then the governor, or at least his office, intervened. His intervention came in response to my writing an article about Honda's building a new $550,000,000 factory in Greensburg, Indiana, a sundown town that had driven out its black population in 1906. I pointed out Greensburg's unsavory past. Of course, Honda knew precisely what it was doing. Not only did it choose a sundown town, it also drew a circle with a 35-mile radius and stated that prospective employees had to live within that circle. Indianapolis, with its black community — the only black community anywhere near Greensburg — "happens" to lie 50 miles away.

This turns out to be traditional Honda behavior. In 1988, according to James Treece, news editor at Automotive News, Honda paid what was then the largest EEOC settlement ever — $6,000,000 — owing to discriminatory hiring patterns at its Marysville, Ohio, factory. Honda had similarly red-lined Columbus, Ohio, and its black residents.

I suggested that Honda should be asked, "Did you choose Greensburg because Greensburg was a sundown town or despite Greensburg being a sundown town?" And if Honda answered, as it surely would, "the latter," then the next question should be, "OK, then, what are you going to do about it?" (1)

I think Gov. Daniels should have responded to my article by putting those questions to Honda. He might then have gone on to suggest that all sundown towns in Indiana need to take distinct steps to move beyond their racist pasts.

Instead, he tried to stop my speaking tour, already scheduled across central Indiana. His office ordered the Indiana Civil Rights Commission to cancel all five events. At the last moment, I managed to reinstate four of them, two at IUPUI and two at Ball State. Of course, I could not reinstate the canceled event at the Indiana Government Center. At the main IUPUI event, Prof. Florence Wagman Roisman, who is Michael McCormick Professor of Law at IUPUI's Law School, introduced me with an eloquent five-minute disquisition on the First Amendment.

Surely Gov. Daniels tried to stop me from speaking, not because I was wrong about sundown towns in Indiana, but because I was right.

We can safely infer that Mitch Daniels has little regard for the rights or intrinsic value of African Americans. He has close ties to the Bradley Foundation, a right-wing institution that paid Charles Murray $1,000,000 to write The Bell Curve, according to education reporter Barbara Miner. The Bell Curve caused a sensation when it came out in 1994. It argues, inter alia, that the median IQ of black Africans is 75, just below Forrest Gump, whose IQ was 76. (2) Tom Hanks's Gump, although a Hollywood portrayal, is a reasonably accurate depiction of a person with such an IQ. Such people are noticeable. They do not appear "normal." During my trips to Guinea, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali, I never noticed one. Yet Murray holds that half of all black Africans have lower intelligence than Forrest Gump! Had Murray used just $2,000 of his grant to fly to Africa and meet some ordinary people there, he might have concluded something was wrong with the IQ test, rather than with more than half of Africa's population.

Bradley has funded many other projects; I think it's safe to say that none has ever had the best interests of black people at heart. Daniels was a board member at Bradley; last June he accepted its "Bradley Prize," a $250,000 award.

Like the connection with Bradley, Daniels's ties with Purdue's board are complex. He appointed eight of its ten board members and reappointed the other two. Last summer, after he had spent just six months on the job, the board granted him a raise of more than $50,000.

Might we call these interlocking relationships and payoffs a form of Affirmative Action?

I do hope that Mr. Daniels comes to hear me and the other speakers. I look forward to asking him about his efforts to censor Zinn and to censor me. I also look forward to the other speakers of the evening. They include Staughton Lynd, who played an important role as director of the "Freedom Schools" during the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. Lynd also knew Howard Zinn from his teaching days at Spelman College. Then he became an activist against the Vietnam War. Former U.S. diplomat and peace activist Anne Wright will speak. So will Anthony Arnove, co-editor with Zinn on Voices of a People's History of the United States.

It promises to be an evening to remember. If you live anywhere near West Lafayette, I hope you will drop by.

* * * * *

1    Incidentally, negotiations with the Indianapolis chapter of the Urban League eventually resulted in Honda's extending its hiring radius to 65 miles. Of course, that still does not deal with the fact that Honda chose to locate its 2,000 new jobs 50 miles away from black residences, guaranteeing an overwhelmingly white workforce. Some speculate that Honda does such things from simple racial prejudice, viewing blacks as inferior; others suggest that its management thinks African Americans are likely to be pro-union.

2    African Americans are less stupid, according to the book, averaging perhaps 85, owing to their admixture of white genes.

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Copyright James Loewen


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