New Podcast Episode: Interview with Mitch Daniels
A new episode of the Academic Freedom Podcast is out now, featuring an interview with Mitch Daniels, the outgoing president of Purdue University and former Republican governor of Indiana. The interview is conducted by Keith Whittington, professor of politics at Princeton and member of the AFA’s Academic Committee.
See excerpts of the interview below, lightly edited for clarity.
On free speech challenges and how he shaped campus culture around academic freedom:
Mitch Daniels: I would say the challenges were minimal. I hope that people here embraced what we were doing. But we’ve been trying to affect this, not simply to make a statement and hope for the best. I asked those who organize our orientation for new students to make certain that, along with the introductory sessions in how to study and how to manage your money and where the dining courts are, they were introduced to this subject. What are the rights that you have as a student to speak, to express views, whether they’re popular or not? How do we expect you to behave if you encounter speech that you disagree with? It’s been very encouraging to me. We have faculty of various personal philosophical views who take part in little roleplaying sessions, for instance, with students and faculty so the freshmen can observe, here’s the right way and the wrong way to react to speech with which you disagree. We’ve been asked for that by some other schools and gladly sent out videos or whatever we have.
We know from some recent surveys that we’re not perfect and there are still students here who feel a little intimidated. By the way, it’s just as often by their peers, or sometimes more so, than by the faculty. But based on other data I’ve seen from elsewhere, these problems are at a substantially lower level here than elsewhere.
On efforts from conservative politicians to intervene in campus speech:
MD: It’s the right problem but the wrong answer. I’m not surprised because, in fact, this is not imaginary. It’s been measured. It’s plain to see. You have to be a real, as they say, denialist to argue that there’s not gross imbalance in, for instance, the composition of faculties, or that they’re not at great distance from the viewpoints, collectively, of those who are supporting the schools, either as taxpayers or donors. So I’m not surprised that people have been upset. …
But this is not the answer. Silencing is not – I should take them to freshman orientation at Purdue. The answer is not to silence those who are saying things you think are wrong or harmful. It’s to balance the argument somehow. A much better answer is to continue to encourage people who might have different outlooks to seek and find positions where they can bring some balance to these debates and to the way in which education happens on our campuses.
On suggestions that boards of trustees ought to be more involved in the hiring and promotion process:
MD: I’d be very careful about that. Such boards, I do believe, in many cases, should be more active in setting policies. But individual selections—they’re either not competent, or nor is it appropriate for them to be too involved in that.
No, I think a better answer is to try to establish the basic policies and the basic outlook that we’ve been discussing here about the kind of environment and climate that ought to exist on campus, then hire leaders who are committed to that, who in turn should appoint leaders—deans, for instance—who understand that that’s part of the job: that maintaining freedom, genuine freedom for the faculty in their area, and trying to make certain that there is some variety, in the students’ interests, in the approaches and even the outlooks of those that they bring on. I think that is a better way to do it. The higher up you lift it, the more clumsy and probably ultimately inappropriate it will be.
On whether there is a version of affirmative action, or a quota system, to bring more political diversity to campus:
MD: Well, no to quotas – everywhere and always. But I wouldn’t rule out the idea that new chairs could be created and people recruited who otherwise might not pass through the sieve or the filter of political correctness. I think that’s far preferable to some of the other approaches that we just talked about.