History matters. Just ask Bill Cronon, a world renowned University of Wisconsin historian who now finds himself embroiled in the ongoing dispute over public-employee unions and an emerging debate over academic freedom.
A quick re-cap: During the weeks-long protests that shut down the Wisconsin state capitol, Cronon tried to situate the Republican’s anti-union bill in the state’s and the nation’s historical context. This effort culminated in two publications that have attracted the ire of Wisconsin’s Republican Party.
- First, Cronon published a blog post about the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is the architect of much of conservation legislation sweeping the nation.
- Second, in a New York Times editorial, he argued that the policies of Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker, are not only undoing a century of social reforms that are in large part the work of Republicans, but also break with the state’s bipartisan tradition of transparency and mutual respect.
On March 17, two days after the blog was published, but four days before the op-ed appeared, the University of Wisconsin-Madison received an email from the Republican Party of Wisconsin formally requesting under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) all of the email’s from Cronon’s state email account (i.e., @wisc.edu) which reference terms such as “union”, “rally”, “Republican”, and “Scott Walker.”
In another blog post, Cronon makes a convincing argument that this request is intended to embarrass, punish, and a silence a critic—a misuse of FOIA that threatens academic freedom.
As academics and members of a public university, this is an issue that affects all of us. What do you think? Does this change how you use your @berkeley.edu email account?
Here’s a sampling of the relevant news pieces. For a more complete list, see Cronon’s blog.
- ‘Have you no sense of decency?’ The Wm. Cronon story, The Atlantic, March 25.
- A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin, New York Times, March 25.
- There’s No Such Thing as a Bad FOIA Request, Salon, March 25.
- Academic Intimidation, New York Times, March 25.
- Wisconsin GOP Seeks E-Mails of a Madison Professor Who Criticized the Governor, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 25.