Elected officials and cabinet officers often don't make the best college presidents.
They're used to throwing their weight around (see Larry Summers), and that doesn't always fly in a university setting.
Take the case of Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana and OMB director under George W. Bush.
Daniels is now head of Purdue University, but his hostility to academic freedom shone through when he was in the governor's office.
What seemed to rankle him no end was the fact that Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States, was being used as a textbook in some schools in Indiana.
According to a great story by AP, Daniels, a Republican, slandered Zinn's book by claiming it "misstates American history on every page."
And he asked an aide, "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?"
When told that Zinn's book was being taught at Indiana University, Daniels ordered an aide to review university courses and try to rid them of what he called "propaganda."
Daniels clearly doesn't have the temperament to be a university president.
Zinn, by the way, was a friend of mine and wrote regularly for The Progressive in the last dozen years of his life.
I'm sure he's smiling wryly right now at Daniels's ham-handed effort to censor the curriculum. Howard was always on to the abusers of power.
And he understood, more so than almost anyone, the obligation of truth-telling historians: "When our government, our media, and our institutions of higher learning select certain events for remembering and ignore others, we have the responsibility to supply the missing information," he wrote in The Progressive in August 1998. "Just to tell untold truths has a powerful effect."
It certainly did on Mitch Daniels.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Zimmerman Verdict Reveals Racist System of Justice.
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