Purdue Campus-feat
Mitch Daniels, in First Week as Purdue President, Talks Freedom of Opinion and Inquiry

By on January 24, 2013

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels may have declined to run for President of the United States last year, but he has nevertheless landed a presidency of his own—that of Purdue University. And as Inside Higher Ed reports, he’s already made a splash in his first week on the job, with an open letter (PDF) to the Purdue community. Of interest to FIRE and its supporters is his acknowledgement of this criticism of higher education:

Diversity is prized except in the most important realm of all, diversity of thought. The academies that, through the unique system of tenure, once enshrined freedom of opinion and inquiry now frequently are home to the narrowest sort of closed-mindedness and the worst repression of dissident ideas.

Admittedly, Daniels is merely saying at the opening of his letter that this is a common criticism of academia. But he later makes it clear that, in his opinion, a concern for open inquiry is in fact core to how a university must function. Daniels explains:

Open inquiry — A university violates its special mission if it fails to protect free and open debate. It is the wellspring of advancing knowledge and the rationale for academic freedom. No one can expect his views to be free from vigorous challenge, but all must feel completely safe in speaking out. One can hope for a climate of courtesy and civility, and “speech” that attempts to silence or intimidate others must be confronted strongly, but the ensuring of free expression is paramount. This is, if anything, even more important when the point of the expression is to criticize decisions of the university administration itself.

I don’t think any readers of this blog will be surprised to find out that FIRE completely agrees with this sentiment. Our (shockingly large) case archives bear out the fact that open inquiry is very much a concern on today’s college campuses, and President Daniels rightly comes out strongly in support of the free marketplace of ideas. We wish other college presidents would follow his example, and hope that perhaps this will inspire them to do so.

Of course, the proof of the pudding will be what actually happens at Purdue under the guidance of President Daniels. Many of the points he makes, including his unapologetic endorsement of open inquiry, may not make him popular with those in the higher education establishment inclined to curb free speech. That said, when it comes to protecting open inquiry on campus, principle has to win over concerns about popularity. FIRE is looking forward to working with President Daniels and the Purdue community to produce a robust atmosphere of free speech and academic freedom on Purdue’s campus.

Schools: Purdue University