Executive Council Statement Opposing State Interference in College Curricula

In response to the recently released e-mail messages of the former Indiana governor Mitchell E. Daniels, the MLA’s Executive Council has approved a statement condemning the interference of state officials in college curricula. The statement affirms the importance of teachers’ ability to choose their own reading assignments and the principle that “free inquiry is the cornerstone of democratic education.”

10 Comments

Gale Sigal

Let those of us who have earned our expertise through many years of study, examinations, peerj reviews and teaching make the curricular decisions.

Stephen Fredman

As an English Professor teaching in the state of Indiana, I strongly endorse the MLA statement. Politicians have no business meddling in college curricula. Nor, as in this case, should one as governor appoint a university board that then hires one as university president–and rewards one with a bonus after the offensive emails were released.

Jack G Wasserman

I am a card-carrying member and supporter of MLA, but I am not an academic. I am a lawyer. Politicians, unlike academics, are elected to serve their constituents. Freedom demands responsibility, and if a majority of politicians believe that academics have not shouldered their responsibility, the pols have the right and duty to intervene unless some basic constitutional document prevents such action (e.g. “Congress shall make no law . . . “). Congress “interferes” every day in every aspect of our society, a rare few of such actions are declared unconstitutional. If academics don’t like what the State of Indiana is doing, they may mobilize their fellow citizens and resort to the ballot box. Percy Shelley claimed that poets are the legislators of the world; he should have added, except in Indiana.

Anne Ketchum, Emerita

Professor Stephen Fredman’s revelation in his reply is scary. If its content can indeed be proven, it should go right to the Supreme Court,without delay.
It is unconscionable that politicians fail to understand this nation’s primordial need to acquire knowledge of other people of the global world, their changing cultures, their
beliefs, their hopes, and to do so, their languages. How else can we hope to :
– live in a truly peaceful world,
– prove to be a nation of capable, knowledgeable, really competitive leaders ,
– regain the much needed trust and respect of the world ? Professor Fredman’s
communication points to the opposite.

A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff

Bravo to the Executive Council for its statement. Former Governor Daniels was absolutely wrong when he intruded into the process of planning college curricula. Course development should be the responsibility of faculty.
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Christine H.

I believe that Mr. Wasserman, and indeed all politicians as well as lawyers, would support the Bar’s practice of limiting legal decision-making to those who have been examined and licensed in law.

The Bar protects lawyers against undue influence from people who are insufficiently familiar with law by licensing those who who have demonstrated expertise; in addition, the Bar prosecutes anyone who attempts to practice law without demonstrating expertise through examinations and licenses.

Why would a lawyer or politician believe that people, in this case politicians, however many they are, unexpert and often with no education or experience in the profession or particular field of study may override or even supplant licensed experts? Even Notary Publics and Realtors must have recognized base levels of expertise in order to practice. Were I elected into office, should my opinion on the practice and teaching of law, with only my expertise in literature, override a lawyer’s or judge’s?

A Purdue Professor

As a Purdue faculty member, I can verify that the Board of trustees that Daniels appointed appointed him, and, furthermore, that the State Ethics Board okayed it. They also found that Daniels could lobby the state legislature for Purdue, although Daniels himself put in place one-year waiting period for anyone holding political office to be a lobbyist. The Board supports Daniels no matter what he does, and the Ethics Board is utterly corrupt. It is given the green light to the most ethics violations, even the former governor’s violation of his own rule. The kicker is that Daniels’ response to the release of the e-mails is that they did not attempt to limit free speech because he was talking only abut the K-12 levels. (The Zinn book was being taught in a teachers’ training course.) The faculty in the Purdue College of Liberal Arts has vociferously and eloquently spoken out about the e-mails, but Daniels continues to insist that they don’t constitute an infringement of free speech and that he is convinced we are all really on the same page, which is the clearest demonstration that we are not. I don’t know if he is really so obtuse or deluded to believe that we are or of he is trying to wear us down by being a brick wall. In any case, all the safeguards against unethical practices in this state have been dismantled by the those who are supposed to be doing the safeguarding. The one ray of light I see in the situation is that the faculty here has come together as never before in my many years at this university. Vocal outcry from the university community across the country just might be the thing that finally forces Daniels to back down. So many, many thanks to those who have commented here.

Pat Seed

Daniel’s attack on Zinn’s book aims to suppress knowledge about the history of political dissent and disenfranchisement. Will his next assault target the literature of political critique in general? Will he next seek to ban Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago, Gabriel García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch, or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart ? Or will he only seek to bar politically critical literature concerning the US–as in Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera or Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (already previously banned in Indianapolis).

N. S. Boone

I would like to see MLA take one further step in the direction toward academic freedom by finding a way to mobilize college teachers in an effort to stop, or at least curb, the infringements on educators already in place by Department of Education policies related to Common Core curriculum, greater reliance on standardized testing, etc. The freedom of highly qualified individuals to develop curriculum is already being compromised at the K-12 level–how can anyone think that colleges aren’t the next logical step? I fear that the day is not too far off when I will not be in control of the syllabi from which I teach. So, please, MLA, let’s work to stop further infringement of instructional freedom before it reaches college halls.

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