Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom

A Tactic I Hope Republicans Will Rethink:
Using the Open Records Law to Intimidate Critics

Here’s the headline: the Wisconsin Republican Party has issued an Open Records Law request for access to my emails since January 1 in response to a blog entry I posted on March 15 concerning the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country. I find this a disturbing development, and hope readers will bear with me as I explain the strange circumstances in which I find myself as a result.


Bill Cronon Posts His First-Ever Blog Entry

Last week was quite a roller coaster for me.  I spent the weekend of March 12-13 drafting an op-ed for the New York Times (published on March 22, and available at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html) about the several ways in which I believe that Scott Walker and the current leadership of the Republican Party in Wisconsin have departed not just from the longstanding culture of civility and good government in this state, but in fact from important traditions of their own party. In the course of writing that op-ed, I did some research trying to figure out where the current wave of conservative legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere might be coming from.


As a result, last Tuesday night, March 15, I launched my first-ever entry for a blog I had long been planning on the theme of “Scholar as Citizen,” about how thoughtful scholarship can contribute to better understandings of issues and debates in the public realm. In my first blog entry, I published a study guide exploring the question “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?” I by no means had all the answers to this question, but I thought I had found enough useful leads that it was worth sharing them to help others investigate the American Legislative Exchange Council further. So I posted the link for the blog on Facebook and Twitter, sat back, and hoped that viral communication would bring the blog to people who might find it useful.


My little ALEC study guide succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.  Within two days, the blog had received over half a million hits, had been read by tens of thousands of people, had been linked by newspapers all over the United States, and had been visited by people from more than two dozen foreign countries. Many readers expressed considerable interest in the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and said they were grateful for the guidance I had tried to provide for people wishing to learn more about it. (A smaller number of readers were much more hostile, and you can read their comments on the blog.)


All this was welcome, and I’m greatly heartened by the thought that an organization that has exercised such extraordinary but almost invisible influence over American political life for the past forty years may finally start to receive more of the scrutiny that its far-reaching activities deserve.


The Wisconsin Republican Party Expresses Its Displeasure

What I did not anticipate—though I guess I should have seen it coming, given everything else that has happened in Wisconsin over the past couple months—was the communication that the University of Wisconsin-Madison received on Thursday afternoon, March 17—less than two days after I posted my blog—formally requesting under the state’s Open Records Law copies of all emails sent from or received by my University of Wisconsin—Madison email address pertaining to matters raised in my blog. (The acronym in many other states and in the Federal government for the laws under which such a request is usually made is “FOIA,” named for the federal Freedom of Information Act.  You can read the text of the Wisconsin Open Records Law here: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/stat0019.pdf,
and learn more about its application here:


Remarkably, the request was sent to the university’s legal office by Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, with no effort to obscure the political motivations behind it.  Here’s what Mr. Thompson sent to the University’s attorneys:



From: Stephan Thompson [mailto:SThompson@wisgop.org]
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:37 PM
To: Dowling, John
Subject: Open Records Request

Dear Mr. Dowling,

Under Wisconsin open records law, we are requesting copies of the following items:

Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.

We are making this request under Chapter 19.32 of the Wisconsin state statutes, through the Open Records law. Specifically, we would like to cite the following section of Wis. Stat. 19.32 (2) that defines a public record as “anything recorded or preserved that has been created or is being kept by the agency. This includes tapes, films, charts, photographs, computer printouts, etc.”

Thank you for your prompt attention, and please make us aware of any costs in advance of preparation of this request.


Stephan Thompson

Republican Party of Wisconsin



(I apologize again for the length of this blog posting; if you don’t have time to read it all, feel free to skip to the final three sections, which try to summarize what’s at stake in this request.)


Why Did the Republican Party Make This Request?

Under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, anyone has the right to request access to the state’s public records, and can do so without either identifying themselves or stating the reasons for their interest in those records. But since Mr. Thompson made no effort to hide his identity or his affiliation with the Republican Party, since his request came so soon after my ALEC study guide was published, and since he provided search terms to identify the particular emails that most interested him, it’s not too hard to connect the dots to figure out what this request is all about.


Let’s subject Mr. Thompson’s email to some textual analysis. That is, after all, what we historians do: we read documents and try to interpret their meanings.


The timing of Mr. Thompson’s request surely means that it is a response to my blog posting about the American Legislative Exchange Council, since I have never before been the subject of an Open Records request, and nothing in my prior professional life has ever attracted this kind of attention from the Republican Party. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to infer that Mr. Thompson and his colleagues aren’t particularly eager to have a state university professor asking awkward questions about the dealings of state Republicans with the American Legislative Exchange Council. This open records request apparently seemed to Mr. Thompson to be a good way to discourage me from sticking my nose in places he doesn’t think it belongs.


I confess that I’m surprised to find myself in this strange position, since (as I said in my earlier blog post) my professional interest as a historian has always been to research and understand the full spectrum of American political opinion. I often spend as much time defending Republican and conservative points of view to my liberal friends as vice versa.  (For what it’s worth, I have never belonged to either party.) But Mr. Thompson obviously read my blog post as an all-out attack on the interests of his party, and his open records request seems designed to give him what he hopes will be ammunition he can use to embarrass, undermine, and ultimately silence me.


One obvious conclusion I draw is that my study guide about the role of ALEC in Wisconsin politics must come pretty close to hitting a bull’s-eye.  Why else would the Republican Party of Wisconsin feel the need to single out a lone university professor for such uncomfortable attention?


What Is the Republican Party Hoping to Find in My Emails?

But let’s read the request more carefully.  How does Mr. Thompson think he can hurt me with an open records request seeking access to my emails since January 1, 2011?


One answer is that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has explicit policies about appropriate use of its email accounts. In general, students and faculty members are only supposed to use their state email addresses for communications clearly related to the educational mission of the university.


Much more important, there is an explicit prohibition against individuals using state email addresses for partisan political purposes.  Here’s the crucial sentence: “University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum.” (You can read these policies for yourself at http://www.cio.wisc.edu/policies/appropriateuse.aspx.)


I’d be willing to bet quite a lot of money that Mr. Thompson and the State Republican Party are hoping that I’ve been violating this policy so they can use my own emails to prove that I’m a liberal activist who is using my state email account to engage in illegal lobbying and efforts to influence elections.  By releasing emails to demonstrate this, they’re hoping they can embarrass me enough to silence me as a critic.


What Story Does the Republican Party Hope to Tell Using My Emails?

The narrative they would like to spin about me seems pretty clear from the search terms they’ve included in their open records request.  For instance, they name eleven politicians in that request.  Three of these–Governor Scott Walker; Speaker of the Assembly Jeff Fitzgerald; and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald—are the Republican leaders who have engineered and led the policies that have produced so much upset in the State of Wisconsin over the past two months. They would thus likely be lightning rods for any inappropriately partisan emails one might be tempted to send as a state employee using a state email account.


But the other eight Republican legislators named in Mr. Thompson’s open records request are probably even more important: Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, and Mary Lazich.  Why seek Bill Cronon’s emails relating to these individuals?  Answer: because they’re the eight Republicans currently targeted by petition campaigns seeking to hold early recall elections in response to recent legislation.


It’s these eight names, in combination with a search for emails containing the words “Republican” and “recall,” that Mr. Thompson is hoping he can use to prove that Bill Cronon has been engaging in illegal use of state emails to lobby for recall elections designed to defeat Republicans who voted for the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill. (One might also infer from his request that a blog post about the influence of ALEC on Wisconsin politics might somehow have an impact on those recall elections—a thought that wasn’t much on my mind when I put together my ALEC study guide, but that seems more intriguing now that we see how forcefully the Republican Party has responded.)


In this context, the remaining search terms are almost certainly intended to supply a key additional element in a narrative designed to undermine a professorial critic not only for misusing state email resources, but for being a puppet of the public employee unions which Mr. Thompson and his Republican allies would like the wider public to believe are chiefly responsible for criticisms of their policies.  The request for emails containing the search phrases “AFSCME” and “WEAC” are of course seeking emails to or from or relating to the two largest public employee unions in Wisconsin. Marty Beil and Mary Bell—also named in Mr. Thompson’s request—are the leaders of those two organizations. Emails containing the words “rally,” “union,” and “collective bargaining” would just be the icing on the cake to show that I’m a wild-eyed union ideologue completely out of touch with the true interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Wisconsin.


I suspect this is the story Mr. Thompson would like to be able to tell about me if his open records request yields the pay dirt he imagines he will find in my emails.


Should Political Parties Use the Open Records Law to Try to Silence Their Critics?

If I’m right that this is the kind of story Mr. Thompson hopes to be able to tell about me, what should the rest of us think about that story and his desire to tell it?


My most important observation is that I find it simply outrageous that the Wisconsin Republican Party would seek to employ the state’s Open Records Law for the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor (and a citizen) who has asked legitimate questions and identified potentially legitimate criticisms concerning the influence of a national organization on state legislative activity. I’m offended by this not just because it’s yet another abuse of law and procedure that has seemingly become standard operating procedure for the state’s Republican Party under Governor Walker, but because it’s such an obvious assault on academic freedom at a great research university that helped invent the concept of academic freedom way back in 1894.  I’ll return to that 1894 story at the end of this blog entry.


FOIA: A Precious Asset of Democracy in the United States

Having expressed my outrage, though, I can’t in good faith just rail against Wisconsin’s admirably strong Open Records Law or the legal traditions surrounding our nation’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  First signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act is a bastion of American democracy, making it possible for citizens to scrutinize the actions of their government and elected officials in ways that are possible in few other nations on earth.  FOIA is a precious political heritage of the United States, and I would not want to argue that public universities should enjoy a blanket exemption from its requirements.  Over and over again, FOIA and its state-level statutory analogs have enabled journalists, historians, and other scholars to research and analyze governmental activities that would otherwise be completely invisible to ordinary citizens.


When should FOIA and Wisconsin’s Open Records Law apply to universities?


Answer: When there is good reason to believe that wrongdoing has occurred.  When formal academic governance proceedings are making important decisions that the public has a right to know about.  When teachers engage in abusive relationships with their students.  When the documents being requested have to do with official university business. And so on.


When should we be more cautious about applying such laws to universities?


Answer: When FOIA is used to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress.  If that happens, FOIA and the Open Records Law can too easily become tools for silencing legitimate intellectual inquiries and voices of dissent—whether these emanate from the left or the right or (as in my case) the center. It is precisely this fear of intellectual inquiry being stifled by the abuse of state power that has long led scholars and scientists to cherish the phrase “academic freedom” as passionately as most Americans cherish such phrases as “free speech” and “the First Amendment.”


It is chilling indeed to think that the Republican Party of my state has asked to have access to the emails of a lone professor in the hope of finding messages they can use to attack and discredit that professor. It makes me wonder if they have given even the slightest thought to what would happen to the reputation of this state and of its universities if they were to succeed in such an effort.


It also makes me wonder how a party so passionate in its commitment to liberty and to protecting citizens from abuses of state power can justify resorting to this particular exercise of state power with the goal of trying to silence a critic of its own conduct.


What Does Bill Cronon Have to Hide?

By now, you’re probably beginning to wonder “What does Bill Cronon have to hide?”  That is, of course, one of the predictable narrative elements of the drama that Mr. Thompson and his party have tried to set in motion by making their request.  If the victim of the request begins to squirm and tries to prevent release of the requested emails, we can all be forgiven for beginning to think they must contain something pretty interesting for the victim to make such a fuss about them.


That’s how these kinds of stories work: even if they turn up nothing at all, they can damage the victim simply by implying that he might have something to hide.


So let me quickly say that my outrage at Mr. Thompson’s request does not derive from fear—though I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about the prospect of having the Republican Party and its allies combing through my private and professional life in an effort to hurt or discredit me.  I am, after all, a chaired, tenured professor at one of the greatest research universities in the world—an institution that has a proud tradition of defending academic freedom from precisely the kinds of attacks that Mr. Thompson is trying to launch.


I’m here in Wisconsin because I love this state with all my heart, and I hope disinterested readers will recognize that the questions I’ve asked are a reflection not of partisanship but of a citizen’s love for his state and its traditions—and a historian’s fascination for the story of how American politics works.  I don’t think it would be easy for Republican state officials to fire me—and even if they did succeed in hounding me to resign, I have no doubt that I could easily get a job at another university where I would actually earn a lot more money.  (I’m very far from being one of those mythical Wisconsin workers who is earning lots more money by virtue of being a public employee; I could almost certainly increase my salary a great deal by moving to a private university in another state.)


Is It Naïve to Believe That the Best Defense is … the Truth?

But there’s a much more important reason I feel far less fear than anger at Mr. Thompson’s open records request, which is simply this: I haven’t actually done anything wrong.


Ever since moving to Wisconsin from Yale in the early 1990s, I have been careful to maintain a separation between my public @wisc.edu email address and my personal email address.  I use the latter for all communications with family members and friends, and I use it too for any activities of mine that might be construed as political rather than scholarly (though the boundaries between these two categories is harder to draw for a scholar of the modern United States than non-scholars might imagine).  I have always owned my own computers, because I haven’t wanted to worry about whether my personal and professional emails are mingling on a state-owned machine in ways that would violate Wisconsin’s rules about using state property for personal or political communication.


The irony goes deeper still.  As any careful reader of my blog about ALEC will probably have noticed—though I get the feeling that Mr. Thompson and his colleagues may not be such careful readers—I did not raise the questions I did about ALEC from a partisan point of view.  Quite the contrary.  I tried to write with real respect about the history of the conservative movement in the United States, because I genuinely do respect that movement and believe it has made many important contributions to our political life. Although I do have serious criticisms of the role ALEC has played in our politics, my concerns have to do with threats to core American notions of due process and transparent governance. I worked hard to avoid partisan criticism, enough so that I’m pretty sure many readers to my left thought that I wasn’t nearly critical enough in what I wrote.


But all of this seems to have been lost on Mr. Thompson and the Wisconsin Republican Party.  They’re eager to see my emails in the hope that they might punish and silence me for what I wrote.


I should add that even if I had written from either the left or the right end of the political spectrum, I still think we should oppose this kind of politically motivated intrusion on the intellectual life of universities. If he had directed the same kind of inquiry against a colleague who was more liberal or conservative in their political views than I am, it would be just as objectionable.


Here, alas, there are cautionary historical precedents that we would all do well to remember.


In the op-ed I published in the New York Times on March 22, I drew a carefully delimited analogy between what is happening in Wisconsin today and the partisan turmoil that Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy worked so hard to create in the early 1950s. McCarthy, of course, thought nothing of trying to have university faculty members fired from their jobs because he believed they held objectionable political views—and many were indeed fired as a result. The kind of intervention happening in this case isn’t so overt: Mr. Thompson hasn’t yet issued a demand for me to be disciplined or fired. But it’s hard not to draw an analogy between this effort to seek of evidence of wrongdoing on my part (because I asked awkward but legitimate questions about an organization with close ties to the Republican Party) and the legal and professional consequences that might follow the discovery of such evidence.


Joe McCarthy was a master of using allegation and innuendo to tar the reputations of those he “investigated,” and I would argue that we should all be very firm in defending academic freedom across the entire political spectrum against that kind of political abuse. The fact that the Open Records Law is now available as a potential tool for undermining one’s enemies doesn’t make the resulting “investigations” any less sinister in their potentially chilling effects for the intellectual life of universities.


If There’s Nothing to Hide, Why Not Just Release These Emails?

If, as I believe, emails flagged by Mr. Thompson’s open records request contain nothing that represents an abuse of a state email account, and no politically inappropriate activities by myself as a state employee, why not just release them?


My answer is that records administrators and courts in Wisconsin are asked to perform a “balancing test” when deciding whether the very strong presumption in favor of full disclosure overrides other public policy considerations. Although legal precedents in Wisconsin insist that there can be no non-statutory blanket exclusions from the public records law, I’d like to argue that there are good public policy reasons why not even the Wisconsin Republican Party should seek to intrude for political reasons on the professional and personal communications of a University of Wisconsin faculty member.


Let me offer just a few concrete examples.


A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students. All thus fall within the purview of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA, sometimes known as the “Buckley Amendment,” named for its author Senator James Buckley—the brother of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley). The Buckley Amendment makes it illegal for colleges or universities to release student records without the permission of those students, and is thus in direct conflict with the Wisconsin Open Records Law and Mr. Thompson’s request on behalf of the Wisconsin Republican Party. I don’t know whether Mr. Thompson intended his request to generate a wholesale release of student records, but I myself think that doing so would represent a dangerous intrusion on student privacy. I’m pretty sure the law supports me in this view. If you’d like to review the terms of FERPA, see


Many more of the emails that would be released under this open records request are communications with colleagues of mine at other institutions about various matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with Wisconsin politics or the official business of the University of Wisconsin-Madison—but they do involve academic work that typically assumes a significant degree of privacy and confidentiality. (Many happen to include one or more of the requested search terms because these are widely used words in the English language—for instance, a writer recalling the role of the Union Army in the post-Civil War electoral success of the Republican Party would get caught by this search three times over.) The emails include, for instance, conversations with authors and editors about book manuscripts, and also the deliberations of two professional boards on which I sit, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) and the American Historical Association (AHA), the latter of which I now serve as President-Elect. Online email exchanges among members of these boards are expected to be confidential, so that all of us are admonished not to share each other’s emails lest doing so discourage colleagues from being candid in sharing their views.


Even though it’s not part of official university business, I have always used my University of Wisconsin-Madison email address in professional communications of this kind, because I’m proud to declare my association with this university and this state. Neither I nor my academic correspondents imagined that my doing so might put the confidentiality of our communications at risk, and I would very much regret having to announce to the world that colleagues can no longer communicate with me using my UW-Madison email address for fear that politically motivated use of the Public Records Law might intrude on what are meant to be confidential communications. If these discussions involved something unethical or illegal, then of course a FOIA request might be appropriate—though so too would a court-ordered subpoena, which has much greater legal power to intrude on private communications.


But a political fishing expedition with the purpose of causing embarrassment to correspondents seems sure to have a severe chilling effect that could only undermine the university’s longstanding reputation for defending academic freedom.


Sifting and Winnowing

Why should anyone not at the university care about all this?


Most of my professional colleagues will instantly recognize this request for access to a professor’s emails as a potential threat to academic freedom: an effort by a powerful political group—the Republican Party of my own state, no less—to seek weapons they can use against me. Most of us would feel at least a little nervous about giving someone carte blanche to rummage through our online communications, and in the academic world this raises special concerns because such inquiries have often in the past been used to suppress unpopular ideas.


In fact, one of the most celebrated moments in the history of American academic freedom happened right here at the University of Wisconsin in 1894. In July of that year, a member of the UW Board of Regents named Oliver E. Wells wrote a letter to The Nation magazine entitled “The College Anarchist.” In it, he accused UW Professor Richard Ely, one of the nation’s leading economists, of being an anarchist and socialist for his work exploring the positive roles that labor unions could play in the American economy. Wells sought to have Ely fired from his UW faculty position, and this prompted the appointment of a special committee of the Board of Regents to investigate Wells’ allegations. The result was a report that ended with one of the most ringing endorsements of academic freedom ever made in the United States, now emblazoned on a bronze tablet by the front door of UW-Madison’s Bascom Hall:


Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.


If you’d like to learn more about this famous story, there are good accounts at the following links:





Why Do I Hope the Republican Party Might Withdraw This Request?

Let me conclude by repeating that I have nothing to hide in the emails I have sent and received using my UW-Madison email account, but I think we will all lose if the Republican Party of Wisconsin insists on pursuing the reckless course of action that has prompted it to issue this Open Records Law request. If the University of Wisconsin-Madison is forced to turn over my emails in response to this request, here are some of the things that are put at risk:


1) Questions will inevitably be asked about whether the University and the State of Wisconsin have struck a proper balance between the unquestioned value of open records for the democratic oversight of formal governmental processes and the rights of privacy for students and faculty members at a research university to pursue lines of inquiry even if they offend powerful political interests.


2) Anyone using email to communicate with University of Wisconsin professors will likely have second thoughts about whether they can afford to be candid and honest in such emails.


3) When a faculty member like myself becomes an officer of a major scholarly organization, questions may be raised about whether it is wise or safe to use UW-Madison email addresses for communications relating to that organization.


4) If such requests were to become a common feature of life at UW-Madison, it would likely become much harder for the university to recruit the best professors in the country to join its faculty—and it’s easy to imagine the most marketable professors leaving our campus if subjected to this kind of harassment.


Faculty members like me can probably avoid many of these problems by never using their UW email addresses for any of their professional communications, even with their own students…but that in itself would seem to be a most unfortunate outcome of the Republican Party’s reckless action.  I have always felt honored to use my @wisc.edu address when communicating with colleagues as a way to declare the delight and privilege I feel being a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Ceasing that practice, or adding a note to all my emails warning colleagues that they must always be cautious when they write me lest political inquiries intrude upon our private communications: I would feel a deep sense of regret about such an outcome and the chilling effect it would have on virtually all university communications.


Abusing Essential Tools of Democracy

I want to close by repeating that I support the Open Records Law and the freedom of information traditions of the United States. They are precious guardians of our democratic liberties.


But this particular request demonstrates that they also have the potential to be abused in ways that discourage dissent and undermine democracy.


Here, it’s not too much of a stretch to draw an analogy to the abuse of the subpoena power that was one of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s most dangerous tactics during the 1950s. The subpoena power too is crucial to our democracy: the criminal justice system could not work without the power to compel witnesses to testify, and Congress needs a similar power to compel testimony if its deliberations are to be properly informed. As with open records, our democracy would be far less effective if the subpoena power did not exist.  The same can be said of the Fifth Amendment, which exists to protect individuals from having to give self-incriminating testimony in response to the subpoena power—but McCarthy was skilled at undermining that bulwark of American liberty as well.


When such tools are turned toward purely partisan ends, and when they are used with the express purpose of intimidating or punishing those with whom powerful people disagree, then precious institutions of democracy are deployed to subvert the very liberties we all cherish. It is for this reason that I have spent so much time trying to articulate why I don’t believe the Wisconsin Republican Party should be invoking the Open Records Law to single me out for scrutiny—and implicitly for punishment—in this way.


The consequences of this highly politicized Open Records Law request, in other words, in which one of Wisconsin’s two great political parties seeks to punish a faculty member at its state university by seeking access to that professor’s emails, seem potentially so damaging to the University, the State, and even to the Republican Party itself that my idealistic self hopes even Mr. Thompson and his Republican colleagues will see the dangers in the tactic they have deployed.


This is very different from asking an elected official or a government agency to turn over emails relating to their formal duties and their formal exercise of state power.  It asks a university professor to turn over personal emails relating to the day-to-day life of an intellectual community in its “sifting and winnowing” in pursuit of truth. This would not happen at private universities like Harvard or Stanford, and I would like to think it shouldn’t happen at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has played a more central role in defining and defending academic freedom than most other institutions in the United States.


If the University cannot avoid turning over my emails, then so be it. But I truly do hope that wiser heads in the Republican Party will prevail, and that this Open Records Law request will be seen for what it is: an ill-advised political intervention into traditions of academic freedom that are among the proudest legacies of this state.


646 thoughts on “Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom”

  1. Wonderful. Thank you. I have to wonder if you haven’t been the only target. Perhaps there are others (professors?) who have chosen to clam up? I hope your balanced and reasoned words reach ever more people. I will do my part to share them.

  2. Why doesn’t someone file a similar request for e mails from the Wisconsin Republican Party, Scott Walker, the FItzgerald gang, and the “gentleman” who filed this request, Mr. Stephen Thompson. 2 can play at this game.

  3. The Walker WI GOP….the gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic party. They might just as well have signed your book deal themselves.

  4. Dr. Cronon, as with your blog post about ALEC, my colleagues and I are taking this viral as well. Thank you for broadcasting this to the world, and for sharing your thoughtful reflections. Once again, as you reminded us in your powerful Times op-ed piece (which was even circulated by my family and friends in other states), the question lingers: “Have [they] no decency?” No, they are sadly, predictably *indecent.* They are depraved.

  5. @Don Johnson: Precisely. How do I request to see Stephan Thompson’s emails with the keywords “Professor”, “Cronon”, “Open Records”, “FOIA”, and “ALEC”? I am a waitress treading mayonnaise to keep up here; who out there is a lawyer?

  6. Just to clarify in response to a couple of these comments: the Open Records Law applies only to governmental bodies. The Wisconsin Republican Party (like the Democratic Party) is a private body and therefore not subject to Open Records requests. As I said in my earlier post, the Legislature also wrote an exception into the Open Meetings Law so that meetings of the party caucuses are among the very few public meetings in Wisconsin that aren’t subject to that law. Thanks to all for your comments and support. It’s a scarier situation than might be obvious.

  7. Your response was articulate, thoughtful and in my view quite correct. I hope that the university stands behind you in this. Thanks.

  8. Well done, sir. Thank you for taking the time to write this and argue so beautifully for academic freedom.

  9. I comment you for your thorough and professional response to this execrable fishing expedition.

  10. Professor,

    As a recent undergrad transfer student, I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of taking any of your classes (I’m not really sure that we would ever cross paths academically since history isn’t really my field.) But thank you for this very articulate response to what seems like a very inappropriate use of the FOIA. Initially I would have thought that if there were nothing to hide, perhaps it would not be such a big deal, but reading your argument I agree with your stance and find my own initial response changed. I sincerely hope the University chooses to resist this power-play, but good luck either way.


  11. Dr Cronon, your analysis is spot on, as always. Your op ed in the times followed in your typical level, even handed, non-partisan tenor, as you displayed all semester in env history and in Changes in the Land. I’m truly dismayed that your heartfelt commitment to scholarly and academic analysis has invoked the ire of some of the most powerful people in the state, and I’m sorry that in your continued pursuit of knowledge has caused this rather dramatic turn in your life. I completely agree that the open records law is crucial to our democratic process, and that this particular request is yet another over-reach in what is becoming a truly disturbing M.O. for our current elected leaders.

    Thank you for being easily the best lecturer I’ve ever had, for your always balanced and critical viewpoints, and for so eloquently expressing what EXACTLY what many wisconsinites, myself included, have experienced in these last turbulent weeks.


  12. Professor Cronon-
    I applaud your professional integrity and your defense of academic freedom. It is precisely what I would expect from a U.W. faculty member, and I hope that your History Department colleagues support you. When I was an undergraduate in the department, there would have been unanimous support. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance

    Henry Breitrose
    Professor of Communication Emeritus
    Stanford University
    B.A 1958 (My academic advisors were Michael Petrovitch and George Mosse)

  13. I’m very sorry to say this, but I disagree with you sir. Open Records laws must apply equally whether seeking the release of Governor Walker’s emails regarding the bill or your emails that may or may not contain evidence that you abused your professional contacts or state email to craft a beautiful partisan attack. For the record, I believe you in your assertion that you maintain strict separation between your personal and professional communication, but I certainly cede the GOP the right to maintain their doubts.

    Open Records requests are not simply free-access searches of state records. The UW legal department is certainly well within their rights to review the search results and excise any student identifying information or other legally protected confidential communication that they see fit.

    Moreover, I would point out the relative restraint that they have used in this request. Had they intended to legitimately attack you by the filing itself, I expect the date range would have extended much farther back in time and the search term list would not have been limited to items you recently went so public about with your blog.

    I’m sorry you feel personally attacked by this, but I assure you that I engage in reasonable searches on opposition bloggers and commenters to try to publicly out any who may have been paid for their efforts or have vested interests they are not publicly disclosing with their writing. I frankly don’t consider my search efforts any different in intent than what the GOP is doing here. A blogger’s message went viral and became wildly popular. Encountering something like this, both parties typically take steps to discredit the author. It’s ugly, but common on both sides.

    That said, my cynicism alert is telling me that with your emails in hand, they will take segments out of context and twist them wildly to create false attacks against you. Should that occur (or when more likely), I am afraid that they will prove themselves the dishonorable lot we all suspect they are.

    1. I think we need to consider the special nature of universities — their unique contributions to society as well as the vulnerabilities that set them apart from other parts of the government. Certainly one of the chief functions of universities is to foster the free exchange and dissemination of ideas and knowledge. It is, in other words, to promote a free conversation in which all can participate. Yet to have such a free conversation, to foster free thinking and intellectual exchange, requires that the participants have no fear of reprisal. To introduce such fear, as Stephan Thompson appears to be attempting to do here, is to deform the mission of the university and to corrupt the free exchange of ideas that is so essential to democracy. And its impact, if successful in embarrassing Prof. Cronon, will not be limited to him alone, but will cast a show of fear across universities that will impoverish and corrupt the conversations that happen there.

      Mr. Thompson may be within his legal rights in seeking access to Prof. Cronon’s email. But let us not confuse legal permissibility with what is the right thing to do — that the law says we can do it does not mean that we should do it. No-holds-barred politics is not always (if ever) the wisest or best course, especially when it means threatening a crucial element of such an important institution. Within the one institution that is especially charged with generating ideas and fermenting intellectual exchange, this sort of intimidation is particularly dishonorable.

      1. I’m sorry, but when your email address ends in “state.edu” and you take the taxpayer’s dollar you lose some protections from inqueries from those same taxpayers.

        Maybe it is thuggish for the WI GOP to be doing this, but that doesn’t make the proper response carving out an exemption for professors.

        1. SFC,

          I think if you read Professor Cronon’s arguments carefully, he’s not saying that professors should be shielded by a formal exemption; he’s rather making the actually quite conservative (in spirit) argument that people should simply not launch fishing expeditions, even if formally they can do so. He’s also trying to argue people should weigh the full situation. I would find using FOIA to dig around in anyone’s private business repugnant, even if they did use their state account; but the truth of the matter is universities are supposed to be about free expression (as opposed to, say, the IRS). That’s part of what differentiates a university from a state bureau. So our sensibilities about fishing expeditions should be especially sharp.

          I also would note that the ‘taxpayer’ pays for ever less of Wisconsin’s dime; and that in many ways the university is the taxpayers’ benefactor, and not the other way around. A little more respect in return, and a little less ‘I’m your boss” attitude, would be nice.

        2. John, I know that the professor didn’t say there should be any exemptions given to mere educators. I was responding specifically to Ryan, and to other commenters, who throughout this discussion implied that, “being a teacher” should mean you’re exempt from open records requests. I, personally, think openess and transparency in our publicly supported institutions is good, and more of it is better. Sometimes that means that the tools used to accomplish that will be used by people you don’t agree with, and for reasons you don’t think they should be used.

          John, I don’t agree with you that, because of their supposed mission to be all about “free expression”, that schools should be treated with kid gloves. If “universities” want to be treated special then they can go ahead and go private. I will shed no tears, but as long as they are relying upon money from the state, they are accountable to the state and the people who it represents.

          “A little more respect in return, and a little less ‘I’m your boss” attitude, would be nice.”

          I, personally, find that attitude repugnant. And I also think that the increasing entitlement that government employees feel to the money of the people they nominally serve is a very big part of the problems being seen in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

        3. SFC,

          I’m afraid either I wasn’t clear or you misunderstood my point. I never said nor implied that being a teacher made one exempt from FOIA. In fact, I specifically differentiated between what the law allows and what is wise. There may be times when it is good or right to use FOIA to look into the emails of professors, but this, as you seem to admit, is manifestly not one of them. Framing a partisan attack on a professor as about “accountability” strikes me as cynical. This is transparently an abuse of FOIA, one that aims to intimidate Cronon, and one that threatens the special mission of universities to engage in dialogue and debate.

        4. Ryan, fair enough. If you’re not calling for a professorial exemption then I misunderstood. But a significant number of the other commenters in this thread have done so. And, as a practical matter, the only way to prevent “abusive” or “intimidating” application of an open records request is to make it subject to some sort of “motivation” review, which defeats the entire purpose of having open records. This is a case where, honestly, people just need to suck it up and live with the fact that tools THEY like and use are going to be used by who they *gasp* disagree with. It is no more abusive or intimidating than any other time it is used by any one else. Open records laws exist as a method to keep organizations and the people in them accountable.

        5. SFC, I think we agree more than it appears. I entirely agree with you that FOIA serves an invaluable purpose and that we can’t allow the person whose records are being requested to be the final arbiter of whether or not the documents should be released. But that doesn’t mean that someone else, a neutral party, say a court, can’t weigh the issue at hand and determine whether the costs of complying with the FOIA request outweigh the potential benefits. In this case, there is the significant cost of protecting intellectual freedom, which is, after all, something upon which the core nature and function of a university depends. I think in part our dispute boils down to the fact that you think this cost doesn’t outweigh the person’s right to file a FOIA, whereas I obviously feel that the threat to university intellectual exchange outweighs Republican’s fishing for embarrassing information. (And I say fishing because there is no evidence that Cronon has in fact done anything even bordering on wrong.) We can both agree, however, that FOIA is invaluable in most other wings of government. As an above poster pointed out, it wouldn’t make sense for the IRS to claim, for example, exemption based on defending free intellectual exchange because the IRS isn’t about intellectual exchange, but about impartially administer taxes.

          Perhaps we can both agree with Cronon’s main point, however? I think in this post he isn’t making a legal case against the Republican request, but a moral one. He is saying to the Republicans, in essence, “Grow up. Putting information out in front of the public about how a political organization works is good thing to do – democracy, after all, depends on us knowing about these things. Intimidating professors because they posted a blog that you don’t like violates what _should_ be common standards of decency. Certainly our political life should depend on free exchange of ideas knowledge, not attempts to shut such communication down.” I think, in other words, he is asking the Republicans to show a little maturity in recognizing there are moral standards that should restrict their desire to embarrass those with whom they disagree.

  14. This is not the first time Stephan Thompson has used the Wisconsin Public Records Law to go after ideological foes – LINK

  15. A man misuses state resources to politic, complains when caught, and has the audacity to turn on his accusers. Apparently we’re to believe that his insistence on hiding the evidence is necessary to encourage the sifting and winnowing necessary to find the truth. A professor victimizes his students by intruding his politics into the pedagogical relationship, and then wants to use the students as a shield for his wrongdoing.


    1. I’ve been his student. You couldn’t be more incorrect. In his class I consistently was taken aback by how he could discuss socio-political issues, over the last 400 years, without taking a political stance on anything. His efforts to this end must have been truly hurculean, given the subject material. Basically, his impartiality was astonishing.

      Read his book, you’ll see.

      1. David,

        I had the same impulse (without having ever/yet been his student) to respond to the above comment, but I have to say: is probably not worth it. Trolls gonna troll, and all that.


        1. There are paid trolls. These might be some of them, though sometimes stirring the pot is enough to gather some attention.

          Remember, if you take all their vowels away, it makes trolling much less satisfying.

      2. “A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students.” The good professor doesn’t bother to assert that these messages are innocent, or relate to academic work; he only says that they are, under federal law, private. It’s not wrong to draw inferences.

        1. Except he unequivocally states: “I haven’t actually done anything wrong.” He goes on to state “. . . I have been careful to maintain a separation between my public @wisc.edu email address and my personal email address.”

          Your innocent “inference” is in direct conflict with the explicit statements of the Professor. Try again, perhaps after reading the entire piece.

    2. As a student of Dr. Cronon’s, I can say without doubt that the accusation that Dr. Cronon “victimizes his students by intruding his politics into the pedagogical relationship, and then wants to use the students as a shield for his wrongdoing” is completely false and clearly uninformed. Anyone who has had the pleasure of taking one of his classes at the undergraduate or graduate level or who has had him advise them, as I have, knows that Dr. Cronon is incredibly fair-handed and equanimous. In addition, to being brilliant and eloquent, he demonstrates an unwavering commitment to fairness in his interactions with both people and the past.

  16. I was directed to this page by Josh Marshall’s post at Talking Points Memo expressing his astonishment at this appalling situation. I have great respect for Dr. Cronon’s work and his position in these difficult circumstances. I would like to point out that, while it is true that Republican Party emails are not subject to FOIA/Open Records statutes, certainly the following entities’ government emails would be (quoted from Dr. Cronon’s writing above) — because they are all Wisconsin elected officials:

    “Governor Scott Walker; Speaker of the Assembly Jeff Fitzgerald; and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald… Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, and Mary Lazich….  the eight Republicans currently targeted by petition campaigns seeking to hold early recall elections in response to recent legislation.”

    Because these are all elected officials, they do have State email accounts (and possibly other relevant records) which are essentially public property and subject to public review. In fact, Gov. Walker just recently released a trove of emails he had put off releasing, after having claimed he’d received loads of emails supporting his attack on collective bargaining (it turned out that some were supportive, but many were passionately opposed). This release was in response to just such a request. While I dislike “tit for tat” exchanges on general principle, sometimes they become appropriate, as for example in cases of harassment. This may be one of those cases. It might, or might not, be appropriate for Dr. Cronon to file such a request. But it’s possible that some supporter(s) of his might be so moved. Just a thought I felt inclined to share.

    I actually knew something about ALEC because I have a habit of digging into things. But I applaud Dr. Cronon for bringing this important group to public attention and have no doubt this harassment is a direct reflection of the importance of his excellent work.

  17. On the contrary Bill, one read of James B. Conant or J. Robert Oppenheimer’s biographies exhibits quite clearly how scary this is. It’s a tool to censure not simply dissent but open academic investigation, through discrediting the source in a slanderous fashion. I recommend all to peruse the issues of Academic Freedom that arose in the early 20th and late 19th centuries. The impact this form of intimidation of academic freedom has cannot be overstated.

  18. It is now 1:39 AM in Oak Park, IL and I have to be at work at 8 AM. Can’t a person relax a little perusing TPM after a 10:30 dog walk without stumbling into another Pungi staked pit of the WI GOP?

  19. Apparently you don’t bother to read material before you attack it. There is nothing in Professor Cronon’s blog post that even suggests he would refuse to turn over the requested material. Instead he relies on his readers being a product of the enlightenment (you could look it up) and therefore able to understand how this would be detrimental to the University of Wisconsin in particular, academic freedom in general and the Republican party which comes of as a modern day Joe McCarthy.

    Then again, maybe you did read and just are incapable of understanding reason, a skill most people acquire around age seven.

    1. The above was composed in response to Thomas the troll. Somehow it did not get connected to his comment although it was a Reply to it. Sorry if anyone might have misunderstood it as applying to them…


  20. Fight the good fight sir. I hope this situation shines a bright light on the shamelessness and pettiness of Mr. Thompson and the rest of the State Republican Party who, like cockroaches, will quickly scurry for cover.

  21. Wow, just wow.

    I imagine they’re scared shitless about what they’ve unleashed. That’s the only explanation I can think off why they would engage in such a blatant attack on dissent and criticism.

    They’re acting like those despots in the Middle East who can’t handle the revolt of their citizens

  22. The Republican Party may not be subject to Open Records requests, but this Stephan Thomas an employee of the DOA, IS. Hmmmm, what could be in HIS DOA emails?

  23. As a Wisconsin teacher who has felt under direct attack by this governor and his backers since February 11th, it is helpful to see a clearer analysis of the reasons that our state has taken the road that it is currently on. The divisiveness that has been caused by these events, especially when it comes home to roost with one’s own family, is truly frightening and has shaken me to the core.

    So many sleepless nights, but this one is more bearable by at least seeing some light shed on the murky waters.

    Thank you, Mr. Cronon.

  24. Professor Cronon-
    Your avoidance of hyperbole and hysteria strengthens your argument. Your references to Joseph McCarthy’s toxic legacy are startlingly on point. Last year my 14 year old son and I read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Cant Happen Here” aloud to each other. This is much more than simply “academic freedom”. Fight this important fight.

  25. This is an excellent piece on the threat to academic freedom that politicians can pose, Professor Cronon. Thank you for writing such a thorough & measured account, especially under difficult circumstances. Given John Dowling’s responses to previous requests from Stephan Thompson (above), there may be some legal basis for withholding some or all of your e-mails since January 1st. Let’s hope that is the case.

    However, if anyone wishes to write to John Dowling in support of Professor Cronon, & to ask that he not comply with this request, here is his contact information:

    John C Dowling
    Senior University Legal Counsel
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    361 Bascom Hall
    500 Lincoln Drive
    Madison, WI 53706


  26. Dr Cronon,

    Your reasoned response to this transparent attack is almost reassuring that common sense and overarching principles will triumph over short-term political opportunism. Then I recall what appears to be a relentless onslaught by the Right in this country on governmental institutions of all sorts that amounts to a reckless scorched earth program. The use of inuendo and open slanders to call into question the motives, honesty, and patriotism of any who oppose their policy agenda has become an all too common tactic that seeks to delegitimize not just the person, but the institutions of which they are a part. Little thought seems to be given to the serious long-term adverse impact on governance in this country of this poisoned discourse. I hope that the Wisconsin Republican Party will consider the damaging impact of actions of the sort they have taken and withdraw the request.

  27. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has already determined that educator private e-mails, even if sent from a government e-mail account, are not “records” that must be released under the Open Records Act. http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=52285 Although this was a case about public school teachers, the ruling is certainly broad enough to cover a university educator.

    Keep up the work, Professor Cronon! Fight these thugs!

  28. Bill:

    The subject of history is truth; its tool is the light of intelligent inquiry. Unfortunately, the light of intelligent inquiry, even in the hands of such a skilled practictioner as yourself, is never laser beam sharp. I am sure that the work-a-day correspondence through emails of any dedicated academic would include the chaff of persistent questioning — brainstormed ideas that, while part of the process, led nowhere, false starts, dead-end avenues of thought, questions that simply led to more questions, unfruitful leads. Anyone with a sense of the way the academic process works would expect that and would conceed the need for a safe environment in which to practice this process. We would rather enjoy the entirety of say Beethoven’s 5th Symphony without sorting through the plinks and plunks of the false starts it took to compose it. Yet, it is a part of the process.

    I am appalled that the Republican Party would seek to use the Open Records Law to harass and intimidate a critic. As you so adroitly pointed out, that was certainly not the intent of the law. It is an act of desperation on the part of a entity that knows your insightful and intelligent Op-Ed piece leaves them defenseless in their actions. In my professional opinion, I feel that we as writers, poets, teachers, scholars, need the safety of knowing that the wandering tracks of our inquiries will not be what our work is judged on, rather the final product. Yet, there is irony here as well since I support the fundamental idea of openness that is at the heart of the law.

    While I quake at the thought of subjecting the records of a brilliant academic as yourself to the prying eyes of anyone, it may just be that the truth and light that you so expertly employ in your work will need to be trusted. Open your emails to them if you absolutely must. What they will find, I am confident, is the tracks of a brilliant, respectful mind, the workings of a true teacher searching, not for political or personal gain, but for the good of his students, his institution, and the truth.

    It won’t be easy. It will be painful. But truth and light will win out in the end.

    That is my professional opinion. As your friend, you know you have my completely respect and support in all you do, always.


    1. I would like to point out, that while openness and honesty in light of having nothing to hide can be noble, it’s worth considering what kind of a precident that sets. As our convenient Thomas the Troll points out rather unintentionally with his flattened claims, there is more at stake than just whether Professor Cronon has acted inappropriately or not (and call me naive, but I’m inclined to believe despite any personal evidence that he has acted as propriety dictates.) When we progress (or maybe more accurately, regress) so far as to be forced as citizens to “prove” our own “innocence” against unfounded claims, we come to a very dangerous place indeed.

      Contrary to Thomas the Troll’s accusation, the insistance on maintaining our privacy rights is NOT an admission of guilt, and should not be construed as such. Indeed, honest men and women WOULD not construe it as such. A multitude of U.S. supreme court cases have established that a right to privacy, although not explicit in the constitution or it’s amendments, can be reliably implied from them, in addition to protections against unwarranted searches, right to fair trial and innocent until proven guilty.

      I think it will be a sad, sad day, if we return to a political environment that says that any accusation is grounds for suspicion of each other, no matter how unfounded, and when an insistance on our rights become construed as an admission of guilt. (This is in addition to the issues of Academic Freedom that Professor Cronon outlines in his post.)


  29. Bill, this is a brilliant and helpful essay — and both courageous and helpful as well. Thanks so much for this, and also for your ope-ed piece, which was similarly insightful and thought-provoking.

  30. “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which along the truth can be found.” I have moved to another university in another state, but a poster with those words is still on my wall where I see it every day. Have they no decency? Indeed. Best wishes, Bill.

  31. Bill, this is a brilliant piece — and under the circumstances, it’s both courageous and helpful to the rest of us, as well. Thanks so much for writing it , and also for your thoughtful and thought-provoking piece last week in the Times.

  32. A piece that’s missing from this puzzle is the nature of state land-grant universities. As public agencies, they are more directly responsible to the general public than older universities in the east with varying connections to state government. As with, for example, public artworks, the question then becomes: in what way should such an institution be responsible to the public? The answer has been, for more than a century (see the UW regents report quoted in this article), that academic independence is important to the public good. It should be noted however, that this is a public decision, and not necessarily rooted in a constitutional statement of independence, or in the legal basis for these institutions. Chilling, yes, but in keeping with the public’s right to control this institution it has established with such a tight relationship to the state. If we wanted to “disestablish” the land-grant colleges and universities, and truly free them from being “state” institutions, this would make academic freedom a clearer priority, and acknowledge that the state is prone to political influence. On the other hand, it would cede control of all state institutions to political influence, something we’ve spent much of the last century trying not to do—weeding out machine politics, patronage systems, and the kind of corrupt governance that characterized much of the 19th century and early 20th century.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking piece, and good luck. Folks like you, and pieces like this, are why we had these institutions put in place in the first place.

  33. It seems to me in addition to all the other nuances here, there is some psychological projection on the part of the Republican operatives behind the request. They see any public position, any office whether elective or appointive, as a potential platform for furthering their agenda; they have a Manichean (dare I say McCarthyesque) view of political struggle and see all those who are not with them as against them; they probably imagine that, were they in Prof. Cronon’s position of prestige, it would be a dereliction of ideological duty NOT to use the position in every way they could to advance the conservative cause. Finally, I think they are clueless enough about academia to imagine that Cronon’s prestige derives from his state position and title, rather than from the depth and quality of his published scholarship.

    I don’t mean to paint all Republicans or all conservatives with this brush. Most hold their views in sincere good faith, and continue to believe in the democratic process. But there is a brand of ideological GOP operative who combine the hardnosed tactics of Lee Atwater with the blinkered ideology of the Tea Party, to whom all is permitted, to whom democracy is a joke, a dog and pony show for the rubes. That’s who seems to be in the driver’s seat in Wisconsin.

    Thanks for this blog Prof. Cronon, from a longtime fan of your historical work.

  34. I am stunned, simply stunned. I learned of this from James Fallows of The Atlantic. It’s clear to me what the Republican Party is trying to do, silence potential critics. They have no decency.

    You have my full support.

    Charles Lemos
    San Francisco, CA

  35. Maybe they want to compile a black list of students, family members and other professors. History tends to repeat itself, especially when people don’t seem to be learning from it. Time to stop the fascist takeover.

  36. Professor Cronon-
    I found your blog postings to be very informative and well thought out. As the son of two ex-University professors I support your fight for academic freedom and the continuation of the right ask the uncomfortable questions! The simultaneous introduction of so many union busting bills into state legislatures at the same time had puzzled me until I read you postings. It is unfortunate that so much damage can be done in such a short amount of time. I wonder what our children’s children will think of this era, the same as McCarthy’s hunt for the “Red Menace” or the start of a better political environment. It is hard for me to believe in the political system when I see so much sensationalism and pseudo-journalism, I won’t mention hypocrisy.
    I hope everything turns out for the best.
    Stay strong.

  37. Maybe they are compiling a black list of friends, students and other professors. History tends to repeat itself. Time to stop the fascist takeover of our great state and country.

  38. Professor Cronon,

    I’ve enjoyed and benefited from reading your scholarship, but this post is far and away your most compelling writing, based mostly on the urgency of the message, and how the outcome of this affair can impact our entire democracy. Thank you.

    Permit me one observation: You say that one potential negative effect if the Republicans are successful in their attempt to open your e-mail to public scrutiny is that top-flight scholars and teachers will not be attracted to the University of Wisconsin. That is undoubtedly true, but for the thugish-wing of the Republican Party this would be a positive outcome, as they can only thrive in an environment of ignorance. Top-flight scholarship will always be a threat to them and their methods.

    Thank you for fighting back against this abuse.

  39. If you haven’t already, you should start a facebook page to mobilize support (and there is lots out there – i am now seeing – and posting – the story all over twitter and facebook) and demand the withdrawal of the email request.

  40. As a high school teacher at one of the premier private international schools worldwide, I can guarantee you that if this gambit goes through, the best secondary students will no longer, as in the past, be applying to UW-Madison for their university studies.

    What a staggeringly short-sighted and unwise move this is for any public-spirited Wisconsonian.

    1. Don’t forget, the GOP is already making major strides in their efforts to discourage student activity. Fewer out-of-state students is a win, because that’s fewer liberal-pinko-commie votes they’ll have to suppress.

  41. Bill Cronon is not only one of the best historians in the country, he is a political centrist. To me, what is truly chilling about the WI Republican Party’s request for Prof. Cronon’s emails is that they are abusing our State’s Open Record’s laws and attacking academic freedom, and all because of a middle-of-the-road OpEd piece and blog post. by a single professor. What’s next?

  42. When one’s intellectual pockets are empty, one has only intimidation left. I understand that Mr. Jefferson said “In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of the first importance.”

    But if one *intends* to lead by force, then the reasoning arts are the ‘command and control’ qualities of a populace.

    When you exposed ALEC, you committed (in the minds of its True Believers) an act of treason–but a perverted definition of treason, a violation not of the state, but of a future state.

    It is good to remember that though the light may stir the shadows, the shadows cannot prevail against the light. So I offer my support and such light as I have to your work as an historian and scholar, but most of all for your work as a citizen. And I invite you to contact me, via any email you find appropriate, to call upon me to more directly or overtly support the cause of academic freedom.

  43. Dear Professor Cronon,
    I work at UW-Madison as a staff member. I am off today, home with my kids during Spring Break. I came upon this as I peruse my various sites and catch up on our state’s happenings. I was not able to read this full blog (three young boys keep you busy!), but I do feel compelled to alert you to when I was part of a FOIA/Open records request. I had conducted a department climate survey for our research at WISELI and a faculty wanted the raw data. The judge ruled in our favor, as the participants had signed informed consents and I was not forced to release it. I would like to send you the case because perhaps, YOU could make the case that your emails contained data and as such, part of your research. If you send me an email, with your address, I will reply back with the full outcome (case).
    Good luck to you. I appreciate all you do– your writings are thought provoking.
    Christine Pribbenow

  44. Dear Prof. Cronon,
    We are all with you-I hope, as the American university faces another major test to survive as an example for the world..

  45. Missing in this so far and of interest to the histories of it that will be written is the evolution from “climategate”, which although proven insubstantial is still a totem on the right for how academics can’t be trusted, as far as the right with their “conservative truth” website is concerned. Perhaps we should have done more to defend them: “First they came for the climatologists …”

  46. Republicans have become increasingly inarticulate and tactless in just a few short years, as evidenced by the ham-fisted attempts of Mr. Thompson to censor academia. Thank you, Professor Cronon, for standing up to this tyranny against intellectualism.

  47. Dr. Cronon,

    I am a UW-Milwaukee faculty member, sharing your concern, and your story as far and wide as I can. This is NOT what the FOIA is about, and I fear, as you do, that if this abuse of it is allowed to go through, it will be a devastating precedent.

  48. I have to join the dissenters here.

    In Florida, where I live and work, there is an excellent open meetings and open records law similar to Wisconsin’s. Those who use the state’s e-mail systems, including state schools, are generally told to assume that every e-mail they write can be put on a highway billboard. Most users, of course, have a second, private e-mail account that’s not subject to government in the sunshine.

    Dr. Cronon, just as any other Wisconsin state employee, must abide by the open records law. Making exceptions for academics or anyone else sets entirely wrong precedents.

    1. Sounds like a witch hunt to me! As the USA defends the rights of freedom & democracy for people in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, etc., it also is working overtime to deny the same rights to it’s own people. Since when is it a crime here to criticize or question the government? Welcome to the new Salem and please, dare not to speak badly about your own government…

      1. you clearly didn’t read the post. nowhere does he propose “an academic exception to open records laws.” he delineates the dangers of this particular use of the law, such that he argues that we should classify it as an abuse, and argues that the republicans should retract their request.

        learn to read for comprehension.

        1. Perhaps not a legal exemption, but he seems to call for an exemption in fact. I wonder under what circumstances the Professor believes a citizen could legitimately FOIA his e-mails. If the request came from a journalist or a fellow historian, it would be harder to invoke McCarthy, but something tells me would find another way to explain how his compliance with the law somehow threatens democracy.

    2. Except where precedent already exists – as with the Right to Privacy of students who might correspond by e-mail with their instructor or advisor – Dr. Cronon seems to take great pains not to note any desired exception to the law itself nor advocate changes to the law that would create carve-outs for any academic that would normally be subject to the law’s provisions.

      Rather, it appears that what he takes exception to is an exercise of the law which represents the misuse of an important tool — sort of like taking a lawbook and trying to use it at once as both a mallet and a fishing pole.

        1. Only at first glance.

          Use of the the quorum rules would be more akin to employing the lawbook as a booster seat — in that it, at once, both addresses the need for an improved perspective and calls the attention of others to that self-same need.

  49. Something tells me that the Wisconsin Republican party didn’t have one scintilla of one iota of one bit of an idea of what they were getting themselves into when chose to pick a fight with you, Professor Cronon. I am so going to enjoy following this story in the coming weeks. Best of luck to you, Professor.

  50. Best of luck in your fight, Professor Cronon. Once again, the GOP has crossed the line in an attempt to force their ideology on the rest of the country. We must stand up to their unending assaults on personal freedom and privacy.

  51. The purpose of Open Records laws is so that citizens can gain information about their government. It is an abuse of that law for a political party that controls both houses of the legislature and the executive branch to use that law to investigate a citizen who has been critical of the government. End of story.

  52. Professor Cronon,

    I appreciated your Op Ed in the NY Times and put a link to it on my Facebook page with a comment that it was a civil and thoughtful comment on the state of things in WI; thank you for that.

    I would also like to thank you for your detailed and thoughtful analysis and courageous commentary in this blog post. I would hope that as a historian and scholar, you will continue to probe and postulate – shining light on places that the rest of us might not see on our own; I also hope that the University of Wisconsin gives you its unmitigated support in your attempts to do so.

  53. Clearly McCarthyism is alive and well in Wisconsin. I’m afraid your idealism per the state GOP is going to be sadly tested, judging what we’ve all witnessed in the last weeks. Thanks for speaking up so visibly and vocally. And thanks for starting a blog so those of us not in your classes can enjoy your wisdom on current history. Memo to the GOP: I wrote my name in caps so you have no trouble copying it down when you read this post.

  54. Dear Sir: Thank you for this entry. I’m sorry for this attack on you, and your life’s work.. It’s very scary. I’ll help sending this info out as much as I can. Question: Stephan Thompson works and gets paid by both DOA and Republican Party and there is not ‘conflict’ here? Not that another Republican Party member couldn’t submit request, but the level of hubris is amazing.

  55. As a UW alum (PhD 1999), I’m both appalled by the Wisconsin GOP’s tactics and immensely proud of your response. What you’re doing is precisely the Wisconsin way, as beautifully stated in the 1894 report and plaque. Moreover, your considered response is a model of not only scholarly composure, but responsible democratic citizenship.

    Our government is always a complex array of both progress and destruction, regardless of which party is controlling it. When it leans towards the latter, as is all too often the case over the past decade (at least), we must be vigilant in restoring its positive potential. Thank you, Professor Cronon, for being vigilant.

  56. Both the blog post and this response are very well written and illuminating. I had no idea ALEC existed. It’s chilling that the Republican party of Wisconsin feels so threatened by Dr. Cronon they resort to bullying. Bringing the full force of FOIA down on an individual, with the explicit threat to explore his political views, is the tactic of thugs and tyrants.

    One wonders, also, about the cost of such an inquiry, the amount of staff time spent in sifting through the committee meetings and discussions with TAs and appointment-making to find the wee nuggets of evil liberalism the Republican party is seeking. If you’ll recall, Sarah Palin cited the financial burden of just such a search of her emails – as governor, an actual elected official – as a reason she quit her job, purportedly to save the state from its cost. Does the Republican party of Wisconsin feel this is a good use of state funds?

    Good luck, Professor Cronon. Keep posting on your blog – it’s great to read about this issue.

  57. Thank you for speaking up and for reporting on this open records request.

    If they continue on this, I am thinking about doing the same, targeting conservative professors, including those who work with, say, the McIver Institute or WPRI.

    It’s not a good trend, agreed, but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  58. Dr. Cronon, I’m sorry to see this happening. It chills everyone in academics to think of partisan hacks and lawyers digging through our emails for key words. I’m afraid they know exactly what they are doing. Anyone who knows you, your research, or your writing and teaching understands that no matter what happens in the short term, any UW review board will fully exonerate you from any suspicion of wrongdoing.

    The plan, however, is to make headlines forcing you to turn over emails, then sort through key words to find a single sentence pulled like a trout from a stream of conversation, hold up that trout along with other odd example fish and scream bloody murder about the health of the river’s ecosystem (that you are a partisan advocate not involved in intellectual research). They then put you in the position where you must release more emails, showing deeper time depth and the actual processes of “winnowing” facts and ideas during the intellectual process. Most people won’t have the care or the time to read the emails you later release. There will be no media coverage of the boring discussion of intellectual relationships that evolved over years. TV pundits don’t like textual analysis, and it really only appeals to academics like us and those who watch Book TV on C-SPAN.

    Their effort is to embarrass you and then waste a year of your life as a way to stop other academics from examining public policy using their expertise in public discourse.

    I’m most sorry about this because no public university academic in their right mind would publish a popular blog or use social media to engage with contemporary issues if such treatment becomes the probable outcome. It is chilling. It will drive academics back into the ivory tower, damaging movements toward publicly-engaged scholarship and academic practice.

  59. Do your university-account emails constitute “public records” subject to the law in the first place??

  60. As a professor at a public college, I am equally outraged! Thank you for sharing your story, and alerting those of us in similar positions to proceed cautiously (but still proceed). You’ve already helped the cause of academic freedom by alerting the public to this attack, and I wish you best of luck as you continue to uphold the ideal of academic freedom and the right to be a citizen and public servant simultaneously.

  61. Thank you Professor Cronon for all this wonderful work.

    I have to confess that a number of us who work in the UW Colleges have been anticipating Open Records requests for some years — since we tend to work in quiet and infinitely more conservative parts of the state than you do. :^) Here in Washington County, for instance, we’ve had to contend with Senator Grothman and a phalanx of creationists bent on taking over the school board. We’ve already had some use of Open Records requests as an intimidation technique used against school board and city council members.

    One of my colleagues at the UW Barron County campus wondered whether it wouldn’t be advisable for ALL UW faculty to include a reminder in their signature files that the following terms might create ‘hits’ in an open records search: ” Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.”

    — as a reminder to be careful with your .edu accounts.

    You have, sir, my very best wishes,

    Mark Peterson

  62. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking post and for your efforts to keep asking questions that have political consequences. I was a grad student at UW in the 80s and returned years later to work at the university. I’ve never experienced anything like the political bullying that is currently going on here. The right to ask difficult questions, to raise troublesome issues, to question activities that would infringe on basic rights–especially if those activities are being carried out by political parties, leaders, legislators in power–are fundamental aspects of democracy. Many, many of us support and appreciate your efforts; I hope that you also get the institutional support that is needed.

  63. UWM and UW Milwaukee have excellent Information Science departments. Contact them and the Society of American Archivists to see if anyone can help you sift through the ethics and legality of Thompson’s request.

  64. Profoundly shocked by this scurrilous attack on you, on academic freedom, and on democracy. Your analysis is brilliant, and I’m sharing it.
    Best wishes–
    Annette Laing, Ph.D.
    Independent Scholar, Early American history

  65. It’s really not a stretch to say that the “modern” Republican Party has been taken over by fascist elements who will do almost anything to stifle dissent.

  66. Fascinating turn of events. Thank you deeply for your analysis and scholarship, Bill, and keep up the good fight.

  67. First, let me commend you on taking on this issue. I frequently face decisions that qualify as “Is this the hill you want to die on?”. Your arguement is meticulous, thoughtful, and well-stated. If ALL political debate in this country was as intellectually honest and logical as yours, we would not have nearly the level of vitriol we now must endure in the forum of public debate.

    Having said that, I must point out that your arguement is based almost entirely on the assumption, based on logical reasons I might add, that Mr. Thompson and the Wisconson Republican Party are on a fishing expedition to find incriminating evidence implicating you in some wrongdoing regarding the misuse of your position within UWM and thus discredit you, both politically and professionally. I hasten to point out that this hasn’t happend,… yet.

    Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, as well as the Federal FOIA, is designed to provide the public access to public records generated by public employees on public information systems regardless of what type of media is applied, as you stated, “…making it possible for citizens to scrutinize the actions of their government and elected officials in ways that are possible in few other nations on earth.” I agree. Using your university email account for whatever purpose subjects that email to public scrutiny. Now, specifics revealed in those emails, i.e. students identities, confidential intellectual property, etc., can and should be expurgated from those communications thus protecting them.

    I don’t condone Mr. Thompson’s approach. He, like so many other political hacks of both parties, will eventually show his gluteus maximus. That doesn’t invalidate his request, nor does it authorize access to your “personal” email correspondences on your private email account (Let’s not mix apples with oranges). But within the confines of a public university and under the conditions I described to protect privileged information, I believe it to be a legitimate request.

    Give him his head so that he may show his ass. Good luck.

  68. Thank you. I can’t express how proud I am at this moment just to claim a history major from the University of Wisconsin.

  69. I’m not at all shocked that this happened, but I do admire what should become a textbook response. Discuss the process, offer some insight into the academic process without capitulating to false requests for openness, analyze the immediate tactics and narrative, and frame the big picture. Well done.

  70. A recent Wisconsin supreme court case, Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District, 2010 Wis 86, recognizes an exception to the open records law for personal e-mails of public workers. You will find it very germane, if not controlling, in your present situation.

  71. I doubt that the Republican party wants to embarrass you. They want to get you fired. When we use our academic stature to shore up our argument as a private citizen against the powers that be, we expose ourselves to this potential. I think what many of us don’t expect is for people who are consistently dirty fighters to drag upstanding people into the dirt. I hope it turns out well for you. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your willingness to risk censure for your investigative work.

  72. What about Ann Althouse’s blog? Given the types of comments on her blog I would think that she would have been subject to this type of request years ago.

  73. What precedent is there of State or Federal Government officials seeking confidential records using Open Records laws? Government officials, unlike private citizens, have the power of subpoena. Why would they try to avail themselves of laws that were designed to empower citizens who do not enjoy such privileges? It is notable that at no time did the government officials in question exercise the simple common courtesy of contacting the professor and asking how he arrived at his conclusions. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I hope the professor will avail himself of any and all constitutional protections he has at his disposal. The analogies to McCarthyism are highly instructive, and my belief is that this kind of overreach needs to be nipped in the bud. When one citizen is abused by government authority, all citizens’ freedom suffers.

  74. Well said. Thank you for so clearly articulating what is happening and putting it in historical context. Wisconsin in general and the University in particular are so, so much better than our current majority seem to understand. The degree to which they have sunk to thuggary is alarming. Keeping up current events feels like watching an episode of “The Sopranos”. Again thank you and keep up the “fearless sifting and winnowing” so we may eventually discover the truth.

  75. Dr. Cronon,
    I found your blog through a friend who is a UW doctorate candidate in the Rhetoric department. As someone who falls somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum and who is frequently frustrated by the extreme polarization that tends to take place in political discussions with family and friends (disabling us from being of any real use and causing any real & positive change), I value the equanimity and logic of your post. I am not an official scholar, but as the daughter of a long time public school history teacher, and the mother of 4 boys who values the academic process and teaches here in our home the importance of lively and open exchange of thoughts and ideas without fear of being judged, pigeon-holed (ideas are evolutionary after all and you are allowed to change your mind), or misaligned. This seems like a basic tenet of academia and it is alarming to think that it’s possible for unscrupulous individuals to commandeer the communications of an academic for the express purpose of disparaging the voice of that individual out of fear and protection of their own political agenda. I have been through the legal system in a different context, and had my emails, conversations, and other personal (and private) communications up for grabs, to be skimmed, pieces taken out of context, and in general, misunderstood to devastating (to me) end. The most frustrating part was having conclusions drawn about my character that were incorrect, and for someone such as yourself who values truth as much as you seem to do, it is indeed a scary prospect, even if it were legal, to have your words scrutinized and potentially misunderstood and used in a way to discredit your credibility in the academic world. I selfishly hope that you continue to post, despite the fear you must feel, for those of us who like yourself, are in pursuit of truth no matter what the cost.

    -A Concerned Citizen

  76. Bill, as another lifelong Wisconsinite, I also saw worrisome parallels to the politics of fear decades ago, some of my earliest childhood memories here, so I appreciated your thoughtful NYT piece. But I did not foresee so swift a return of the most despicable tactics, including the targeting of academe. The lessons of the past also tell us that such tactics will spread to colleagues far less prominent than are you — if targeting of others has not already begun. (As it has, in a sense, with low-level grassroots harassment of colleagues on our campus in recent weeks, owing to flagrant misstatements made on local blogs.) So thank you for coming forward first and fast, for the sake of wider awareness and alertness in uncovering and denouncing other signs of the spread of a Nu McCarthyism in our Wisconsin.

  77. I was impressed with your Op-Ed piece. It was centered and gave breathing room for both sides to contemplate the drastic changes that are occurring here in Wisconsin. I also started a blog 5 weeks ago and was thrilled to post your article because I think history will offer valuable insight into the current methods being deployed and ways to preserve our values through action. I also was one of your students at UW and have often been humbled by your writing, which reveals the truth without showing rage, I am challenged with this in my writing these days. I have gone on to do many things and recently moved back to WI because I could not shake the beauty of its land and people. It is now my mission to defend our values from acts that do not respect the historical, environmental and cultural values of our state. With this move to action my friends and others have been threatened, hacked and under survey by the far right. I am not surprised that within days of speaking your mind, you became a target for ridicule and lies. These are times when the truth is under the greatest attack, and media paired with complacency can flatten reality in a moment. Remain strong, your gifts are valued and continue to spread truth. In the darkness we will continue to unite and we will prevail.
    Thank You. Nina Bednarski. http://wistandingstrong.blogspot.com/

  78. It might be enlightening to use the same tactics to request any such communications between the Republican party and those Republican politicians mentioned in the Open Records request. Any discussions regarding why the information is being requested or to what use it may be put could be extremely valuable in bringing their motivations to light.

  79. Thank you for sharing this with the public. Attempts to silence you with fear and threats will backfire on Thompson. The Republican Party continues to find more ways to turn people off…

  80. I’ve been saying for years that the conservative Republican wing are not playing normal political games but in fact are staging a war for permanent political power. Your research and articles testify to this fact and the reaction they received pretty much adds another nail.

    On a lighter note I couldn’t help but produce a private snork upon reading your reference to the date of the University founding. 1894? Is this the always present mystery of life, the human skill for humor to juxtapose letters and numbers to give us a message or…, something? If so, it is certainly one of the better ones. I’m beginning to think trivia is the answer.

    Keep up the good work. We need it.

    Bob Virden

    1. Robert Virden: “permanent political power”
      You have hit the nail on the head, Mr. Virden. While interpreted as a fundamental dislike for unions, these and other efforts are attempts at a Permanent Republican Majority.

      I first cottoned to this idea when researching the bizarre obsessions certain Republicans have with ‘Tort Reform’… and discovered that the entirety of the effort behind tort reform is to limit the amount of money trial lawyers can contribute to the Democratic party -trial lawyers, by-and-large, tend to support Democrats for political office.

      Unions and trial lawyers constitute two of the largest contributors to the Democratic Party and the combination of their roles reduced, combined with business’ newly-found ability through Citizens United to make unlimited donations to Republican candidates is a complete stacking of the deck.

      Thank you, Professor Cronon.

      1. The policy of defunding has been a stealth strategy for years but the conservatives are now getting a little more brazen about. Just a few weeks ago the King of Propaganda Karl Rove explained the importance of killing the unions because, and only because, union funds will then not be available for Obama’s re-election bid.

        As far as the ruse used regarding torte reform, you are absolutely right. I happened to attend a ‘town hall’ meeting in Missouri during the ‘public debate’ over the Healthcare Reform Bill. Torte reform came up and the crowd went nuts, screaming about how lawyers are bankrupting doctors and making a bazillion dollars from bogus lawsuits which were driving up insurance rates. The host of the meeting, a U.S. Rep. (D), interrupted the loudest of the bunch and bluntly asked him if he was from Missouri. Somewhat taken aback, he stumbled around and finally said yes although it was quite apparent he wasn’t. She then asked him if his insurance rates had gone down because Missouri passed torte reform bills several years prior. Ha! It got fairly quiet after that but then roared up again at the very mention of Social Security.

        Shortly before this event I attended another ‘town hall’ meeting in Bella Vista, AR. Bella Vista is a semi-retirement community and accordingly the audience average age was probably somewhere in the mid-70s. The hostility shown toward any mention of Healthcare Reform, SS, Medicare, and torte reform was astounding. They were convinced that they were all going to be victims of ‘death panels’, a lie which was encouraged by the U.S. Rep (R) hosting the event. It occurred to me that fully 90% of that audience would either be destitute, homeless, living with relatives, terminally ill, interred in some God awful nursing home, or dead if it were not for SS and Medicare. But yet they hollered and proudly wore their Lipton teabags.

        This revolt against everything that actually is against the interests of those who have been brainwashed by 30+ years of 24/7 propaganda by the obvious pundits and outlets has succeeded in their goal of guaranteeing a 30-40% slice of voting power. This is enough, as is evident today, to begin the serious business of deconstructing the last 60 years of American progress.

        If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend reading What’s the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank for the background on the development of the strategy of deconstruction.

        And keep an eye on this blog. Thank you for your comments.

  81. Like others have mentioned here, I was pointed to this blog post by Josh at Talking Points Memo. After taking the time to read this lengthy essay, it is SO good to see that people out there can still calmly and precisely disseminate between what a conservative and NEO-conservative is. Thank you so much for writing this, I will continue to follow your work.

  82. Remarkable piece! Please, do not allow the far right of the Republican party to destroy US academic institutions. I benefited from those amazing universities by getting my Ph.D. in Botany at UW-Madison, but had the honor to hear a few public lectures by Professor Cronon. Now I am back in Europe as a professor. I cannot praise enough the intellectual freedom and stimulation of new ideas that made UW Madison such an exceptional place. After spending several years back in Europe, I sometimes have the impression that American academia is not the same I knew. I really hope that the political climate that developed over the past ten years in the US will not start a slow decline of American Universities. These Institutions have indeed been a beacon of light for the entire world over the past 50 years. Congratulations to Prof. Cronon for his reasoned explanation of the events leading up to the request of the Republican Party. I hope reason wins.

  83. I wish you well, Professor Cronon. You’re fighting the good fight not just for the citizens of Wisconsin but for the rest of us as well.

  84. Thank you for your scholarship and your courage in focusing on the current crisis in our state. I must say I have been disheartened by the recent lurch to the right here in our state. But as a UW-Madison History and Sociology grad, your articulate and robust stand for academic freedom remind me why I love the UW and Wisconsin. We all have something special here that is worth fighting for. Keep sifting and winnowing!

  85. It strikes me that part of their intent here is to silence not just you, but others in the broader UW community and other state agencies who would speak out. This certainly sends a chilling message to all of us out here in the hinterlands that goes beyond a reminder to be careful about how we use our “official” email accounts.

    I like the notion that counter-requests might be made: I think at this point an open records request searching on the keywords “Cronon” and “ALEC,” “WPRI,” “UW,” “UW-Madison,” etc., might reasonably be made of Stephan Thompson, Scott Walker, Fitz & Fitz, and all of the Republican senators referred to in Mr. Thompson’s email. I trust you have a good attorney (I fear you’re going to need one). If they want to go fishing, let’s go fishing.

    Know in the meantime that we support you, and are proud to call you one of ours. It turns out that “illegitimi non carborundum” makes a better t-shirt than an actual Latin phrase: still, it seems appropriate here.

    1. I don’t agree with fighting fire with fire. It is more effective to take the high road and set a good example of civility.

      The Walker GOP strategy of attempting to silence critics can only work if those critics stop talking. If all critics speak up, louder and louder, attracting more critics to the conversation, the bullying and intimidation fails. Their is safety in numbers.

      Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

  86. Dear Bill,
    Good luck in this important fight. I think you’ve certainly nailed the intent of Mr. Thompson’s letter on its head. I would only offer the reminder that in politics, so much is about the quantity of the message, so I’d encourage you and those in Wisconsin who agree with you to find ways to have the key points of your response repeated as loudly and often as possible, and in as many venues as possible. It’s important not only that you’re right, but also that you win.

    As a practical matter, one would think that an increasing number of academics at state institutions will simply start using free web-based private email accounts, and even a junior prof could get a cheap second computer on her or his own dime reserved expressly for that purpose.

    As a matter of principle, I hope you do continue to stress that your centrist political position is irrelevant to your defense, or to the practice of good history. As you have articulated as clearly and eloquently as anyone, bad history can be done by people of many persuasions and vantage points, and good history too.

    Thanks as always for your fine work. Courage.

    Thompson Smith

  87. Starting with the NY Times piece and now your blog, I’ve enjoyed reading your work very much. You have a powerful grasp of history and an ability to synthesize and contextualize it. Thanks for your work…

    R. Solanke
    Saint Louis, Missouri

  88. On a related note: I can’t help thinking that this intrusion does not bode well AT ALL for UW-Madison as it negotiates the coup-d’etat/end-around Scott Walker’s conducting against the regents. His plan is to stack the deck by stacking UW-Madison’s new board with his right-wing pals (I’m guessing his picks will look a lot like the board of directors of WPRI). If this is what Walker’s administration thinks of academic inquiry, God help UW Madison and whatever’s left of the UW system. Biddy Martin may want to do a bit of re-thinking, given what’s happening to you.

  89. This entire case strikes me as being one where the naivete of all involved is just breathtaking.

    What did you think the people opposed to you, politically or otherwise, were going to do? Adhere to some outdated principle of fairness? No, in today’s arena, it is the blood sport of old. They will use your life, your E-mail, your children, your NetFlix rentals, and whatever else they can find against you. If you’re going to write something scholarly and critical, expect a broken bottle and a paper bag full of poop on your door, flames optional.

    Don’t whine about their request for your E-mails (state employees have no presumption of privacy, so make sure you ask for their E-mails as well). Roll up your sleeves and think two steps ahead of them and keep fighting.

    Or give up and let them win. That’s on you.

    1. Actually, this world that you write of, in which penning “something scholarly and critical” will lead to a “broken bottle and a paper bag full of poop on your door, flames optional” is exactly what we are fighting against. Norman, you may enjoy, or even be well suited to, politics as blood sport, but MANY of us reject this gladiatorial vision of our political system. Perhaps what you speak of has been true; perhaps it is simply time to bring back law and order, civilization and decency. Over time we shall see whose tactics prevail.

  90. Being careful to type my personal email address in the little form here.
    I am a graduate student in anthropology. I must start by stating that your university is lucky to have you; it’s clear by your blog entry here how meticulous of a scholar you are, how thorough and balanced you are able to be, even in a moment like this. Great for a scholar of modern American politics!
    I must say, I imagine myself being a lot more nervous being in your shoes if I were un-tenured. If I were an assistant professor subjected to the same controversy- well, I’m not sure I’d have published the original blog entry or written the op-ed piece. And that’s an important part of the academic-freedom discussion for us to consider. Do all faculty everywhere have equal protection against losing their jobs over such a controversy?
    I’m in Texas, so I can easily see the same sort of attack being made here.

  91. I was impressed with your Op-Ed piece. It was centered and gave breathing room for both sides to contemplate the drastic changes that are occurring here in Wisconsin. I also have a blog and was thrilled to post your article because I think history will offer valuable insight into the current methods being deployed and ways to preserve our values through action. I also was one of your students at UW and have often been humbled by your writing, which reveals the truth without showing rage, I am challenged with this in my writing these days. I have gone on to do many things and recently moved back to WI because I could not shake the beauty of its land and people. It is now my mission to defend our values from acts that do not respect the historical, environmental and cultural values of our state. With this move to action my friends and others have been threatened, hacked and under survey by the far right. I am not surprised that within days of speaking your mind, you became a target for ridicule and lies. These are times when the truth is under the greatest attack, and media paired with complacency can flatten reality in a moment. Remain strong, your gifts are valued and continue to spread truth. In the darkness we continue to unite and we will prevail.

  92. Dr. Cronon, I will be defending my PhD in history next month at a private institution, but as a firm believer in public education (I was a high school teacher before I came back to the academy), I thank you for this vigorous defense. I also wanted to let you know that I just sent an email to your @wisc.edu address thanking you for this defense. At the bottom I included some of the search terms, without any context and without knowing exactly who they are, so that if this FOIA request does bear fruit, the people who are making the request will be forced to pay for a copy of my email, and will have proof that people are supporting you in resisting this effort. I wish you the best.


  93. It’s telling that the Republicans went straight for your private correspondence; if they are members of ALEC and believe what they are doing, politically, is at heart, democratic, why not respond publicly?

  94. Professor Cronon is a state employee and is forbidden from using his position to promote or attack any political party. He may certainly do so as a private citizen, and by all appearances he has done only that with his blog.

    However, given that we know he is both publicly employed and privately partisan, it is not unreasonable to wonder if he has, whether consciously or subconsciously, exploited his public position. The FOIA request is an effort to scrutinize, and even if the Republicans hope to use it as an attempt to silence, the request itself is a valid tool of public scrutiny and should be respected.

    If Professor Cronon does not wish to face public scrutiny, then perhaps he should not work in the public sector.

    1. Well said. This is McCarthyism with a velvet glove on. Your partisan opponents are an enemy of freedom and are acting unAmerican. I hope they cease, but I seriously doubt they have any vision but one of a transcendent and permanent oligarchical aristocracy replacing our representative democracy. Please keep us informed and may you prevail for the sake of freedom.

    2. “If Professor Cronon does not wish to face public scrutiny, then perhaps he should not work in the public sector.”

      While this sentiment may be true, it is a sad stance to have to take. It is the job of university professors to teach students to think and research critically. Do we really think it’s okay that every political science, history, theatre, or art instructor who asks their students to critically consider the history and current actions of a politically party or member of political office is in danger of public scrutiny of their email accounts? That kind of intimidation would mean that the best teachers and scholars would only teach at private universities.

  95. Actually, this world that you write of, in which penning “something scholarly and critical” leads to a “broken bottle and a paper bag full of poop on your door, flames optional” is exactly what we are fighting against. Norman, you may enjoy, or even be well suited to, politics as blood sport, but MANY of us reject this gladiatorial vision of our political system. Perhaps what you speak of has been true; perhaps it is simply time to bring back law and order, civilization and decency. Over time we shall see whose tactics prevail.

    1. “MANY of us reject this gladiatorial vision of our political system”

      Yes, and that’s why you’ll keep losing. You have no desire to beat your enemies. Their desire to beat you is much greater.

      Read up on politics in turn of the century America. It was nastier, it was more personal and more brutal than it is now, and the people who won were the ones who fought to take care of workers and they didn’t stick their nose in the air and pretend they were too fine and dandy to mix it up. They met violence with violence, rhetoric with rhetoric, ideas with ideas, and they never gave their enemies a free pass.

      See how far being “better” gets you. They’re counting on your indignation to paralyze you so that they can take all of the spoils.

  96. We may have a few more UW faculty members taking a walk up State Street this Saturday. we have room. Just fall in behind the Union cabs, folks. 12:30 Library Mall.

  97. Professor Cronon,

    If the Republican Party wonders why more and more people refer to themselves as Independent instead of Republican, they need to look no further than to this kind of b.s. At some point the politicians in this country are going to have to learn a hard lesson – that they are in office to serve US, THE PEOPLE, not themselves; and if they can’t get that through their thick skulls, then the people will rise up and take that power away from them. For this Open Records Request is just that: an abuse of power, plain and simple.

    If the Republican Party in Wisconsin is not ashamed of its association with ALEC, then they not only should back off, but they should publicly defend that association. Acting this way is akin to the attempts to silence scholars in 1930’s Germany; I hope Americans stop this train before it gets too late.

    (Note: I think the Democrat politicians are all rats, too)

    Best of luck to you, Professor, and God bless.

  98. Professor Cronon, I support your actions and thank you for the stand you have taken in Wisconsin. Much appreciation and gratitude from me to you. I look forward to following your blog for updates and sharing same with friends and family.

  99. Congratulations. Greg Sargent at the WaPo Plum Line blog just picked this up. You just went viral, and deservedly so. Your Op Ed was great and this long-form explanation of the Open Records Law and academic freedom is a classic. The Wisconsin GOP picked the wrong fight, and I sincerely hope that you make them sorry.

  100. As a former Fulbright scolar at UW, I follow what is going on over there. Some good friends keep me informed. I don’t recognize the Wisconsin I knew 20 years ago. Where is the freedom of speech American people were so proud of?
    I fully understand what prof. Cronon fears, that resisting could be seen as already pleading guilty, but I encourage him to do so. What do lawyers say? Are private emails real documents falling under the the open records act? How does the law provide for a balance between open government and privacy?
    Besides that, by trying to find some wrongdoing on the part of prof Cronon, the Republicans seem to me to be avoiding to answer to the very questions that were raised by his article in the NYT.

  101. I am constantly perplexed as to why political parties want one party, their party, to be the only party. After two hundred plus years you would think we would have figured it out, true democracy equals shared oposing ideas, shared information, in effect, compromise. This tactic, stresses that now, more than ever, we need to know our candidates, research our vote and hold those elected under a huge magnifying glass. They must be watched. Thomas Jefferson was right, we need to be careful not to elect a dictator. Thank you for your work and you are not alone…

  102. Thank you. You have given me a new appreciation of the practical importance of academic freedom. As an academic I have generally taken academic freedom for granted, but the issue you are facing and the historical context you provide certainly makes me more sensitive to its importance. Good for you for fighting back with such a clear and well reasoned argument.

  103. Having filed numerous public records requests myself in the past, including with public universities, I’ve found that even when a teacher is a state employee that does not subject all of their emails to public scrutiny. The question often hinges on whether the emails were part of their public duties or were private. For example, Wisconsin’s public records act defines records as follows:

    “’Record’ does not include drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working; materials which are purely the personal property of the custodian and have no relation to his or her office.”

    Thus, emails — even in a state email account — that are personal messages of the sender and have “no relation” to his public office are not obtainable via a public records request. Presumably the school’s attorney will recognize this and respond accordingly.

  104. If we take a look back at history, there is a long and illustrious line of professors, writers and academics who were exiled from their beloved countries for no other reason, in some cases, then being independent, rational, logical thinkers (think Czeslaw Milosz & Alexander Solzhinetsyn for a start). I shudder to think that this is the direction our country is headed.

  105. Just in case there could be any doubt of the parallel with McCarthyism,
    Gov. W.’, intellectual thugs step in…
    Please do not be surprized at the reaction and support you will get…
    and please do not give up your emails.

  106. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, this current crop of crypto-fascists in the Republican party and their corporate masters have been borrowing liberally from the Third Reich’s playbook for years. They are coming first for the unions, the intellectuals, and the few remaining well-paid professionals, in order to weaken any financial or articulate opposition to the coming corporate state.

  107. Scholar:

    Did you really expect that the total war the government unions and system beneficiaries have launched to preserve their monopoly control over the state political system would be unopposed? Should the November elections be destroyed without a whimper of defense? Leave your black helicopter theories behind, and man up. You and your ilk are not beyond scrutiny, and the light of truth should shine on all.

      1. How much more “man up” will we here? Does speak to the gendered nature of these Republican strategies though. A “man” is on the autocratic side; the rest of us are just women.

    1. “Did you really expect that the total war the government unions and system beneficiaries have launched to preserve their monopoly control over the state political system would be unopposed?”

      You do realize that this sentence is self-refuting, right? If the unions had monopoly control over the “state political system”, how would laws be passed — illegally and against the will of the vast majority of Wisconsinites — by that same state political system and a Republican governor?

      This is a great example of why so many Americans have given up on our political system — too many raving lunatics just making things up.

  108. As a former chair of another major state university-not in Wisconsin-I commend you for your scholarly defense of academic freedom. Any attempt to intimidate or silence persons who may or may not have a point-of-view contrary to that of a particular party is abhorrent to the functioning of a democratic society and is certainly contrary to the long tradition of “sifting and winnowing” at the University of Wisconsin. You deserve our admiration.

  109. it is now vitally important that you issue a FOIA request for all of the Governor’s and the Fitzgerald’s communication with the Wisconsin GOP, conspiring in the issuance of their FOIA request. If there’s even a hint of state government involvement in this harassment, it must be brought to light.

    What do they have to hide? Sauce for the goose…

    1. I agree. Since we know the governor has had to turn over emails already relative to his claim about responses to his budget, I think we could FOIA his email relative to the discussion.

    2. And emulating the structure of their FOIA request by “Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party”: Specify a search for the name of Stephan Thompson, a name also on the staff list of Governor Walker’s Department of Administration, with the purpose of determining whether any research, discussion, writing, etc., for their FOIA request was done on state time.

    3. I think you should use FOIA to request access to the emails of Governor Scott, the WI GOP, and Koch Brothers.

      1. Won’t work for Koch and GOP – it’ll only work for *public* records, which the Governor’s and the Legislature’s should be.

  110. I am baffled at the issue here. Taxpayers are using freedom of information to learn what you — a State employee– did on a State server on State time at taxpayer expense. The ORL request is “sifting and winnowing” the facts about what you did with State resources. This is a classic example of why opebn records laws exist– the people’s right to know. Your self-justification is laughably Nixonian– “if a Prof does it it’s legal.” C’mon Prof stand up for whatever you said and did with State resources. Be a man about it.

    1. I also work at a university where I have a campus email account. When it suits them, university administrators read the emails sent out through this service. If you log into a separate email account, they have no such privilege. For this reason, I tend to avoid using my university account, even though the same bits and bytes would flow through their servers. What makes it right to spy on me in one case and not another? It is hard to say, but how would you like people reading through all of your emails? If you were under investigation for a crime, this might be appropriate. What is not appropriate is to use that same method, without evidence of a crime having been committed, to acquire and(presumably) publish someone’s emails. If it was my hotmail account, you’d be committing a crime. This “it’s taxpayers’ dollars they’re using” excuse can be used for all sorts of things and if you go down that road, I don’t think either of us knows where it leads.

    2. NK, you so thoroughly misread Dr. Cronon’s statements I wonder if you did so on purpose. His logic isn’t “Nixonian” – no where does he state anything remotely close to what you argued, that if a professor does it, it must be legal. Rather, he rightly points out that he engages in many private conversations regarding sensitive dealings, many of which are protected under federal law (not just FERPA, but also intellectual property). Even if he has nothing to hide, the WI GOP is sending a message to academics across the state that if they voice opinions or ask questions that are objectionable they will be targeted. That is no way to maintain a healthy discourse and it flies in the face of Republican values of liberty and freedom from government intrusion.

      1. Sorry I read it prerfectly. While I can’t claim to know UW rules about using state office/server time for personal matters, if that is prohibited, then taxpayers have a right to know. That gives a legal and moral basis foir the ORL demand. The good professor apparently has no statutory basis to claim an exemption from ORL, so his plea comes down to “leave me alone, I can do whatever I please, the public be damned”. That is Nixonian.

        1. You could look up the law quite easily, if you look at Dr. Cronon’s post and use the link to the law that he put there for you.

        2. They have the right to know, but there are exceptions to the FOIA claim. The prof is not asking for any legal exception. I assume the documents whose relase violates other protections will be withhleld. In the meantime he’s simply trying to be clear about why he feels the request immediately puts him in a compromised position (ie “what have you got to hide”) and expressing his dismay about the use of these sorts of tactics.

        3. Mike– please re-read the Prof’s posts, he doesn’t want to invoke tailored redaction to protect proprietary academic research, third parties or any other recognized exemption, he wants to give up nothing, he’s telling the public to pound sand. RJ– all fair enough, but in the meantime the Prof has no exemption to a legitimate inquiry. Let him produce then the chips fall wherever

      2. Ian/GG McBride-

        Briefly read the statute and university policy, all very similarr with other states’ rules. I also re-read the Prof’s posts. Once again sorry, it made him look worse. He basically confesses to violating university no personal/no politics rules, he then plays a catch me if you can game using students a shield. he’s not only obnoxious, he’s dishonorable in this affair. Produce Professor; redact text relating to purely academic matters with students which is exempt based on prior rulings, but produce the rest. If University anti politics policies and penalties have to be strengthened because of egregious misconduct, this FOIA request can provide a valuable public service.

        1. I think you must be reading through the lens of political ideology. (aside: Why is it that so many people think that state employees are somehow wards of the state who have limited or different rights as do their private sector counterparts? As if the fact that state budgets pay their paychecks means every citizen of the state becomes their defacto-employer, or the expenses associate with their particular institution are somehow thievery from taxpayers. NOTE: When citizens of a State (of whatever level) decide that they want a fire department, as an example, and set aside money to provide for it, that doesn’t mean that every citizen suddenly has the right to direct the firefighter while he is working “don’t use that much water! I’m paying for it!”. I.e.,when a public employee’s union bargains for a wage increase, why is it always accosted as “on the backs of taxpayers”, as if an employee doesn’t have the right to negotiate the best rate he can for his job simply because he works for a public institution?) Just because a professor works for a State University, doesn’t mean he is subject to the whim of every citizen. A professor doesn’t have a responsibility to be politically neutral just because he is employed by the State. He is a history professor, he has a responsibility to investigate, opine, and record HIS view and investigations into current events so that he may contribute to the overall record for posterity. Presumably there are history professors at conservative universities who will make their contributions (and btw his blog posts are remarkable centrist, and fair) to that public discourse as well. The attempt to intimidate him here is political retribution meant to silence an opposing point of view, and THAT is the problem.

    3. NK

      One can certainly disagree with the idea that academic freedom from political intimidation is an important concept ((although I suspect Galileo would beg to differ) but to ignore the concept and strive for a “one size fits all” approach to open records seems to me to be less than fully thought out.

  111. Dr. Cronon,

    I’m not the historian you are: I teach and study technical communication. So if there’s anything that’s been made clear to me in the past couple of years, it’s that the public benefit of research-intensive universities has simply not been communicated to the public. Besides keg parties and post-game celebrations, research universities provide some of the heartiest dollar-for-dollar investments the public can make. And yet, scholars seem to be on the ropes. How did we get to the point that harassment, lay-offs and increased work loads appear to make sense in the public eye? I see your predicament as part of that larger landscape.

    Thanks for the good read, and interesting story line, but sorry you’re in the middle of it.

  112. Interesting post and turn around of what normally happens that I find amusing. Usually it is the news reporter or academia using the the Open Records law to investigate the details and agendas of the political office holders and looking for corruption, hidden agendas, strategies etc to either embarrass and inflict political pressure. I think full disclosure on all sides is good and will liven the debate. I wish we could see more of this type of disclosure becoming public. Especially if tax dollars are being used to fund the discourse.

    1. I think it’s important to make a distinction between politicians and everyday citizens, of whatever employment. Politicians choose to enter a world in which their public and private lives are often confused, and where there is an expectation of great openness. When an elected politician sends around pictures of himself without his shirt on, to a woman he’s apparently romancing even though he’s married, we can pretty much consider him a fool. What did he expect? There is a tradition going back to the birth of the nation in which politicians are understood to have knowingly entered a fully public sphere. In the 20th century, there was some stepping back from that free-for-all; the suffering of spouses, the difficulties of children, etc.; in the 21st century, that has shifted again– Bristol Palin, for example, both chose to enter the public sphere, and found herself in it in ways I doubt she, or her mother, expected.

      Against this context, you have everyday citizens, for whom there’s an expectation of pretty high privacy walls– doing an expose on a plumber’s marital life would be considered ridiculous, though an expose on his leaky copper sweats wouldn’t be. In between are public employees, from whom we have an expectation of appropriate and efficient work done, and whom we expect are to some extent representing us and our state or nation. If they are slovenly, or rude, or vulgar, we feel it is a violation of that duty to appropriately represent us.

      Cronon, though, wasn’t a politician, and as a public servant, he wasn’t slovenly, rude or vulgar. He was measured, thoughtful, careful. He presented not raw data but conclusions he’d reached as a scholar-specialist. The Republicans have every right, indeed the responsibility, to speak back, to argue with Cronon, to dispute his conclusions, to bring new evidence to bear, to propose alternative interpretations. That’s what the public sphere is for– to provide all of us a chance to witness a debate and to gain the knowledge of both sides. But asking for nearly carte-blanche access to all emails sent on a university account isn’t a public reply. It’s a search for evidence that Cronon is a petty miscreant, and that really isn’t appropriate or useful.

    2. First the public employees. Then, everyone else. Think about that. What is happening is intimidation. Look at all the attacks on people who dared to speak against certain power. This has happened even when videos had to be doctors and documents had to be faked to accomplish the task. The message is clear, ‘Speak up and we will hammer you down, get you fired, threaten your family….’ etc. etc. That has no place in a democracy and civil society. Those who are ok with this action clearly show their partisanship, but never think it will be used against them. I wouldn’t count on that.

  113. Wow, I really cannot find enough words to explain how fascist this is. Using tools of democracy to silence a scholar. Very classy 🙂 Republicans should be ashamed and realize that even people that voted for this party are questioning their motives behind their oppressive actions.

  114. The more I think about this, the more it strikes me that Mr. Thomspon and the Wisconsin Republicans have very publicly made your point: they really do bear a much closer resemblance to Joe McCarthy than to the mainstream conservatives that Wisconsinites thought they were voting for. Yet another grotesque over-reach on their part to add to the long list of grievances that will, with any luck, result in a (relatively) quick remaking of Wisconsin’s government through the recall process. Fight them, Dr. Cronon. Fight them.

  115. Dr. Cronon, as an older grad student in history at the other UW (University of Washington) I salute you for two reasons. First, for your efforts to turn often sterile scholarly work towards the task of informing the public discourse of the nation. As a former journalist, I applaud the effort to inform and educate a broader audience than many scholars do not even attempt to reach. It is much needed and, in fact, the future of the public university system may depend on such active engagement.

    Second, your decision to publicly confront this attempt to wield public records law in an attempt intimidate and silence your voice is a courageous act of leadership. It is a sad state of affairs when any political party believes it can win—not through an active, informed, and robust discussion of issues and positions—but by silencing its opponents through innuendo, fear, and intimidation.

    Thank you for you work, your words, and your courage.

    1. Well said. Courageous leadership. I grew up in Wisconsin, attended UW-Madison, dealt with Vietnam, SDS, civil rights, bombings, riots, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I now live in NH. Sweezy v. New Hampshire in 1957 is probably the most appropriate Supreme Court decision regarding academic freedom. It came about because of the McCarthy witch hunts. It is relevant today.

  116. Of course bankrupting an entrepreneur by boycotting his business for his beliefs is an acceptable course of behavior. Silencing citizens is appropriate, questioning the academe is just going to far.

    1. Russ, >>Of course bankrupting an entrepreneur by boycotting his business for his beliefs is an acceptable course of behavior. Silencing citizens is appropriate, questioning the academe is just going to far.

      I believe there are policy questions and concerns that apply to academia and “academic freedom” and the value of pursuit of ideas regardless of popularity that simply don’t apply to the private sector.

      As an small businessman, I am careful to keep my political opinions to myself because I recognize that there are a fair number of people who are on “the other side” and who wouldn’t want to do business with me because I’m a liberal; just as I choose not to do business with those who support what I consider to be extremist right wing positions.

      I don’t think there is anything ethically or morally wrong with making such free market decisions in regard to commercial matters. I believe, however, that academia and research and advances of knowledge should not be subject to the current political spasms and gusts of wind.

      We saw that with Galileo’s support of the heliocentric view of our solar system, as opposed to the church;s geocentric views.

    2. So you’re saying I have an obligation to finance political action I find repugnant by continuing to buy the products of a company that engages in such propaganda? You oppose not only academic freedom but the freedom of the individual to choose what they spend their money on, for whatever reason. What a perfect specimen of the wingnut ability to exist in a perfect state of cognitive dissonance.

  117. this post makes absolutely no sense. i hope you do not consider yourself intelligent (nixonian? what law did the professor break? what in the hell are you talking about?)

    1. >>this post makes absolutely no sense. i hope you do not consider yourself intelligent

      Hm. It made a lot of sense to me, although I didn’t agree with all of it.

      Are you sure the intelligence barrier is his? Maybe the article didn’t make sense, but maybe it did and the problem, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars….

  118. First of all, I would note that your effort at “textual analysis” of the email is basically just jumping to a lot of conclusions. I would grant that they are probably the correct conclusions, but most people would see this as a simple exercise in connecting the dots, and no Ph.D., years of study, or special terminology is needed. I guess what I’m getting at is: considering your big brain, is that the best you got? Nothing more insightful? If I dress up some basic conclusions that I draw from reading the newspaper as “textual analysis,” can I get a named chair too?

    Secondly, some free advice: whether you like it or not, you have left the realm of academia and entered the realm of political back-and-forth, at least on this one issue. So please, for the love of God, a little concision please! You write this (in part) as an open letter to the Wisconsin GOP, and yet it comes out as a 20-page, ponderous academic tour de everything. Who do you think is going to read this? Oh right. Other academics. Somehow I don’t think that most of them need convincing. Meanwhile the leadership of the Wisconsin GOP is only a 1/4 of the way through reading this, spacing out, eyes glazing over, and wondering if there are any updated NCAA tournament scores posted over at espn.com. If you have to apologize for the length of your essay up front and give the reader leave to skip to the end, that should be your first clue that you have written *way* too much.

    And yet, perhaps I mispoke (miswrote?). This wasn’t exactly a tour de everything, because it left out some rather important contextualization, to use the academicese. You could have cut so much of this essay out, and replaced it with a bit of history of how public employees abused their positions to perpetuate political machines, esp in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, and again during the Watergate era, and how this led to these civil service rules and FOIAs. You know, history – the stuff that you do. Then you could have perhaps put your own situation into that context, but dialing down the exaggeration about how your case could spell the doom of academic freedom in an entire state. The fact that some historical background of the rules in question is missing was hard to ignore, and I can’t help but think that it was left out because it makes your opponent’s case more than it makes yours. Better to address these things head-on.

    C –
    Needs some improvement. Good grasp of the basic material, important points left out, needs less filler material, mostly unconvincing as a polemical piece

    1. “So please, for the love of God, a little concision please! You write this (in part) as an open letter to the Wisconsin GOP, and yet it comes out as a 20-page, ponderous academic tour de everything.”

      Translation: Nuance and thorough intellectual reasoning? Lock him up.

        1. Fred, I grew up dirt poor in West Virginia and only managed to get an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science (high-class trade school, basically) and I read the whole thing and understood it just fine.

    2. Dear Fred,

      I’m sorry to hear that the leadership of the GOP would have so much difficulty reading Dr. Cronon’s blog. We expect middle schoolers to be able to read articles longer than this. Perhaps, if this is too difficult of a task, they should consider some other line of work. I want elected officials who are competent and able to read scholarly documents. Your analysis would lead me to believe this is not something I can expect from the current GOP leadership. Truly a shame….

      1. Bravo! He shouldn’t pretend he’s all about the text; what he clearly doesn’t like is its content.

    3. Fred, if you’ve got a better analysis then go ahead and write it on your own blog and get your own followers. Prof Cronon had 500K hits on his first blog post. And that from a C- effort. Cannot wait to see what Cronan can achieve when he reaches his A+ effort, given this analysis blew me away. When I first began to read it, I thought, “Why resist this. Just give them the darn e-mails.” Then I examined his reasoning and realized he was right on target.

      I do agree with your analysis that Walker’s GOP eyes will glaze over and they’ll be hankering to visit the ESPN website. They don’t seem all that bright. Oh how I long for conservatives to reclaim their GOP party.

  119. Dr. Cronon,

    I am appalled at this attempt by the WI GOP. A point I haven’t seen from anyone else is that this effort to access your e-mails may well have a serious effect on students and their communications with their professors or even their choice of professors. I am a “returned” student with adult children, and the idea that my e-mails with professors about my classes could be accessed in a FOIA request, despite the supposed protection of FERPA, is chilling. Doesn’t FERPA, as a US law, take precedence over a state’s FOIA law under the Supremacy clause of Article VI of the US constitution?

    Since I first heard about the efforts in WI to unempower the state’s unions, I’ve felt that their primary goal was to cut off campaign finance to the Democratic party now that Citizens’ United allows unlimited donations. I have to wonder if this isn’t an extension of that, partly trying to discourage students from taking classes with a professor that they disapprove of through intimidation.

    Good luck and thank you for fighting for freedom of inquiry!

  120. I’m a conservative Republican out of Michigan (and working to better understand that conservative position) and would want to know as much as possible about who or what moves or influences my elected or unelected leaders to make the decisions they make.

    I hope the Wisconsin Republican inquiry is dropped for reasons that you raise;
    those same concerns that I or anyone of any political stripe for politics to sway with the wind that winnows and fans for Justice and Truth to prevail.

  121. Can we stop pretending that the Republithugs care anything about freedom or liberty for anyone other than themsevles?

    1. >>Can we stop pretending that the Republithugs

      And can we stop referring to Republicans as “Republithugs?”

      Such terms just make your fellow dems and liberals look as stupid as those right wingers who rant about “libtards.”

      Yes, some really extreme ideas have taken route among the GOP leadership. I know many reasonable and thoughtful Republicans who also take exception to their current leadership.

      There are many political issues about which reasonable people can disagree. I believe that calling folks names is a poor way to effectively advance one’s values.

  122. Let’s not kid ourselves that Republicans want freedom and small government. Actions speak louder than words. It’s clear from their actions that many Republicans want freedom from accountability for big businesses while also wanting to intrude into the private lives of individuals. It’s also clear that many of them want big government to support big business and to do little for vulnerable individuals.

    1. >>It’s clear from their actions that many Republicans want freedom from accountability for big businesses while also wanting to intrude into the private lives of individuals.

      Excellent point.

      In the first Federalist Paper, Hamilton noted that

      “An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty.”

      He obviously was prophesying about the 21st century Republican party.

      BTW, when the founders spoke of “limited government” they didn’t mean small or weak – First, recall that they they were writing in the context of having just broken from a monarch who represented almost unlimited government power exercised by the monarch.

      Second, they mean a government with the internal limits of the checks and balances among the three branches and the external limits of regularly scheduled votes for our representatives.

      More at http://rjw-progressive.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-limited-government-means.html

  123. The public has a right to know what you’re doing with public computers on public time. Don’t like it? Resign your position and find work in the private sector. You should also go and audit a Comp 101 class. It’s clear that somewhere along the line you forgot that brevity is the soul of wit.

    1. >>The public has a right to know what you’re doing with public computers on public time.

      Perhaps if you had read his article or knew anything about FOIA laws you would know that there are many specific exceptions to that general rule, some of which he cites.

      I personally am a liberal, and I’m not sure whether I agree with all of his analyses and arguments, but I reject the idea that there is some simple magic rule without exception that can or should be applied in cases like this.

      I would be curious as to how you define your term “public time” and how you believe it is implicated in this case. I’m thinking that perhaps it was a turn of phrase that was just too tasty to exclude, but was used without any thought as to its actual meaning. I could be wrong, of course, which is why I ask.”

      1. Mary, the only excuse for your content-free insult would be if you wished to provide fuel for the Professor’s detractors. You should know that the people you disagree with will point to your comment and say “those people” are incapable of intelligent response. Every time one of my colleagues working to discredit uninformed bull descends into insult I cringe, as I know it will be used to undermine them, and is not helpful.

  124. And if there’s one thing we know, it’s that when Republicans decide to go to war against someone, there’s no limit to what they’ll do.

    They have no decency.

    And their mindless supporters will repeat whatever slogans and smears they spread, and be cheerleaders for their worst tactics.

    They don’t believe in liberty, or freedom, or the Constitution. They’re just slogans they repeat to win elections and destroy their opponents. Deep in their hearts, they’re fascists – plain and simple. We all know how far they would go if they could.

  125. “It also makes me wonder how a party so passionate in its commitment to liberty and to protecting citizens from abuses of state power can justify resorting to this particular exercise of state power with the goal of trying to silence a critic of its own conduct.”

    Bill, with regard to Walker and all the rest of them, I hear (or see) this kind of incredulous query from my friends often. How can they do this when they want to do that? How can they do that when they say this?

    I realize you will take my opinion here with a few grains of salt, as you are, admirably, committed to fairness, non-partisanship, and truth.

    However, we all — all of us who are committed to truth, liberal, conservative, and in between — need to remember: Actions speak louder than words.

    The actions of the Walker administration are not those of an organization “passionate in its commitment to liberty”, “to protecting citizens from abuses of state power”; they have zero interest in any “[justification of] this [or that] particular exercise of state power”. They are not operating on principle or with scruples. They think that they are right, that everyone else is wrong, and that they can do anything they want to get what they want.

    I realize that’s a sweeping statement. But: Actions speak louder than words.

    Meanwhile, the bad men of the Republican party in Wisconsin are mirrored by the bad men in the Republican party across the nation. I don’t think it’s unfair, or partisan, to apply my claim to those men, or what has become the party overall, which is increasingly controlled by such bad men.

    These men do not care about history — neither of their country nor of their party. They care about only power; power, right now.

  126. This was an incredibly elegant response. I’m not sure how any one, regardless of their affiliation, would not accept your argument.

  127. Fred,

    You are very clearly a student who couldn’t handle comments on a paper you had written and now think you are clever to throw them back. (Do I smell a disgruntled grad student?) Grow up.

  128. Dr Cronin, I appreciate your thorough and reasoned account of these issues and your earnest plea for open and civil dialogue. As one who sympathizes, I can only hope that such arguments will prevail in the current era of hyper-partisan, scripted, acerbic political discourse. But lately it’s been hard to hope, especially when the very values and discourses that shape your arguments, and others like it, seem to be caricatured and dismissed with ignorance and hostility.

    I guess the democratic project is to engage with others, despite differences. But what happens when those differences become incommensurable? And in such a context, what can rational discourse really do? (Honest questions.)

    1. Re: What can rational discourse really do? Begin by understanding that one’s own notion of what constitutes “rational” is not necessarily held by others. There are many ways to think, act, and be, rational, depending on one’s belief system and how one prioritizes one’s values. Bottom line: Methinks Mr. Thompson’s particular notion of “rational” or “reasonable” would be exceedingly different from Mr. Cronin’s, as would his value priorities. “Discussion/dialogue/argument/whatever can hardly take place unless the terms used are agreed upon. If no agreement can be reached, no discussion, etc. can happen. I would imagine, as others have noted, that this Opens Record Request is not at all about Prof. Cronin personally (or professionally): Rather as part of a strategy to discredit this particular work, AND the public University system that employs him. Prof. Cronin, I believe all your “impact” concerns regarding release, are likely on the money, so to speak, but your challengers have little or no interest in such matters (and frankly I don’t think the general public does either.) This is not about what seems rational to you or me, but what seems rational to those who seek to discredit you and, thereby, your (and other academics’ work). Unless the UW System is willing to back (or “front’) you on any refusal, on grounds you’ve noted, those you’ve exposed will paint you (and believably so to many) as just another arrogant academic who believes s/he is “above the law” (regardless of “security” interests) and hiding behind the Academic Portals. And they’ll likely do that even IF the UW backs you. Your actions at this point reguire exceeding cleverness, cunning, and thoughtfulness. Your challengers understand very well what’s potentially at stake: their credibility and the future of their notion of the country. The fight (as it is) requires MUCH courage, and understanding that even “truth” does not have a capital “t.” The “jury” on your blog piece and the Republican party responses is the electorate. The Republicans have defined themselves as your enemy, and all the explanations you give will go nowhere to those who already KNOW. Idealogues (and their “followers”) do not have the same notion of “rational” as you

  129. 1. are Wisc. state employees barred from using state servers/office space etc for personal or politcal matters?
    2. are Wisc state employees permitted to do so only after paying for the use?
    etc etc etc;
    3. Is union activity barred on state servers?

    when you owe your livelihood and position to the taxpayers, you owe duties to the taxpayers. Taxpayers have a right to know. Hence we have FOIL/ORL laws. Unless all faculty are exempt from ORL (apparently not) , why the outrage? Produce professor, produce.

    1. Actually, NK, unionized state employees do get e-mails from their unions on their state accounts. It’s one of the conditions that the unions have bargained for. However, the UW faculty isn’t even unionized, so he wouldn’t have any “union activity” associated with his account.

      1. People like this have little or no respect for academia, and don’t believe in the vital importance to democracy of academic freedom.

  130. Ironically I found it to be a great writeup of the problem with proper tone, level of detail et cetera. It certainly is no trite one liner or zinger that passes for political commentary or substantive debate in this day and age. I find that fact refreshing. A+

    1. Indeed, I thought it was a fair analysis of the situation. However, I think the vehement response has less to do with how or what he said than the fact that he said it at all. After all, they have not kept these institutions hidden in the shadows for the last 40 years for nothing. We all know cockroaches don’t like the light.

  131. Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you, Dr. Cronon, for taking the care and the time to give us the important details about this situation. Through these kinds of deeply intelligent efforts to expose the horror of the far right GOP, “the truth will come to light . . the truth will out” (The Merchant of Venice).

  132. “Many more of the emails that would be released under this open records request are communications with colleagues of mine at other institutions about various matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with Wisconsin politics or the official business of the University of Wisconsin-Madison—but they do involve academic work that typically assumes a significant degree of privacy and confidentiality. ”

    Then why are you using the Internet for such communication? Emails traveling over public networks are open for capturing and inspection.

    1. Ever hear of encryption?

      Lots of people use it, quite effectively.

      Of course, the mail sitting on the hard drive has been decrypted.

  133. Bill. This is an extraordinary presentation of issues that are facing faculty at universities around the country. At the City University of New York, where I teach, incursions on academic freedom and a prevailing culture of fear, have become the norm. The slow but steady elimination of tenure only adds to a climate of abuse.

  134. I must dis agree. All business done over state equipment by state employees must be subject to open records. I’m pro union and anti GOP, but this isn’t the place to make a stand.
    If you had been carrying on partisan activities then I’d like to know. Either way.

    1. “I must dis agree. All business done over state equipment by state employees must be subject to open records. I’m pro union and anti GOP, but this isn’t the place to make a stand.
      If you had been carrying on partisan activities then I’d like to know. Either way.”

      Great. Then let’s see all of Governor Walker’s emails since he moved into office. And a transcript of all his phone calls. After all, that’s all on state equipment as well.

      And this line is the reveal that you’re just concern trolling: “If you had been carrying on partisan activities then I’d like to know.”

      The professor is perfectly entitled to “carrying on” partisan activities, as long as not on state equipment. So your desire to know “either way” is so far outside the bounds of personal privacy there really aren’t words for it. Well, there is “fascist” I guess.

    2. Where did anyone say they shouldn’t be subject to public scrutiny? The argument is that a reason should be given for searching the records of university staff; not all public employees. And there’s a very clear justification for this that Professor Cronon explained very well: it will have a tremendous negative impact on academic freedom if this becomes a common tactic (which it probably will if this succeeds somehow).

  135. As a former legislative assistant and lobbyist in Virginia, I am intimately familiar with ALEC (the right wing partisan counterpart to the non-partisan American Association of State Legislatures).

    I would suggest that someone with an interest in good governance in Wisconsin submit FOIA requests for all email correspondence of all elected Republican state level officials in Wisconsin with the search term “ALEC.” That would be fishing for far bigger fish than trout

    1. Yes, Tom. This is a brilliant idea. I hope someone in Wisconsin takes you up on it. Because the truth is, everyone can play that game and in the end, much of what is found will be subjective and judged through partisan eyes, canceling out any meaningful judgment. However, numbers don’t lie as easily and if someone did such a search, and we found thousands of E-mails in GOP rep boxes with mentions of ALEC, well then that would rather underline the professor’s point, regardless of content.

      And to Professor Cronan—a million kudos to you. I read your entire blog piece here with great pleasure and thanks that there are still those who understand just how important these issues are, and are willing to take the time to explore them so brilliantly and thoroughly. And—my opinion—our democratic principles are being undermined and corrupted by the current GOP, whose crazy train ride to extremism is the scariest thing I’ve lived through yet.

  136. Professor Cronin, Thank you for your insightful post in explanation of the GOP request into your affairs. I am sorry you are in this fix. I support your efforts and I am happy you are fighting back. Please do not cave in. I find that Republics often attack what they are doing or want to do themselves. They raise a stink on an issue in order to provoke cover for their nefarious efforts. A classic “Look over there, nothing to see here” move. Were it not as bad as they are, I would suggest someone request the records of a conservative leaning academic to see if their participation is as legitimate as yours . I suspect further that there already is a professor at UW working at “taxpayer expense” with “tax paid” tools on behalf of the Republics of Wisconsin, perhaps to the benefit of Mr Thompson or even the governor himself. But who wishes to ferret out this loser? A good investigative reporter might.
    Good luck sir.

  137. Bill, as you know intimidation is a key tool of bully’s who are quite often cowards. I knew when I read the first post that this was likely to be the inevitable journey you would take. I read the post with both great interest and in great detail. As a former state administrator, I did not feel the content expressed any more than a clear interest in understanding the nature that AVEEC has had in developing political policy within and outside the Republican Party.

    I emphatically concur with your conclusion relative to Academic Freedom and the chilling effect of this request on your academic communication with students and profession colleagues. passionately invested in their agenda and believe its righteousness in a deeply religious way.

    In their view your post was an attack against views which if not adopted by the electorate, would reflect failure on the well developed strategy.

    I too hope that Mr. Thompson might reconsider his request and seek to open a dialogue to help everyone understand the full nature of their relationship with ALEC and how it informs their agenda for our state. For, if they are truly sure of the ideas, they can broker them in a open forum for all of us to see.

    I suspect that if in the open, I would agree with some and disagree with others. If their response of out of fear, this situation will continue to escalate and consume great amounts of your precious time. I hope that an effort to create a dialogue with these people help them explain there fear and that your intent was not one of advocacy for a given point of view.

  138. Bravo, Prof. Cronon!

    Keep fighting the good fight. What you are doing here is extremely important. I wish I could help in some way.

  139. I agree completely that use of FOIA as an intimidation tactic is to be denounced. But we who labor in the private sector have long since learned there can be no assumption of privacy in company email. It may seem illogical and unfortunate to you to have to use private accounts for mail with your students, but that is the world many, if not most, students will live in when they graduate. I’d want them to learn to assume that anything they write in an institution’s email system may become public or be read by the person they would least want to.

    1. Did you actually read the whole post, or just skim it? He shouldn’t give in to harrassment by fascists. That’s what matters.

  140. This and the article in the Times are beautifully written and well thought out. Reading gives me great pleasure, and reading this, despite the despicable subject matter, was the greatest pleasure.

    I wish that Phil Jones and the climate scientists under constant attack had your skill with words. The worldwide campaign to prevent people from seeing and thinking about truth is sad indeed. Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to laugh about it, but at the moment I’m not so sure this demogoguery will not succeed in looting all the natural and material wealth leaving them with not only a poor intellectual but also a poor material inheritance.

  141. You make a completely logical but not necessarily accurate assumption that Mr. Thompson et al are “after you”, but it may be that they’re simply using you to find out where your information is coming from – looking for, perhaps, a leak within the GOP folk who were involved in the process, or someone from an organization that would be worth their while to take on. Assuming that you yourself are the target is to attribute a status to yourself that you may or may not hold. While the old saying, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you is sometimes true, it’s also sometimes not.

  142. The very issues raised here go to the heart of the current problem – that ties to politics and parties are a matter of power, rather than of democracy. Democracy asks the question, does this contribute to benefitting people based on freedom and truths; partisan politics asks if this benefits a particular viewpoint and party.

    One issue I don’t recall seeing discussed is that this is apparently a private blog (and web site), although I’m not sure even if it was at wisc.edu, that an open records law request would be warranted. Yes, this was informed by Professor Cronon’s professional work, but he is not only entitled to his personal perspective, he is providing a great offering by allowing everyone, not just students or colleagues, the benefit of his education and knowledge.

    We have a governor and leader of the party in this state who has clearly practiced intimidation and threats – to use the national guard against unions, to support other candidates in primaries if legislators in his party don’t vote his way, to fire workers if he doesn’t get his way on legislative votes, and a massive police presence in response to amazingly peaceful protests – and whose own history on releasing emails and public information is highly suspect. The response here unfortunately seems to follow in that vein.

    It’s a very sad day when our democracy has become based in power and profits rather than principles.

    Thank you, Professor Cronon, for your inquiry, your principles, and your courage. This is what democracy looks like.

  143. As a historian and Midwesterner, I have long admired your generous and astute analysis of the local, so I am not surprised that you should be caught up in the current crisis in Wisconsin. Thank you for offering your professional skills to defend our regional virtues. Keep standing up–you are not alone.

  144. Dear Professor Cronon,

    Thank you for your words, and for your courage in stepping into this charged situation. I don’t have anything to contribute beyond these words of gratitude and support, but I hope that the encouragement is of value. Thank you!


    Andrew Karlson

  145. This Republican maneuver fits nicely with that party’s mission of silencing and destroying all public institutions, from transportation to public schools to Social Security, and on and on. If they succeed in wrecking Wisconsin’s long tradition of academic freedom, the consequences will be felt nationwide as the best scholars and researchers flee public universities to the haven of private schools unburdened by such restraints. I don’t believe that such an outcome is in any way an undesired side effect of their actions, but its primary goal. The Republican party’s passionate defense of the “right” of unregulated for-profit diploma mills to dip into public money is not coincidental — just another front in their war to transfer all public resources to their corporate cronies and paymasters.

  146. I really enjoyed the richness of your analysis. However, I disagree with a few key points. As a historian, you are focused on content rather than politics and power. I do not think they are attacking you because of the ALECS or other specific content of your arguments but rather because of your prominence in public discourse. The problem for them is probably not the specifics of what you say, but rather the power of who is listening to you. Your blog has millions of hits. You are writing op-ed pieces for major newspapers.

    So many of the PR games for the recent conservative turn have involved red herrings, fallacies, and dare I say, bold faced lies. One of their central tactics has been drawing attention to others such that it is drawn away from themselves. I am willing to bet that any of your colleagues who attain similar exposure for their commentary will receive similar requests.

  147. Dear Professor Cronon,

    I am writing to express my solidarity with you against this transparent act of political intimidation. Your dissection of the situation is (as is typical of your work) careful, nuanced, thorough, and subtle, which, alas, makes me think it will utterly fail to persuade those who wish you harm. Please accept my sympathy for your situation and my thanks and admiration for your courageous response.

  148. So much is at stake in fighting the McCarthy style intrusion of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Any one who works with students or voice opinions on matters that Republicans deem disagreeable in any given election cycle, could be used by them to perpetuate their political and personal ambitions. I think of the work nurses do with students and the careful record keeping they are required to do. Could any students personal health or mental health information become part of a parties political strategy via an open records request of the nurses notes, or even prof’s notes, in caring for students whose treatment or counseling by the nurse offends the agenda of the party in power, such as pregnancy counseling. These are FERPA protected records kept on school computers using school purchased record keeping software. There will be no end to the abuse of this if UW cooperates. And it will spread to other states as the Republicans have conducted operations in multiple states from a single party agenda.

  149. Thanks for fighting the good fight for us all. Your writing is wonderful and broad with facts and wider as well as wiser considerations. ALEC is as dangerous as Wisconsin’s late Senator McC.

  150. Prof. Cronon,
    Thank you for your continued blog essays. I, and my family, stand in solidarity with you against this blatantly political attack on academic freedom. Have courage!

  151. I realize this doesn’t solve your dilemma, but I can’t help wondering what their response would be if you said, “I will if you will.”

  152. Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cucicinelli, is another ultra-right wing politician who set the stage last year for these kind of assaults on academic freedom. Cuccinelli demanded access to a University of Virginia meteorological scientist’s e-mails to search for evidence that the professor had assisted in massaging East Anglia climatic data to falsify results. Over a year later, he is still going after the professor and the Virginia Supreme Court is preparing to hear his appeal after a Charlottesville judge ruled against the request. The scientist has left UVa and is now at Penn State. (www.cavalierdaily.com/2011/03/16/court-agrees-to-consider-appeal/)
    Obviously some of Joe McCarthy’s evil sperm hung around in Wisconsin, but maybe he spread it around in other states, too.

  153. Professor Cronon,

    None of us, I’m sure, think that political dirty tricks are ever going to go away, but such use of them would seem to have developed into more creative abuses. Obviously support or rejection of your positions would generally fall along ideological lines but I would wager that those who find themselves truly independent would side with you almost unanimously.

    Keep up the good fight and know that you have a large and ever increasing cadre of support.

  154. Very well said.

    Prof. Cronon, you’re being pulled into our new political reality, “Politics as a sport.” As in any sport, if one team decides that there are no rules, no limits on aggression, then “anything goes.”

    Keep up the good fight, they will lose when the American people wake up and see the ugly vindictiveness behind their mask.

  155. Personally, I’m not sure your FERPA defense actually holds water (though it is certainly in line with how college administrators like to talk about FERPA these days).

    For one, I’m unaware of any specific court ruling that equates a student’s opinion in an email with being part of their “Student Record.” I.e. it would violate FERPA to release a student’s GPA or test score (though to be honest, I know professors that publicly announce test scores with semi-regularity if someone scores particularly well), but to say their opinion on Chopin or political topics of the day is part of their “student record” is probably a stretch against both the intent of the law and how a court would be likely rule on it.

    The other key is that, as I understand FOIA generally (though Wisc may differ), actual confidential information can still be redacted in a release. So if an email met the search criteria, you could arguably redact any specific pieces that were student-identifying or specific to their record and still meet the FOIA.

    Though certainly, consideration of any possible violations, and then redaction would add time (i.e. expense) to the cost of meeting the FOIA request, which would sway the cost/benefit “balance” you discuss farther to the cost side.

  156. Sir,
    An eloquent respose to a tyrannical inquiry. You are a shining example for all of what is great about America and what a great American does. Today, you stand shoulder to shoulder with George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Thank you for your good work and honest research. All the best…

  157. Thank you for writing the excellent article in the New York Times. Also for the thoroughgoing blog that really said it all! It looks like Wisconsin’s “Scoundrel Time” is upon us! As you may know, that very apt phrase was coined by Lillian Hellman during the McCarthy Hearings, and also the name of the book she wrote about that period


  158. The Professor is really naive if he thinks the Republicans will even consider withdrawing their request for his emails. The Republican Party is now dominated by radical, right-wing fanatics who will do or say absolutely anything to gain some partisan advantage. They have no sense of fairness or bipartisanship and view those impulses in others merely as weaknesses to be exploited. I greatly admire the Professor’s courage and willingness to stick his neck out. He’s better be prepared for the worst, vilest, most unfair attacks imaginable. This is most definitely NOT the Republican party of Robert LaFollette he will be dealing with.

  159. By the way, did the Republican National Committee ever find Karl Rove’s “lost” emails?

  160. This whole situation since Walker has been in office — a mere couple months, remember! — is so Kafkaesque that it is mind-boggling. The oligarchs (e.g., the Koch brothers), courtesy of the right-wing ideologues like Walker that they’ve bought and paid for, are determined to turn this nation “of, for, and by the people” into one “of, for, and by the few.”

    The once great progressive state of Wisconsin is becoming unrecognizable. For the first time in my life, I am embarrassed to tell people I live in Wisconsin. Not because of the protests or the actions of the “14,” but because of the “governor” who does not deserve the title and his fellow conservatives who have drastically overplayed their hand. And, yes, recalls and court challenges are the only ways to prevent Walker and his cronies from running this state like a Midwestern version of the Kremlin. If you think that reference is a stretch, consider: Walker sending out State Patrol troopers to state senators’ homes to return them to the senate to vote, using them (illegally, by the way) like his personal police force (of course, the newly-appointed superintendent of the State Patrol is none other than Stephen Fitzgerald, the father of Wisconsin’s two most powerful Republican state lawmakers, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald — do we see a pattern here?); and now state Republican Party apparatchiks harrassing scholars and citizens who dare to question what’s going on, under the guise of the open records law — a law which, if they have there way, would disappear entirely! It’s an assault on freedom, folks. Don’t let it happen! Wake up before it’s too late.

    I wish to congratulate you, Prof. Cronon, for upholding the Wisconsin Ideal. It is people such as you — not the governor and his ilk — that make me proud to be a Badger and give me a glimmer of hope that people won’t put up with this new McCarthyism that is at play. If Walker et al have their way, what once made Wisconsin a great place to live will soon be lost; instead, we’ll become serfs in some bizarro-world Koch brothers fiefdom. Stay strong, Professor! On Wisconsin! Forward! (Not backward!)

    1. Geo, well stated. I appreciate the time you, and many others posting comments, spent expressing your thoughts. I am hopeful this dark time of extremists within one party going overboard for an extremist agenda will lead to more thoughtful votes in future elections; and, more intelligent political discourse. We mostly deserve what we get when the majority fail to vote; or, vote without a true effort to learn about important issues and the candidates position on them. Hopefully, the discourse occurring as a result of Gov. Scott and his fellow conservative govenors will be the wake-up call to a better informed voter.

      1. Jack, I appreciate your comments, as well. And you are spot on: we get the government we deserve, although it could be argued that we sure didn’t deserve this. Still, a lesson for all those who think their vote doesn’t matter; this is what can happen, folks. We have to stop taking for granted the rights we have. Because, as we have seen in just a matter of a few months, those rights can be taken away in the blink of an eye by those who are dancing to the tune of the elite and powerful who have agendas that view the vast majority of citizens’ rights as little more than obstacles in the cogs of their profit machinery. Charlie Chaplin’s last full-length silent film, “Modern Times,” almost seems prescient in some respects.

        The “thugs” — a phrase the right-wingers like to use — isn’t the great middle class and union workers trying to hang onto their lives, it’s those Republicans and their backers who somehow think they can rule by fiat for the benefit of a few. There’s the thuggery, my friends. This is a much greater threat to our democracy than I think most people even see. If people don’t wake up and VOTE much of what we have come to know and appreciate about life not only in Wisconsin but in the U.S. could be gone. If folks don’t think that can happen, just open your eyes: it’s already happening, and not just in Wisconsin. Heck, the Supreme Court (skewed to the right, what a shocker!) even declared a little more than a year ago that corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens. (Which begs the question: if corporations now have First Amendment rights do they also have all other rights just a individual citizens do? The right to bear arms, for example???)

        The only redeeming aspect of this whole series of events taking place now is that the Koch brothers et al have put their money on political ideologues in Wisconsin who obviously aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box. Their actions are blatant. A sharper bunch may have been able to obscure what is really at work and pull off this power play. Not so with this crew. And it is that that will be — is! — their undoing. Recalls, court challenges and especially voting can correct these wrongs that the extreme right are perpetrating. It’s time we care what happens, and to whom, before it really is too late.

  161. You are a really wonderful example for people, thank you for your well thought out response! Keep up the great work.

  162. Prof. Cronon:

    Thanks for defending academic freedom! I do not know if there is a definite trend but I sense an increased effort by several groups and (state) governments to curtail academic freedom across the US. We in academia must resist as much as we can, for the future of our society is at stake.

  163. Using this as a template, why not turn the tides on Mr. Thompson using the very Open Records Request he now seeks to employ as a cudgel?

    From: Stephan Thompson [mailto:SThompson@wisgop.org]
    Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:37 PM
    To: Dowling, John
    Subject: Open Records Request

    Dear Mr. Dowling,

  164. Um, you made the decision to work for the taxpayers.

    If you don’t want to work for the state, then get a real job and stop living at the taxpayers’ expense.

    How is it squashing dissent to find out what the powerful government, for which you work, is up to?

    1. Well, Mr. DiP, I imagine you work for a company somewhere. So, if the company you work for is audited by the IRS, shall we assume that you are willing to turn over all your private email for the IRS to determine whether or not you behaved properly?

      Anyway, if you are so blind that you cannot tell the difference between an academic and a state employee with power of the “government”, there is no hope for you.

      1. Actually John, you’d better be prepared to have any mail you sent from the workplace shared with the IRS or anyone else who the corporation chooses to share it with. The law is pretty clear by now that you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy from the company when using company resources, including email.

        That aside, I have to say that as a left of center supporter of collective bargaining rights who largely agrees with Mr Cronon on other things that I couldn’t disagree with his approach to this matter more.

        FOI laws are crucially important for all of us to be able to see what is going on with our tax dollars, and I say that as someone who has to walk the walk as well as talk the talk: all my professional communications that don’t disclose privileged student information are subject to disclosure upon request.

        Falling back on this claim that FOI requests can be punitive (as people attempting to prevent public participation have recently done in Fairfax, VA with a tone sadly similar to this post) and should be subject to the whim of the disclosing organization is simply wrong. Mr Cronon should try to take a step back and question whether he’d be applying this short of reaction to other matters of public interest or FOI requests that don’t involve him. The potential harm of allowing selective following of FOI laws is far greater than can be created by occasional cranks.

        The actions of Mr Thompson and his cohorts here are repugnant and pathetic and deserving of sneers. What should accompany those sneers is complete compliance with the law.

        If we’re going to defend freedom and open government and the citizen’s right to participate then we cannot selectively apply that. We can’t only honor FOI requests with motives we think are noble any more than we can only defend speech we think is worth hearing. The motivation here is irrelevant and Mr Cronon does himself dishonor in not honoring the request with his head held high.

        Just as we would when the morons at the Westboro Baptist Church wish to say things we thing are repugnant. Just as we should when we have to drop a case against a guilty person because their civil rights were violated during an investigation. The purpose for a FOI request is irrelevant. What’s important is the point of open government.

        1. Read what Prof. Cronon has written. You are wrong in many of your statements as to what he has done and will do. That, of course, does not reflect poorly on him but on ____________ (fill in the blank).

        2. Don, I beg to disagree with your comment. I think there is a huge difference between a college professor’s e-mails using a public website and government records. Extending freedom if information to include personal postings in e-mails will have a chilling impact upon political discourse. When a student does e-mail an insightful comment, must a professor refuse to answer or must the professor extend to his/her student a private e-mail for such comments.
          I do believe a professor’s e-mails should be available for restricted review where there is a concern about some inappropriate communication. There are a wide range of reasons why the school may need to review, through a sealed record approach. this approach should be debated and agreed to by the faculty and the institution. The panel assembled to review should include faculty and administration and perhaps a faculty member from another institution but this would need to be explored to see if the merits outweigh the expansion of disclosure.
          I personally am a person who very much enjoys debate of a variety of topics. However, when I was a student, if I was aware my e-mails were subject to public disclosure I would have significantly restricted the topics I debated. I think this chilling impact upon the exchange of discourse within the university setting would be sad and harmful to the education of our citizens.

        3. I think you’ve missed Cronon’s argument. He’s a professor of history; he loves the Open Records Law. He isn’t objecting to the Open Records Law, or suggesting it not be applied to universities or university professors. He’s pointing to the probable effects of abuse of the law if applied in the wholesale manner demanded. The presumption of the reasonableness of the request doesn’t mean it can’t be unreasonably applied, and there apparently is a board that makes decisions, so compliance isn’t automatic as there are confidential records even in government (an employee’s health records, for example).

          I think the situation with email is not as clear cut as you seem to, and I agree with Cronon that such a blanket request is apparently punitive, and likely to produce much more bad will, and cheap partisan retaliation if used as a cheap political maneuver for temporary gain. We want sunhine laws, we want accountability, and Cronon’s eminent career will only be enhanced by this foolishness. But undeniably, the university will suffer, education will suffer, academic inquiry will suffer, and the people of Wisconsin will have worse government as a result.

          As an unabashed Democrat, I’m very hopeful the Republicans pursue this energetically. As someone concerned with higher education, I can’t help but see the chilling effect this will have on open inquiry. As a citizen, not of Wisconsin, I see how it will have a crippling effect on constructive political discourse.

    2. First off, he isn’t just paid by the tax-payer. Most people employed by a public university receive a large portion, if not most, of their salary from a combination of tuition, donor money, etc.

      Secondly, how does “working for the taxpayer” make someone a bad person who doesn’t have a “real job”? Public universities exist for a reason; many people cannot afford to attend private universities, and public universities are a subsidized alternative.

      Don’t complain about government if you also think its employees should be treated like trash. It’s unbelievably ironic that the same people who complain about the quality of our teachers also think teacher pay should be cut. What business owner treats his employees like expendable garbage succeeds?

      It’s like you never pause to actually think about what you’re saying. Instead, you create a strawman in your head to be angry at, focusing your ire on public workers. Just like the *real* elite – the people who actually are extremely wealthy and influence the government – want you to. You’re nothing but a puppet.

      Honestly, it’s not the malice of what people like you say that amazes me. It’s how mind-blowingly stupid it is. And I’m not talking about “has trouble with algebra” stupid. It’s like you can’t even comprehend what makes an argument logically consistent. How do you even argue with someone like that?

    3. You’re funny.

      Do you know who else works for the taxpayers? Firemen, paramedics, policemen, postal workers, building inspectors, FBI agents, soldiers and Congressmen.

      I suppose they should all go get “real jobs” too, shouldn’t they? Well, maybe the Congressmen…

  165. Keep up the good fight, Bill. You are truly a scholar-citizen in the best sense of both those words. I appreciate especially your desire to hold the middle ground. Take good care.

  166. Well said sir! That is the longest blog post I’ve ever read about an email account, but your points stand true. Political big-wigs throwing their weight around to intimidate academic inquiry is the Modus operandi of Dickensian bad-guys. I’m not sure what is more disheartening: the mean-spirited and openly corrupt aspect of this, or the ham-handed, uncoordinated, obtuse graceless way they are doing it. Either way, these guys are a-holes. Keep up the fight Professor! I’m gonna plaster this all over the Facebooks to all my egg-head friends. Everyone read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair! Workers Unite!

  167. Professor Cronon:
    Thank you for being the voice for many of us who strongly oppose the poor leadership of Governor Walker and the GOP. We support your efforts to write/publish/discuss what is happening in Wisconsin and concur that this latest tactic is nothing short of intimidation….again at the expense of the tax payer. Seriously, aren’t’ there enough challenges for our state Government without the GOP creating more? Keep up the good work, we will continue to contact our Governor and his supporters voicing our opinions and opposition on this as well.

  168. Dear Bill:
    So sorry to hear you’re enduring this unpleasantness. As one who is known for his conservative political, social, and academic views, and evangelical Christian commitment, this kind of personal and ideological attack is appalling an embarrassment. Though we’d likely disagree on many of the partisan issues at stake (I reject academic unionization, I dislike government involvement in higher education, etc.), we do agree on the folly of this kind of ham-handed tactic by supposed conservatives–or anyone. As an old friend and deep admirer of yours for many years, I know your integrity and fairness. These attempts to smear you will never work with this conservative. The lack of charity and fair play in today’s ugly politics on both sides of the aisle does not bode well for our nation or for the resolution of our nation’s many challenges. My hope is that you weather this storm with grace and with your good reputation unsullied. My prayer is that those who intend you evil will fall into the pit they have dug for you.
    God bless,
    Roy Atwood, Moscow, Idaho

  169. “Should Political Parties Use the Open Records Law to Try to Silence Their Critics?”

    Well not the democrats. They should continue to use ILLEGAL means of snooping into people’s private affairs like democrat hack Julie McConnell did with Joe the Plumber’s tax records. The more of such crooks getting thrown into jail the better.

  170. Dear Bill
    I’ve been following it all, and you are great. Keep talking, keep explaining, keep up the activism. I’m very proud of you and proud to call you my mentor. Laura

  171. Dear Bill,
    I’ve been following it all and you are great. Keep talking, keep explaining, keep up the activism. I’m very proud of you and very proud to call you my mentor. Laura

  172. “When should FOIA and Wisconsin’s Open Records Law apply to universities?

    Answer: When there is good reason to believe that wrongdoing has occurred. ”

    Yes.. let’s rewrite the rules to include a way so that WE can decide whether or not there was ‘wrongdoing’ comrades.

    Squirm away professor.

    1. Mike, you use the term ‘comrade’ in a way which is clearly meant to be pejorative.

      But, judging from your comment, you’d have fit right in to the KGB or the STASI.

    2. Yeah! I also think police should be able to search someone’s house and belongings whenever they want. I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, right?

      Like I mentioned in some other comment, the “if you want privacy you must have something to hide!” talking point is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, and anyone who parrots it must be dumb as a brick.

      This man is not a public official. The act was not meant for situations like this. Suggesting that a law be interpreted differently (or even changed!) does not make someone a bad person. The reasons why having zero e-mail privacy is a Bad Thing in a university are not difficult to understand. It’s not just the professor’s privacy at stake; students also communicate with professors frequently.

      But even more seriously, a professor should never have to feel threatened for something he/she writes or communicates with other academics about. The fact that you don’t understand why this is bad is frightening.

  173. This is awkward; since my actions using FOIA to get university emails forms a precedent here.

    I’d done it to look for collusion in a “game of telephone” chain that started with a research paper & culminated in injecting a climate disinformation meme into our cultural consciousness. And it seemed to me like the right thing to do, at the time, since it was a tool & there were red flags all over the place, in that case (including its press release writer being same guy who’d written the 1998 API et al climate-strategy-session memo that got leaked to the NYTimes).

    But the thing about FOIAs is, the recipient doesn’t get to judge whether to comply. So while I agree with you that at present the potential for abuse is vast, if we build in discretion in complying then the potential for shutting down legitimate inquiry is likewise vast.
    i.e. I have no good answers. But I will say that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t.

  174. Hmmm…not sure if my comment survived. Enabling Javascript, I’ll try again (& add some):

    This is awkward; since my actions (2009, to Texas A&M) using FOIA to get university emails forms a precedent here.

    I’d done it to look for collusion in a “game of telephone” chain that started with a (flawed) research paper & culminated in dissemination of a climate disinformation meme into our cultural consciousness . And at the time it seemed to me like the right thing to do, since it was a tool & there were red flags all over the place (including that the press release writer was same guy who’d written the 1998 API et al. climate-delay-strategy-session memo that got leaked to the NYTimes).

    But the thing about FOIAs is, the recipient doesn’t _get_ to decide whether red flags justify it; & if they did, the potential for shutting down legitimate inquiry would be vast..
    Yet at present the potential for abuse is also vast. So, I have no good answers. But I will say that if I could go back & decide whether to do it over again, I wouldn’t have.

    But we do need to run the “evil mastermind game theorist” thought experiment, & take time to envision what the worst-case long-term consequences could be, of any proposed new FOIA exemptions.

    (& we need to bring university foundations under FOIA – right now AFAIK in many states they’re exempt, which is insane.)

  175. Professor Cronin: Your Op Ed piece in the NY Times was timely, informative, extremely well written, and appropriate. I’m sorry you have been the lightening rod for the Republic Party. However, this will pass, and you will be remembered for your contribution to the dialog on an important topic to Wisconsin and the Nation. Thank you for taking the time to write it!!

    PS Please give my best regards to your wife. In the 70’s, we were great friends of her parents (The Feys), and we remember your wife when she was pretty young. It would be good to see her again and meet you sometime too. Perhaps this will happen. Please tell her I retired as a partner at Foley & Lardner 2 years ago, while my wife Kathy retired a few years eaerlier as a French teacher at Madison West. ALLAN

  176. First , a blog bug report: clicking on “Newer Entries” (which I assume means “newer comments”) brings up the _older_ comments.

    Second: this is an (improved) retry, since with Firefox my submitted comment evaporated. My comment is:

    This is awkward; since my actions using FOIA to get university emails (to Texas A&M, in 2009) form a precedent here.

    I’d made the FOIA requests to look for collusion in a “game of telephone” chain that started with a (flawed) research paper & culminated in NY Times (& beyond) dissemination of a climate disinformation meme. And at the time it seemed to me like the right thing to do, since it was a tool & there were red flags all over the place (including that the press release writer was same guy who’d written the famous leaked 1998 API et al. climate-disinfo-strategy-session memo).

    But the thing about FOIAs is, the recipient doesn’t _get_ the discretion to decide whether red flags justify it; & if they did, the potential for shutting down legitimate inquiry would be vast.. Yet at present the potential for abuse is also vast. So, I have no good answers. But I will say that if I could go back & decide whether to do it over again, I wouldn’t have.

    But (with reference to your post above) we do need to run the “evil mastermind game theorist” thought experiment, & take time to envision what the worst-case “potential for abuse” consequences could be, of any proposed new FOIA exemptions.

    (& we need to bring university foundations under FOIA – right now AFAIK in many states they’re exempt, which is insane.)

  177. You were a wonderful professor back when I was a student at Yale, and it’s great to rediscover you through this forum. I hope that the clarity and detail you’ve offered here will help the rest of us in academic settings push back against this kind of naked intimidation.

  178. Dear Professor Cronon,
    As someone very far from Wisconsin, who has always looked at your proud history of progressives such as La Follette, and engaged professors like Leopold (who was a lot more political than you!), not to mention the state’s leadership in labor and other social issues, I’ve envied WI from afar. That’s what makes the Walker affair so hard to fathom — this it’s happening there! I appreciate the fact your rejoinder is couched in historical context, as well as commonsense, but then again neither of those perspectives are something the GOP there wants to be reminded of. Excellent job.

  179. Dear Bill,

    Bravo: I admired your recent op-ed in the New York Times and your blog post even more. I agree wholeheartedly–the tactics of the Republic Party are intended to chill free speech and reminiscent of McCarthism. A sad day for the party that nominated Abraham Lincoln to be president. Both of our parents would be proud of your brave stand for American, democratic principles.

    All the best,

    Marta Gutman
    City College of New York

  180. Professor Cronon,

    That’s the longest blog entry I’ve ever read, and for good reason. Very thoughtful and well said. People of any political persuasion (except perhaps Nazis and Stalinist communists) should be concerned about such an openly vindictive and politically motivated fishing expedition into a university professor’s scholarly communications. The comparisons to Sen. McCarthy are appropriate and well founded. Good luck and keep fighting the good fight. I’ve now bookmarked your blog…

  181. Bill, thanks for your thoughtful insights into aspects of the history relevant to the current assaults on our state’s legacy of contributions to bettering the lives of its citizens. We will add our voices, and efforts, to yours in celebrating democracy and in opposing those who would undermine it in Wisconsin.

  182. LOL! this is too funny. sorry Prof but me thinks you doth protest too much. you might want to take a look at the intimidating tactics performed by Democratic Party and union supporters. The Republicans are playing by the rules. It is not intimidation

    1. If you think the Republicans are playing by the rules you aren’t very observant. That idea would be downright hilarious if it wasn’t so sad.

      1. The problem is essentially that they are playing by the rules. They’re just doing it in a very mean spirited and vindictive way, and don’t seem to care if they have to abuse an otherwise well meaning law in order to do it.

    2. “The Republicans are playing by the rules.” Funny, all this mess started because the GOP clearly has NOT been playing by the rules.

  183. As a former student of the university and you, and as one whose desk includes a replica of the Bascom Hall plaque, I can’t help but to continue to deeply admire you and your commitment to fairness, reason, and freedom. As you point out, you are not the first to fight this fight, and you certainly will not be the last, but I have faith that academic freedom will win out. On Wisconsin!

  184. Others have commented on the substance of your article; I will comment on just one peripheral point that resonated with me personally. I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison ten years ago thrilled to become part of a hugely respected scholarly enterprise where academic freedom, shared governance, and “sifting and winnowing” were such strong components of the academic culture. I also loved Wisconsin’s reputation for good government, support for public education, the environment, and many other factors that contribute to high quality of life. I have never had any thought of leaving, despite pay that has lagged behind what other major universities are offering.

    Ten years ago, I could not have imagined how precipitously ALL of these positives could come under attack from so many different directions at once. Some of us now feel like everything we care about could be wiped away in the space of just months. The very things that won our loyalty to the state and to the university are being denounced as liabilities by the people currently controlling the state government, and they’re wasting no time in trying to dismantle them. Your experience with the Open Records request is just the latest in a very disturbing and disheartening pattern.

  185. Every time I look at the news to see what the Republicans are doing I am reminded of Bill Shirer’s book. They say history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes, and the rap seems pretty clearly stated right now.

    1. Yes, it is just like Germany in 1933. It is “Ermächtigungsgesetz” all over again. The Wisconsin GOP is right now preparing little yellow scrolls that they will force you to wear on your clothing to identify yourself as a “scholar.”

      1. John Q. Public has not only misread (or not bothered to read) Prof. Cronon’s note, but also seems unaware of all internet traditions: I invoke Godwin’s Law.

        1. Your ilk was throwing around Hitler, Stalin, Fascists an Brown Shirts HOURS ago. I didn’t bother to invoke Godwin’s Law because it is obviously lost on those who dwell within ivory veneered walls and suckle at the public teat.

      2. I am not quite sure what your purpose is. You have made references to the Nazis twice now when no one else has. You seem to be trying to make this something it isn’t to distract people from the real issues.

        1. No, Suz, it is the Nazi-like tactics employed by your friendly union thugs and other state “educators” in the Capitol that is the real issue. If the professor wants to offer an opinion in the NYT that is his right. But other people have rights too and they get the protection afforded by state law too and if that is inconvenient to the “good professor” then he will to live with it. It is the law. And it applies to everyone. Equally.

      3. The difference is that liberals have legitimate concerns. Harassing a professor for doing literally nothing wrong except write about something he researched is an actual Bad Thing that can be compared with anti-intellectual movements that have occurred multiple times throughout history. While a Nazi comparison is a pretty big hyperbole, the concern is still of the same nature and completely valid.

  186. I’m proud to call Bill Cronon one of my mentors. Anyone who has ever taken one of his classes or read one of his books knows that he is a scholar of tremendous skill, passion, and sensitivity, with a commitment to civic engagement. Not to mention, one of the hardest-working people I know. After hearing about the Wisconsin GOP’s attempts to harass him, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut, myself. Their tactics represent a threat to academic freedom and all the good things that the University of Wisconsin stands for. I know that you will stand tall through this crisis. Thank you, again, for articulating your principles and standing up for them, and for all of your tireless work on behalf of your students, your fellow scholars, and the public at large.

  187. So, the only conceivable purpose in this request is intimidation? Surely, professor, you can think of other purposes in this request. For example, seeking to ensure you haven’t violated any state laws governing the use of state-owned computers?

    The residents of Wisconsin pay your salary. And in all likelihood, citizens of the other states contributed to your salary as well through federal tax dollars provided to your institution. These good people have a right to know you are not using those tax dollars for partisan political purposes.

    If you don’t like “taking the King’s shilling” then go work for a private institution. In the meantime, “analyze this.”

    1. You either haven’t read Cronon’s reply or don’t care that his argument overwhelmingly indicates that intimidation is the first, last, and only objective of this demand.

      Of course he’s subject to the law, as is everyone in Wisconsin (with the possible exception of Walker and his cronies). The professor has simply made the very compelling case that a good law wielded by a bad man should be looked at very carefully before it is imposed.

      1. You, sir, evidently didn’t think about his analysis or my comment. It is not certain that the only or even primary intent was to intimidate. The residents of Wisconsin have a right to know. And exercising that right does not making them “bad people.” Once again, does the word “hyperbole” have no meaning in the English language?

        1. Please read the entire article. The Professor uses his own computers for all emails. You are a perfect example of confirmation bias, grasping at straws that support your preconceived notions/beliefs and completing ignoring the facts presented to you. But of course, you probably assume that the Professor is lying about his use of personal computers versus state-owned computers. Because anyone who posits opinions (also facts, but you don’t recognize them as such because, well, they are YOUR facts) that run counter to those you hold is, de facto a liar. Go away, go far away and don’t come back here.

        2. If intimidation is not a factor, then why Bill Cronon out of the hundreds of faculty and staff with University of Wisconsin email accounts?

        3. Kara,

          And Hitler never signed an order related to relating to “Die Endlösung.” We know this because he told us so.

          I have “pre-conceived” and assumed nothing. I simply support the right of people to find out what has or has not transpired on public information systems that are owned by the public.

        4. S.M.H.

          How do you know no other FOIAs were initiated on the email of other faculty or staff?

          How many other faculty or staff wrote public editorials? Wouldn’t it intimidation if someone asked for the emails from all the faculty and staff?

          Why is the effort to learn the truth “intimidation?” Those who fear the truth have something to hide.

        5. What is ‘hyperbolic’ is the level of deceitfulness of your comments. What is hyperbolic is anybody defending the use of democratic tools to harass academics. What is hyperbolic is anybody denying the obvious link between the editorial and the request. What is hyperbolic is anybody with that level of maliciousness having the nerve to call anybody else’s comments hyperbolic. That is hyperbolic.

        6. The level of intellectual dishonesty and straw-grasping of this John Q. Public fellow is bordering on the humorous. Why suddenly, would the state GOP focus on this particular professor, out of the blue, when they have never done so before? Hmmmmmm. Could it be related to an editorial questioning the source of Republican legislation entering our state, coincidentally printed in the New York two days before this new-found interest in this UW-Mdison employee? Noooooo, says John Q., its in the legitimate interest of the taxpayers the GOP organization of Wisconsin chooses a random prof to apply the FOIA to e-mails with targeted words. That New York Times thing? Coincidence is all. You sir are a fool or think we are, which makes you a bigger fool. But keep trying to stretch credulity. It’s entertaining to see how hard you’ll juke.

        7. Go back and read the part of the post where he mentions the keywords listed in the request.

          If after that you still believe this isn’t related directly to what he wrote, I don’t know what to tell you.

          The scary thing about people like John Q. Public here is that we all know what it’s like to think in the way he does. Think back to when you were a child and how you formed your opinions back then. You took what your parents told you as gospel and went with your emotions. Generally speaking, if you ever want to know why a conservative (in the modern sense) feels the way they do about an issue, imagine the way children think.

    2. Your justification is specious at best, disingenuous on its face and, viewed logically, painfully stupid. Since when is it the purview of the Republican Party to enforce the individual account AUP/TOS of UW? Whom is it you erroneously believe granted them this power and when?

      This is the worst kind of political bullying, plain and simple, and the more you try argue against the obvious the more you appear to be just that; plain an simple. Not to mention, dishonest, venal, petty…

      Anyone care to make a wager as to JQP’s employer? Quell horor, but of course the WI GOP wouldn’t employ shills! With all of that Koch money, you’d think they could afford a better class of shill.

    3. Rubbish. If they are “just checking” to make sure he hasn’t violated any laws in a nice, folksy attempt to just make sure the law of the land is upheld — if that is true, then why haven’t they asked for the same information on EVERY professor at the school? Why this one? Why only this one? And why right after he happened to write a blog post that scored half a million hits and garnered a LOT of attention?

      Even if they *were* “just checking” then this kind of request ought to happen systematically, every single day, to people all over the state. Like getting called for jury duty.

      It is not hard to imagine that if his initial blog post had simply sunk beneath the waves of the internet, the Republicans wouldn’t be *nearly* so interested in his state email account.

      OTOH, if the Republicans have nothing to hide in their activities with ALEC, why should they fear that Americans will find out about them? I expect at rock bottom, they are completely freaked out that there are that many Americans and internet users who are intelligent enough to want to find out about what is going on.

      Way to go, Professor Cronon! it gives one hope to see that one “little guy” with a single blog post can scare the crap out of the big greed machine.

      1. Why not a blanket open records request of all Republican legislators and their staffs for emails containing the acronym ALEC?

    4. Patty-Zan Blinders

      Surely, John, your zeal for the truth doesn’t so blind you that you willfully ignore all the relevant circumstances of the situation. If the Republican party was suddenly so concerned about academics using state property for political purposes why was this particular professor singled out in the investigation? Any approach motivated by the pure desire to ensure the integrity of state-owned computers would have yielded a request for correspondence of all the UW system staff.

      While it is true Wisconsin residents do pay part of all UW employees’ salaries (on average about 18%) this should not make any public employee’s correspondence a matter of public record, even if it is conducted on state-owned computers. Preserving the integrity of academic freedom should override the public’s ability to know the content of every sentence produced by a non-political state employee. Otherwise that employee’s contribution to the public good would suffer as a result of his or her fear of political reprisal as a result of academic correspondence. The freedom and advancement of ideas is the very reason universities exist in the first place, and the reason Wisconsin continues to support a small part of UW-Madison’s mission. While public employees should not engage in partisan activity on state time, the criterion for investigating their correspondence should be no different than that of any citizen, namely actual proof of wrongdoing in the first place.

    5. Dear John Q. Pubic:

      Here is the policy on open records as stated in Wisconsin Public Records Law (http://legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/stat0019.pdf section 19.31)

      “In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.”

      The key words being “affairs of government” and “official acts”. Professor Cronan’s blog and e-mail correspondence represent neither. By investigating Cronan’s email logs, the implication is that he has committed some kind of wrong-doing, when in reality he simply posted findings about his legitimate research. The overall point is that professors should not be subject to investigation simply because they ask uncomfortable questions. Again, let me point out that the law is to meant to encourage access to information about governance, not academic pursuits, whether or not they are related to politics. This is summarized quite handily by Cronan:

      “When should FOIA and Wisconsin’s Open Records Law apply to universities?

      Answer: When there is good reason to believe that wrongdoing has occurred. When formal academic governance proceedings are making important decisions that the public has a right to know about. When teachers engage in abusive relationships with their students. When the documents being requested have to do with official university business. And so on.

      When should we be more cautious about applying such laws to universities?

      Answer: When FOIA is used to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress. If that happens, FOIA and the Open Records Law can too easily become tools for silencing legitimate intellectual inquiries and voices of dissent—whether these emanate from the left or the right or (as in my case) the center. It is precisely this fear of intellectual inquiry being stifled by the abuse of state power that has long led scholars and scientists to cherish the phrase “academic freedom” as passionately as most Americans cherish such phrases as “free speech” and “the First Amendment.” ”

      I fail to see how anyone of any political persuasion should be subject to investigation using the Open Records Law in response to something written for a private publication (The New York Times). Yes he is a public employee, but his op-ed piece and his email correspondence have nothing to do with governance or official policy of the university. The motive is not transparency in governance, which is the intention of the Open Records Law, but rather to discredit the individual for political purposes.

      And that, Mr. Q., is how you can determine that the inquiry is an abuse of the Open Records policy.

      1. RIght. Did a public employee who may personally benefit from a particular policy use state-owned resources to further his personal interests. Nobody has a right to know that. Why is it that leftists always insist that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” but run like bloody cockroaches when the first ray of the Sol touches upon their self-serving interests? Indeed, why is that? Inquiring public minds want to know. Those who pay the “good professor’s” salary want to know.

        1. Although you shouldn’t need reminding, being a state employee does not require that you give up all privacies, all respectful treatment, all reasonable courtesies and bare your soul to St. Tax Payer. I’d tell you — courteously of course — to go to hell were I a state employee.

        2. How do you know that the professor is a leftist? Oh, wait, I remember, ALL educators are leftists right? Duh, I forgot! Never mind reading what he wrote about his political affiliation. Duh, why should I read the full article? Anyway it should all be bullet points what’s with structured sentences and actual paragraphs laid out in an outline form anyway! Duh, that’s right he’s an elite something or other…. Duh

        3. Actually, most of his salary isn’t paid by the tax-payer. Public universities do not receive all of their money from tax-payers.

          Also, it’s funny, but not surprising, that you completely ignored the points other people made. “WHY DO YOU WANT PRIVACY IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE???” is one of the dumbest arguments I’ve ever heard that somehow manages to be very common.

          Public jobs are not privileges. They are jobs like any other, and generally speaking (and this was specifically stated to be the case with Professor Cronon), the private sector pays substantially more than the public sector. Someone working in a public job is not inherently less qualified than someone working a private position.

          Don’t act unsatisfied with the public sector while at the same time trying to cut their pay and break their privacy. Just like any business, if you treat your employees poorly you’re not going to get good employees. You consider yourself the employer of all public workers; if that’s the case, you’re an absolutely awful manager.

    6. So this is the part of America where one has to prove their innocence. Is that it?

      Well then I’d like an answer to this question. Why is it that Glenn Beck has never come out and explicitly stated that he did NOT rape and kill a young girl in 1990?

      Run a Google search for “Did Glenn Beck rape and kill a young girl in 1990” and you’ll see the incredible amount of posts asking the same question….did Glenn Beck rape and kill a young girl in 1990.

      So if Glenn Beck didn’t rape and kill a young girl in 1990 then why hasn’t Glenn Beck come out and stated that he did NOT rape and kill a girl in 1990?

      Maybe Glenn Beck raped and killed a young girl in 1990 and maybe he didn’t. But I think he should come out and make it clear, don’t you?

      1. No, this is America where people have to release public documents written on state-owned information systems on state compensated time in state-owned buildings in accordance with state laws. The last time I checked, the law still applied within ivory towers.

        1. Nice try, but the state law nowhere requires employees without status as public officials to reveal their personal e-mail documents, whether on university-owned equipment of not. So that particualr horse can quit being beat, now.

    7. Then why the choice of politically loaded words in the FOI request. Surely if they where looking “violations of law” words like “marijuana” “cocaine”, “bribe” , “stealing” or whatever might be a bit more on the game then looking for words where a professor expresses opinions.

      No, they are looking for politicially charged words in private correspondance so they can stick it on fox news with the headline “PROFESSOR HAS AN OPINION WE DONT LIKE”.

      Its thought police shit and has NO role in a public university.

      Remember, the 1st ammendment is designed to protect *unpopular* opinions. Unfortunately the framers never considered that in a future age maybe privacy laws needed to be equally strong to protect citizens who want to have such opinions. Well how could they I guess, email hadn’t been invented yet.

    8. I know this is a side issue, but remember that we all, including this professor, are taxpayers. I am so sick of this “state workers vs. taxpayers” bullshit. As a state worker, I also pay income taxes, part of which are then used to pay my own salary and benefits.

      1. Right on. I’m also a state worker (programmer at a state medical school), and my salary isn’t even high to begin with. It’s well below the industry average for the work I do.

        It also bears mentioning that most state universities receive most of their money from sources that aren’t tax-payers. So in many cases, they answer to the students and donors first!

  188. Bullying and harassment can’t be tolerated in educational institutions. Unfortunately, when people feel their back is against the wall, they get into fight or flight mode. The Wisconsin Republican Party appears to be so embattled and afraid that they’ve let their adrenaline wash away their sense.

    Your points about FERPA and unrelated conversations of political nature related to your service in support of your discipline and profession are well noted. I hope that folks will see that if proves successful brownshirts like these can ask any faculty member, or all faculty members at an institution, for any email related to former students that might put that student in a bad light. This is a very interesting, useful and destructive tactic indeed.

    What the Wisconsin Republican Party is up to is designing and testing a wonderful terrorist weapon. If they are successful, I’m certain it will be used again and again, more and more often both to drive intellectuals out of public life and merely to create gridlock in higher ed institutions. Imagine students designing broad FOIA requests and foisting it on faculty members they’ve disliked or run afoul of…fascinating….

    Keep up the good fight, Bill.

    1. Yes, the GOP is a terrorist organization. Does the word “hyperbole” mean anything to you? Seriously.

      1. What do you think this is? A fox news website where anything goes regardless how dishonest, mean and stupid? You have to be disingenuous to the extreme to suggest that the WI GOP asking for these emails has nothing to do with Cronon publishing an editorial in the NYT that throws a bad light on WI GOP tactics. I am often left speechless faced with the extent of GOP dishonesty these days. This is one of those moments. You won the price for the most vulgar, dishonest comments on this site. Congratulations.

        1. Shaking my head again at US politics.
          (not that Canadian politics up here gets any prettier)

          Only thing I see here is that the GOP is beating the Dems at their own game.

          The point of the cynical request, I am guessing, is to prove how unwieldy an “Open Records Law” can be.

          Keep the emails private and concede that the cherish law be changed.

    1. @Tim,

      Using the gift of intelligence and thought that all have received as their birthright, does not make you elite – it makes you human. I think if you tried it once or twice you might actually start liking it.

    2. @ Tim Collins:

      Congratulations on having been perfectly trained. Rather than using “elite” where it would make sense—in the context of economic class, where CEOs but not university professors are elites—you eschew this context and instead train your resentment upon those who are probably little richer than you are, maybe even poorer. The CEOs of America would like to extend their thanks to you for your eager cooperation.

      1. Right on the nose – “Tim Collins” has been well programmed by Fox News. Anyone who is well educated, understands and values science, reads a newspaper and holds a legitimate college degree is somehow “elite.” The plutocrats who for 30 years have chipped away at the quality of life of the millions of “Tim Collins” working at Chick-Fil-A and Walmart are somehow superstars, who will soon be sharing their Gulfstream 5s with “Tim Collins” when those damn liberal elites get out of his way.

  189. S.M.H.

    How do you know no other FOIAs were initiated on the email of other faculty or staff?

    How many other faculty or staff wrote public editorials? Wouldn’t it intimidation if someone asked for the emails from all the faculty and staff?

    Why is the effort to learn the truth “intimidation?” Those who fear the truth have something to hide.

    1. By all means, please cite these imaginarty FOIA requests you suggest have been made, if you’re not just tossing out huge piles of foolish FUD to hide the basic inadequacy of your defense of cynical political bullying. Begin…

      1. What’s the problem, J.Q Pubic? Backing up your own BS a cognitive bridge far too far, is it? I am SO surprised!

  190. As a state or employer-owned employee, using a state or employer-owned computer, network and Email system, it’s reasonable to expect various people to view those Emails, including folks you rather not have access. The cure is simple – get yourself a personal Email account someplace else, and use that for any messages you’d rather not have viewed without your permission. For us in Illinois, it could even be problematic for me as a state employee to type this message during work hours, under conflict of interest rules.

    1. As professors we use our email to communicate matters with students that FERPA regulations would not allow us to share with the public. These emails are all work related (and are not personal matters). How woudl you suggest we handle requests for these emails?

  191. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have put into words what I have been feeling since April 15th, 2007. Thank you.

  192. There is another reason not to release the e-mails that Prof. Cronon is too polite to mention, but I will: the essential dishonesty of political hacks.

    Can you imagine that, having turned over all of the requested e-mails, the result would actually stop a smear campaign? No, it would start one, which would involve either quote mining Prof. Cronon’s correspondence or simply making up damning passages wholesale. How could he defend himself against that? He could try releasing *all* his e-mails, but that would be illegal as per FERPA, and even if there were no legal barrier he couldn’t prove that there wasn’t one e-mail he refused to release.

    Meanwhile, the Republican operative here would be able to make people believe that their fictitious quotes really did come from these e-mails because, after all, they’d have access. At least for the present, anything they purport to have come from one of his e-mails could be refuted by pointing out that he hasn’t given them any.

    For those who scoff at the idea that far-right political operatives could be so dishonest, I have only two words: James O’Keefe.

    As a college student, I cheer your stand for academic freedom. Please don’t let your institution budge an inch on this.

    For everyone else, I highly recommend the book Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic-Industrial Complex by Anthony J. Nocella, II, Steven Best, and Peter McLaren (eds.). It will give you an insight into what professors these days have to put up with.

  193. Once again, what spectacular flight of fancy is it that causes you to imagine the WI GOP is empowered to enforce the AUP/TOS of UW, and against a single individual, who, coincidence, I’m sure, happens to have criticized the WI GOP?

    “WAAAAA! He said mean things about us!”

    What a bunch of whiny babies. You WI GOPers seem to be suffering a bad case of shaken manchild syndrome

  194. Dear Professor Cronon,

    Thank you for reminding us all some very fundamental American values.

    Juan Bes

  195. Find strength in the irony that a statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in front of Bascom Hall looking down on the shameful behavior of the Governor and his GOP legislator “blind sheep”.

    Your Op-Ed hit the nail squarely on the head as does your response to this politically motivated open records request. Never lose faith in facts and truth. The people of WI support you.

    Wisconsin. Forward.

  196. Thank you for this wise, thoughtfully reasoned piece. It is a joy to read detailed, comprehensive argumentation that brings the level of public discourse to a higher level. Rare, thus very valuable.

  197. Mr Cronon – this is apparently your first exposure to an open records request. It is unfortunate that you did not consult a records professional before writing – some of your concerns could have been addressed and your blog post could have been much shorter. Although the letter requested all your emails, someone with experience and responsibility for Records Management could have told you that, while emails can be records, not all emails are Records. There are definitions for which data and communications are considered “Records”. Content matters. For example, email chat with your family are not records. A Records person could also suggest that the request as it stands is too broad, and help with specifics so that the request language could be narrowed. That’s the kind of mundane work which Wisconsin State Agency Records Officers do every day. I suspect that the University has some of those people, too.

    Two other observations – you seem surprised that the intent of an open records request might be punitive or an attempt to affect your behavior . I’ve seen a few records requests and I don’t think that’s all that unusual. You also seem to suggest that university professors should be held to some less stringent standard for open disclosure to citizens. I can’t support that. I consider you a state employee, subject to open records requirements, just like the governor. Good luck – the first time with a Records request can be trying.

    1. Mike — Unless I’m mistaken, the FOIA applies to figures in state government, not to any figure in state employ, regardless of their position. In any event, using the power of position — as the GOP of any state most arguably has — against a single player — as the professor most certainly is — is indefensible, no matter what technicalities are used to try and do so. In the 60+ days of the Walker administration and the GOP’s unfettered power, never have I seen such over-reach. It’s beginning to appear as they no longer care about appearance whatsoever.

  198. thanks for the articles. good luck at your new higher paying job at a private university….just kidding.

    however I find it amazing you could write a huge essay on power politics and then
    even consider to ask them to rescind their FOI request?!
    would you ask jack the ripper to hand over his knife…after writing an essay on jack the ripper?

    and how can you talk about transparency and then argue against it when it turns on you.
    I know. I know. I know….students…confidentiality…blah, blah blah. Walker can say the same things.
    you should have known. now you do…and now everyone else does too. just dont use work email?!

    All FOI requests should be honored.
    hell quit whining and request the emails of every [..] government worker.

    1. me:

      and how can you talk about transparency and then argue against it when it turns on you.
      I know. I know. I know….students…confidentiality…blah, blah blah. Walker can say the same things.
      you should have known. now you do…and now everyone else does too. just dont use work email?!

      Are you suggesting that Prof. Cronon should not use his work e-mail to correspond with his students?! Need I point out that this is part of his job as a professor?

  199. First, I would like to congratulate you on your well-written NY Times Op-Ed. piece and for your subsequent posts regarding the obvious efforts of Mr. Thompson to discredit you.

    I am hopeful you could supply us with the names of your University of Wisconsin colleagues who are outspoken supporters of the GOP and their efforts to privatize America.

    Perhaps the Open Records Law will unveil some correspondence that may pull back the veil of the connection between the GOP and the University.

    Because as we all know, the last thing we want in America is opinion. Particularly when it is directed towards those who claim to be the biggest supporters of “Freedom.”

    The phrase ‘aiding and abetting the enemy” is what is coming to my mind most frequently lately as I see GOP politician after politician denounce our President for the actions in Libya. These are the same people who used that phrase to call out President Bush’s detractors as he entered into a preemptive strike of Iraq.

    Thanks again for your insight in to the political theater of Wisconsin. I’ve always appreciated those who walk the walk.

  200. Given all that Professor Cronon and others have described here, why would any student of conscience, civic mindedness and/or intelligence choose the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

  201. I was a state employee for 35 years whose duties including responding to open record requests. There is a presumption of that records will be made available unless there is an exception. The exceptions expanded over the years by both parties. However, we cautioned our employees that if it is in email, it may be public.

    That being said, I am greatly dismayed that the current administration has been turn the middle class against the middle class to the benefit of the upper class with no sense of the damage being done to the state nor to individual rights and liberties.

  202. “Are you now or have you ever been . . . ”

    Wisconsin Republicans have such a glorious history, I would hate to think they won’t prevail in their attempt to silence you and others like you.

    Let’s hope that ALEC can set up a separate group to teach Republicans across the country how to silence university professors in each state with a Republican legislature.

    And, with Republican control of the US House of Representatives, surely it is time to resurrect the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to go after people like you.

    We need these abuses of power to get to the next stage in the evolution of our government.

  203. @ Three-Finger Brown:

    If I’m reading this correctly, I don’t think you have much to fear. The fact that the Chancellor even mentioned competing considerations that mitigate against the GOP’s ‘right’ to rifle through Prof. Cronon’s e-mails suggests to me that they’re laying the groundwork for fighting this in the courts. If they weren’t planning on standing up to the GOP, then she would just say something like, “The university recognizes the right of the GOP to request this information and is responding accordingly. Having given the issue all due attention, it is the conclusion of the university that complying with this request would not chill academic discourse.”

    It’s always difficult to tell how thoroughly the administration is prepared to back a professor against a political onslaught, but for the moment I think they’re on his side.

    1. If they *the University* doesn’t stand with the professor in defending a case against this form of McCarthyism, they might as well shut the University down. This was an obvious attempt by the GOP to induce a court fight in the first place. Yet, they don’t even think there are people out here who can actually understand what is going on. Congrats to the prof/ for standing on his intellect whilst the GOP creates yet more fodder for Faux News.

      Good time to start an Alumni Drive.

      1. I agree. If the administration does not stand up for this attack on academic freedom, then there is no point in the New Badger Partnership. The UW-Madison we know and love won’t need the flexibility it requires, because it will be a shell of its former self. In fact, my worry is that the McCarthyites up in the Capital are manufacturing these problems and holding the NBP over our heads. “Go ahead, stand up for Cronon, and we’ll yank the NBP out from under you”.

  204. Well written and compelling. Wish I had a professor like William Cronon. This should be required reading for anyone using email services for private or professional use.

    It appears that the GOP *proud sponsors of the Patriot Act* wants ideas to be seen but not heard.

    How dare a state employee have use their voice in cyberspace and beyond!

    Does intellectual freedom mean to them that one has the right to have their own ideas as long as they keep it inside their heads where Big Brother can’t hear them *yet*???

  205. Well written and compelling. Wish I had a professor like William Cronon. This should be required reading for anyone using email services for private or professional use.

    It appears that the GOP *proud sponsors of the Patriot Act* wants ideas to be seen but not heard.

    How dare a state employee have use their voice in cyberspace and beyond!

    Does intellectual freedom mean to them that one has the right to have their own ideas as long as they keep it inside their heads where Big Brother can’t hear them *yet*???

  206. This is a very thorough, well-reasoned, diplomatic post. I’d like to think that even fair-minded conservatives would appreciate all your points.

    I wish you were my professor.

  207. Mr. Bohn – this is apparently your first exposure to Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of academic freedom. It is unfortunate that you did not consult a professional historian before writing – some of your concerns could have been less carping and your blog post could have been actually relevant. This is the kind of mundane work which partisan hacks do every day.

    One more observation – you seem surprised that a prominent university professor’s defense of academic freedom should be held to a higher standard than the political muckraking of a vengeful open records request. Who can support that? You?

  208. Bill, thanks for your editorial and for your superb post making such a reasoned and reasonable response to what is a most unreasonable request. I’m proud to have once been your colleague at the UW-Madison and even happier that my daughter took a course from you last semester.

  209. It is unbelievable that the state of WI and others and the USA GOP and some Demo’s want to kill all unions and go back to the 1950’s. They need two classes of people, one to shit bull and one to clean it up. Guess which class they want you in. We are fighting the wrong people!!! Hate of the workers, the real patriots. Have you seen the names of the GOP’s that want to run this country for the GOP? My God they are working for conglomerates. Dwight Eisenhower predicted this.

  210. You think they’ll try to find something in my game of solitaire? Or maybe the email where I call the Koch brothers and the Fitzgeralds bad names?

  211. Oh, and why are all the search terms names and topics that concern only the controversies, which the prof has happened to write about, of concern to the Republican Party. If they were on a crusade to insure proper behavior of state employees, including non governmental employees, they would have to request not just all university employees’ emails, or all state employees’ really, and on all topics or at least a random sample of topics designed to reveal wrongdoing.

    Remember what the right wing did with the email chat of the University of East Anglia climatologists? Quoted out of context to make them look bad. And then after months of actual investigation, guess what, nothing really there.

    It’s another right wing witchhunt.

  212. My comment at 9:17 pm was supposed to be a reply to another comment (Drew Williams at 8:28 pm), but I guess it’s OK as a stand alone.

    Having now reread the op/ed, do you think maybe there is even a bit of direct smartass retalliation going on here……………….
    Praise the liberal FOIA act will you, you Socialist egghead, earning taxpayer money for writing that trash? Put down our Republican hero McCarthy for all the world to see? The nerve! Oh yeah you little history nerd prof, here’s your precious FOIA to McCarthy you back, sucker.

    Sound about right?

    1. I agree, this occurred to me, too. “If you’re going to invoke McCarthy, you better be able to withstand the McCarthy treatment!”

      I’m sure someone else has brought this up, but as it’s 384 messages, I just wanted to add an additional suspicion–on the original blog post, when discussing ALEC, Bill mentioned that one needs to be a paying member to access the meat of the site. I wonder if these GOP thugs aren’t trying to find a leaker, someone with access to ALEC who may have communicated with Bill.

      And it is clear that they’re trying to access his contacts — this action is going to spread far.

  213. Given the antics of neocon schills like Breitbart and O’Keefe, I would be very worried about handing them anything. You should have every expectation that you statements will be edited into lies.

  214. You say you have nothing to hide. Release them. If the organizations e-mails are supposed to be private, then they should not be on your government account. The school can edit the emails regarding the kids. We have had censors for years. The Republicans are only doing to you what has been done to them for years. We did not shut down the FIOA when “Student” KGB agents were requesting documents from the U of W so why should we do it now? (Historical Fact – there were more KGB agents in the Big 10 during the 80s then there were in NY and DC.) …To Quote Truman….If you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

    1. “Historical Fact – there were more KGB agents in the Big 10 during the 80s then there were in NY and DC”
      -Citation Needed

    2. He’s releasing them, Einstein. He’s just (rightfully) concerned about the effect that unwarranted document release could have on the principle of academic freedom.

      Also, thirding the request for a citation. Though I have a sneaking hunch that the source is a forwarded e-mail.

  215. “They” found a reason to suppress both Socrates and Jesus–a club to which you now belong as they “out” you for being truthful. It is THE cost. The irrational ideologues and political extremists (Socrates’ civil opponents, and the Roman/Sanhedrin cabal), when they are the “powers-that-be” find great need to suppress criticism. This will not play out well for you. You have my prayers.

  216. Bill –

    Speaking as somebody who shut down a UW-Madison program that manufactured a faulty and dangerous device (the “Madison Aerosol Chamber”) in significant part as a result of requesting professor’s e-mails, I’m sorry, but your records are and should be public. Your notion that the open records law should only apply if there is reason to suspect malfeasance is hopelessly naive about how your colleagues in other departments operate. Many of your notions about “academic freedom” are quite quaint. You have a public salary, are provided public infrastructure, probably public research funds, and I rather suspect utilized public grants to obtain your education. It’s time to face the music. Your e-mails are and should be public. It’s not abuse of law, it’s transparency and good governance (even if I agree with you that the same might not be said of your governor).

    Edward Hammond

    1. But there is a huge difference between faculty engaging in the production of potentially dangerous devices and a history professor. Whereas the intrusion into personal emails may be justified in the former, what is the compelling argument justifying intrusion in the later? And yes, there should be compelling reason, because protecting the faculty from intimidation, and thus securing the free exchange of ideas and discussion on which the university depends, is at stake. In other words, while transparency is an important public good, it is not the only one at play.

      I think you do yourself a disservice in conflating your own use of FOIA with what is happening to Cronon, for whereas you seem to have used FOIA to noble purposes, here it is being transparently used for partisan and vengeful purposes.

    2. Since the Professor is a public employee and his email address is owned by the state some think his emails should all be made public then so should all state employees including the governor and anyone else who uses state owned emails. Let’s just set up a Wiki and make all state owned emails cc to that wiki so all can read them. (Or was this called wiki leaks?)

      Let’s drive all the brilliant professors and educators out of this state. Who needs them anyway! Best we lower our standards of education. Why muddy their minds with knowledge and thoughtful discourse!

      And while we are at it let’s divide the people of the state and pit them against each other using state employees and teachers as the fall guys! One of my daughter’s teacher has the nerve to show up early to help out his students and take extra time for study session during what should be a spring break, over and above his salary. The nerve of some of these teachers! How dare they work extra and devote their own personal time to students. Let’s run those teachers out of the state also!

      What’s next – these elected officials will make Beer and Brats illegal too! Watch out Wisconsin!

    3. Is it also naive to think that police have to get search warrants? There is no reason whatsoever to allow this kind of search of people who are not personally involved with the governing of the state. And your example is broken (big surprise, there); it seems pretty clear that you had a legitimate reason to do that search. There was no such reason here.

      It’s funny how the same conservatives who complain about the government and public employees are the same ones who want to give them pay cuts and take away something as basic as academic freedom.

      Guess what? If you make life difficult for people who get paid with tax dollars because of misguided feeling of authority, of course you’re not going to get good services.

  217. Hello Bill,

    Despite the number, I’m quite sure you’ll be reading through all these comments. You might be surprised to know that folks in Bozeman are following events there rather closely. Just yesterday an elderly gentleman (80? 90?) asked me to provide on a web site a way for people to suggest links, so he could refer others to articles about what’s going on in Wisconsin. What a delight to find you now involved! I only wish we had you here in Montana.

  218. Prof. Cronon – I took one of your classes over 12 years ago @ UW Madison and it was one of the best and most memorable courses I took as an undergrad. I enjoyed it so much I recognized your name immediately when the story of this lowbrow attempt at intimidating you reached my corner of the blogosphere. I hope the university is wise enough to protect a valuable resource and will choose to take an open stance in opposition to the WI GOP’s actions against you. Your former students support you!

  219. Professor Cronon,
    Thank you for taking the time and effort to explain your difficult position. I greatly enjoyed your NY Times piece and the historical perspective you took in examining ALEC. As a previous student & employee of the University of Wisconsin and as a new professor myself, I can understand your profound respect for the FOIA along with your reluctance to turn over legitimate, and yet sensitive, emails to a body which has no qualms about harming the University even when there has been no wrongdoing. Your @wisc.edu address is a mark of professional legitimacy observed by your students, coworkers, collaborators, and other professional and academic institutions. Sort of like using official stationary for official business. If I recall correctly, for some instructional functions you are required to use your @wisc.edu account. It would be a point of tremendous shame if professors at the UW had to start using outside email accounts for University business (which includes teaching, research, and professional service activities). Today they attack you, but tomorrow it will be faculty researching global warming, world religions, evolution, etc.
    I imagine the University will have to fight this, knowing the damage it would cause if faculty could no longer feel secure in the legitimate privacy of their business emails, but I’m sure that’s exactly what the GOP is hoping for in order to smear you. Intimate that you’re hiding something and the University is colluding with you rather than being open with the public. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    Tens years ago, or even one year ago, I might have believed that cooler heads could prevail and this request be rescinded, but that’s not the MO of the today’s GOP. Today I believe that even if you turn over your emails and they are 100% unimpeachable, some spin doctor will invent a controversy from a statement taken out of context, as with Shirley Sherrod. This is not a proper use of the FOIA, but I don’t know how the rules could be altered to prevent abuse without gutting the necessary power of the law. Truly a rock and a hard place. But at least now you know you’re on the right track. 😉
    Thanks again for your insight and your commitment to “sifting and winnowing”!

    1. If a professor (or any other public official) uses an unofficial e-mail account to conduct official business, in most civilized States of the Union (even including mine, Texas), those e-mails are also public records. You cannot dodge your legal obligation for public accountability with gmail.

      1. I’m not sure the reason behind making this point, but I don’t see its relevance. Conducting personal business that is not connected to your professional position is not the same thing as using a personal email address to conduct official business. Your point, while true, is not relevant to this situation.

  220. Stand firm professor Cronon! As someone who has also dealt with ALEC and Republican attacks on free speech and political dissent in Ohio years ago, I can say this is 100% run of the mill! I wrote a blog post updating people on your case as well as my own experiences with ALEC and other links on the issues you are raising. You are not alone, and we are watching and talking.

    When Neocons Attack, Who Fights Back? Bill Cronon -vs- ALEC and Gov. Walker

    In solidarity,

    –a fellow academic

  221. While I empathize with your anxiety regarding the GOP’s FOIA request for your emails, I would say, at the risk of “sounding” unsympathetic, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And thank you for your NYT op-ed. It was educational and revelatory.

  222. Bill,

    In this day and age the motives you ascribe to a political party seeking this kind of information are completely believable. Open records are important. Academic freedom and the ability to explore ideas in discussions are also the lifeblood of our Universities. How to balance these? If you were directly involved in an activity such as Mr. Hammond implies in his comment then that I think that would be one thing. If the only basis for the records request is that you raised an uncomfortable subject for a political power, then I fail to see how any interest here overrides the traditional – and often assumed – academic freedoms at issue.

    Assuming the requesting party disagrees with things you have said, they should respond in a similarly academic fashion and make their case, rather than resorting to thinly veiled intimidation. We would all be the better for it.

    As a UW graduate, I hope politicians in the state would all try and appreciate what an absolute gem of an institution they have and not try to weaken it, or its voices.

    I would be interested in hearing how the powers that be weigh the conflicting values this request raises.

  223. I have two suggestions …

    If push comes to shove (i.e. the courts decide that the request is basically valid) request the courts to narrow the request as follows:

    1. All emails will be provided but all personally identifying information (email addresses, personal names (other than the requested names), ip addressses, etc will be redacted using text replacement where each redacted word/item would be replaced by 5 “X”s. The unique email record number would be retained and in the event an email *does* appear to contain some kind of illegal activity the unredacted email could be requested through the court.

    2. The court should appoint a Special Master to confidentially review all emails and verify the court’s instructions are being complied with … at this level the emails would be not yet be fully redacted but even here all the email addresses of everyone except Professor Cronon should be automatically redacted (a trivial text replacement task) before being given to the Special Master. It would be the job of the Special Master to further redact things like mentions of student names, e-signatures and taglines, etc.

    3. Request that the final report of the Special Master (after a careful review by the University legal staff for any items of FERPA concern) be published directly by the court in full to the public … this adds extra power to the process in that (A) nobody will be able to misquote the record since it will be very visible and (B) the Special Master’s professional reputation as well as their personal liability (in the event of privacy violations) would ensure he/she was extra dillegent in their duty.

    1. I also suspect that various other universities and book publishers might want to file amicus briefs and participate in the final report review to protect their legitimate financial interests in professional reputations and unpublished research.

    2. The Wisconsin sunshine laws already include specific exclusions for protecting privacy and other reasonable considerations. The responder is required to redact certain statutory exceptions from the response. There are at least two levels of your concept of “Master” that are included in the process and consulted as required. There are arbiters, too. The response must be delivered promptly and must be as complete as possible, Wisconsin defines a balance rule which tends to favor providing more open records rather than fewer.

  224. Does anyone else find it hilarious that Professor Cronon’s email transparency is being vigorously advocated by a poster using a pseudonym?

    1. Does anyone else find it hi-frickin-larious that some wingnut shill using the nick “John Q. Pubic” would criticize someone/anyone else for using a pseudonym? Or do you just find as it rock hard, super dense, singularity-type stupid as do I?

      Congratulations, Mr.Pubic! You’ve been nominated for the prestigious Irony Cross! Good luck!

  225. This is exactly the same thing Ken Cuccinelli, the AG in Virginia, has been trying to do there with the e-mails of a former UVA professor who was studying global climate change. Sounds to me that if they can’t win on the facts, they’d have no qualms against winning by intimidation. What courageous patriots.

  226. Reminder to all commenters that providing a VALID email address will ensure that your comment is not delayed by the spam filter. Your email address is not published.

  227. What I find interesting is the fact the policy at the university states and I quote from above …’ “University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum.”

    If this is the policy and I assume something similar would exist at all state agency, wouldn’t technically any invitations or discussions about campaigning, fundraisers, fund raising dinners, appearances to support someone who is being elected, even possibly information regarding debates, informing students, or assigning work related to writing papers, doing research or other things related to similar items… In fact an argument could be and probably will be that a school newspaper editor sending a e-mail to a student to cover an issue in the paper is supporting a political candidate… or at least someone could alleged this is the case. Would all of these be considered a violation of this policy? will professors be fired? Is someone monitoring the politicians, republicans & Democrats alike to make sure they are not abusing their state e-mail accounts if a similar policy exists? ….

    1. The point is that state employees may not use state resources (including the time for which they are paid) to engage in political activity. This is a progressive reform–it keeps the likes of Tammany Hall from running an election campaign at public expense (e.g., using the police force to “get out the vote”). I suspect most governments have such legislation. As with all rules, the devil is in the details, but this is not a ridiculous rule. I think that what we need to do is support those unreasonably charged, not eliminate the rule that government resources cannot be used for political purposes.

        1. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could learn more about the meeting between Scott Walker and Frank Luntz, which took place in the governor’s office recently? According to the governor’s gofer, Mr. Luntz was in town to discuss the state’s economy. I can assure you, Frank Luntz has no interest in the state’s economy as he is strictly a hired gun concerned with manipulating public opinion. If that’s not a misuse of state facilities, I don’t know what is.

  228. Thank you, Mr. Cronin, for your thorough, objective and thoughtful postings. Keep up the good work!

  229. Thank you Bill Cronon for fighting back! You are quite right to think deeply about the implications of such a blatantly bullying request. One doesn’t choose these kinds of challenges–being a professor is already a full and intensely engaging profession in ways that most people don’t understand. Kudos to you for standing up to this abuse of the FOIA and for setting the request in context. I support you completely and hope for the best outcome. May your case will turn the tide against the misuse of government freedoms and protections that has been plaguing our country recently.

  230. Dear Professor Cronon,
    My colleagues and I in Arkansas thank you for fighting back. Please note, I did not use my university e-mail/server to send this note.

    1. Here, here! Much support from another AR citizen and academic (also not from my University account or office).

  231. I too have run across ALEC in my research and have attempted to investigate it’s role in federal policy formulation. It became clear to me immediately that my paper may attract their attention and that it would be misconstrued as an attack rather than a scholarly inquiry. I see now that I was right to worry about possible negative effects on my academic career and on academic freedom. Please continue to keep us all apprised of the the situation and don’t give in.

  232. Bill,
    I think the University has a clear-cut way to solve several of the issues associated with this request: they should reply that they will accede to the request, but it will take several years for student workers to go over the emails to vet the privacy concerns you mention, and thus it will cost the Republican party a few million dollars.

    Only the proper stuff gets out, and university budget problems solved!

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head. Of course, dealing with neo-Republicans, you’re trying to hit a pin on the head.

      1. I must respectfully disagree with this suggested action for two reasons:

        1) In this case, the end does not justify the means. Not only would this behavior bring the university down to a very low level indeed, it implies the request was appropriate and valid. It is vitally important that a strong precedent be set against future requests of this ilk.

        2) It does nothing to combat the chilling and fear-inducing effect the request was intended to engender.

        To paraphrase a Republican motto: just say ‘no’.

      2. Fie, Mr. Leavenworth. Please see my comment above to “Cyndy” regarding bad manners when commenting on blogs. They apply to you also, I am sorry to say.

        There is a clear distinction between stupidity and conservatism, Mr. Leavenworth. If you are unable to detect that difference, I would say it reflects more upon your intellectual shortcomings than whatever limitations you believe you see in those with whom you disagree.

    2. Excessive delay and/or charging more than actual and reasonable costs is a felony according to WI statutes. So is refusal to respond. Just thought I’d point that out.

  233. I see parallels with (Godwin’s law broken) the German Nazi movement too.

    Their total attack on the social fabric of their society resulted in the public being rather silent on the extermination of other human beings. Their near total control of the rhetoric and shaping of the dialog and overuse of label theory made the overthrow of common sense and decency very easy.

    I see the effects of illogic everywhere. We have poor and working class people across this country protesting for tax cuts for the wealthy. We have similar groups pushing for repeal of collective bargaining and union registration activities.

    We had people protecting the ‘unfair death tax’ that would never touch their estates and yet they were convinced that it would destroy ‘family farms’ of which the Tyson poultry megalopolis has been labeled.

    The GOP seems to be suffering from tea poisoning and seeks to destroy just about every means that the public can use to become informed. Their war on science is legendary and it’s more wide spread and pernicious than that.

    It’s as if they have taken the large body of dystopian literature and cinema and have cooked it down to a mass that can usurp the common sense and decency of the people of this nation.

    Global warming is real. Also is the dumbing down of the American Proletariat. They are now represented by a group of brown shirted agitators and frauds who seek to destroy them and this country for profit of a relative few.

    The GOP plays for keeps. They break the rules with impunity because they know that they can warp the public opinion and can destroy people with endless innuendo. Why else was Fox News such a ‘must have’ for them and the fight against public education has been such a focus for the right wing. (Look up the DeVos family connection to destroying public education for starters)

    They seek to not only nullify everything good that has happened since the creation of this country, but they are able to portray their attacks as being in the ‘public’s good’. What a success for the enemies of this nation, both foreign and domestic.

    What their true goal is remains a mystery but from the early looks at it, it’s got to be somewhat worse than third world status.

    In the book, “The Handmaid’s Tale’, Atwood paints a devastating picture of the future of a right wing takeover of this country. Get ready for it. It WILL happen here. IF we don’t work to educate the public and stop their plans.

    I believe it was Lenin who said that our form of government was doomed because we give the tools for its destruction to the people. Yes, he was partially right. It was the access to those tools that has kept the democracy in America so vibrant but it is those tools that have steadily chipped away at the foundations of it that we are seeing the effects of today.

    Perhaps America will survive this. Perhaps not. In an era of runaway capitalism I can hope that the America that emerges from this cancerous time will be wiser and stronger and less susceptible to the machinations of corporate and oligarchical power plays in the future.

    One thing is for sure, this is going to be ‘interesting times’ that are ahead for us and the planet.

  234. Not immune to bad proofreading…

    “We had people protecting the ‘unfair death tax’ that would never touch their estates” should have been (obviously): “We had people protesting the ‘unfair death tax’ that would never touch their estates”.

    I apologize for any other mistakes that I may have missed, although it was tragically hilarious having someone actually defend the end of the ‘death tax’ to my face. They were currently unemployed and even when employed would never have faced this ‘unfair tax’ in their wildest dreams and yet the GOP/right wing planted that unrealistic fear into their heads rather easily and forcefully. They were convinced beyond any arguments that I could make to ally their fears… It was tragic and embarrassing to witness.

    1. I’ve never heard a good explanation for the “death tax” what is the legal basis for a tax on death? All I’ve ever heard is: We (the government) need it. “We need it” doesn’t sound like a good reason for a tax. Whats the straight dope on this?

  235. You should take a look at David Corn’s latest article in Mother Jones. “My latest in MotherJones.com. I filed an open records request for Barbour’s gubernatorial emails. His office says I can get them-if I pay nearly $60,000 (possibly up to $200,000) & after the state spends months retrieving them and reviewing them. An email expert says Barbour should be able to produce the emails much quicker: “these guys clearly don’t want to share and are putting up a lot of smoke to keep you out.” – David Corn.

    Here’s an excerpt…

    “And it’s money up front. Barbour’s office, Jones writes, “will need to receive a check in the amount of $58,191 for the estimated costs before any documents are produced.” If it does turn out that the actual costs are higher, the difference will have to be paid before the governor’s office releases “any documents.” That makes it seem possible that Barbour’s office, after cashing a check for nearly $60,000 to get the process going, could boost the estimated fees by tens of thousands of dollars and not release any of the material unless that amount is paid.”

    Here’s a link to his article. – http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/haley-barbour-emails-mississippi

    You should check it out!

  236. How does this apply to incoming emails? It seems they should be off limits since there is no control over who sends you an email message. Also, the “other side” could send fake, incriminating emails just as they could plant troublemakers in a crowd. Should we be hesitant to send email with political content to anyone with a state email address?

  237. Professor Cronon,

    I’m so sorry you have to spend time and energy on this dishonorable assault on your character and profession. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and responsible citizenship in response. I hope many will follow your example of looking beyond partisanship in cherishing the principles of our democracy, while speaking out about forces that threaten our treasured institutions.

    I very much appreciate your thoughtful honoring of the contributions of both major parties in Wisconsin’s history. I hope the current swing of the pendulum brings us back to a place of balance where honest discourse is once again practiced. I miss the days of thoughtful discussions where people of differing views leave having learned something from each other.

    I have fond memories of an evening sitting between Warren Knowles and Gaylord Nelson at a banquet honoring conservation champions of Wisconsin. We have serious challenges as a state and nation that require us to transcend money-driven political divisions. I know it can be done, I’ve seen it work in the past.

    I hope all people, of whatever political persuasion, will require accountability and integrity from their elected officials. Corruption is a personal choice, it comes in both red and blue.

    Thank you again for your great contribution and spark in these important times.

    Kim Wright

  238. Does this also mean that we (university professors) are never supposed to delete any of our emails? I have a strict limit on the amount of space I can take up on the University of Delaware server with my email account, and at the end of every semester I routinely purge almost all of my emails. My Facebook account is also under my university account — probably should change that! Heaven forbid that anyone should see how many of my university account emails are about what’s for dinner, requests to my mother for recipes, and gripes to colleagues about annoying or lazy students. Dr. Cronon — you are going above and beyond the call of duty to clearly explain what is happening in Wisconsin, and you have my full support.

    1. I can’t speak to your specific situation, Katherine, so take this with a grain of salt. But as a general rule I think it would be prudent, and also, perhaps, a bit more honest, to reserve one’s “company” computer for doing the work that one’s employer is paying you to do, whatever that may be. I follow this rule (I work for a private company), as do everyone else I know working in the private sector. So does Prof. Cronon, it seems. I think this attitude is less common among those who work for state educational institutions, but I don’t see why that should be: the taxpayers of your state, most of whom are not as privileged as you and your colleagues, are sacrificing their hard-earned bread to provide all of you with these resources. It dishonors their sacrifice, I think, to treat your state-provided resources as though they were your personal property to do with as you wish. This, in my opinion, is the more important aspect of this question, rather than whatever the risk might be of having your personal communications perused by the state or made public, although that is definitely a consideration too. No matter how it feels to us, the fact is that neither your university computer account nor my company computer account belongs to us. They belong to our employers — ultimately, to the taxpayers of the state of Delaware and the stockholders of my company, respectively.

      Gmail, Yahoo mail, Twitter, Facebook etc. are all free and easy to use. These are more appropriate venues for engaging in one’s personal communications activities — not merely engaging in political speech, but anything that falls under the rubric of personal or avocational activities.

      1. Honestly, Paul, do you not understand the difference between an email account and a computer? I’ve never been a public employee, so cannot comment upon their work habits, but I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of private sector employees while away hours at work, on the clock as well as the boss’s equipment, playing solitaire, posting Facebook updates, and indulging in any number of other time-wasting behaviors. Oh, and checking personal email on their wonderful “free” gmail and Yahoo accounts for good measure!

        As to the great “sacrifice” of the taxpayers that makes it possible for the public workers to enjoy a middle class lifestyle and decent health care, will you please at least acknowledge that they are paid to provide services demanded by the very same taxpayers? I am a close observer of local government and I guarantee you that everyone wants the services — they just don’t want to pay the going rate.

    2. Professor Detwiler,

      check with your University’s Administration. No doubt they have a written document retention policy in place which will tell you what your obligations are if any. Most likely anything that you send out or receive on your official university email account is saved or backed up on your department’s server.

  239. You’re not unique in having the Freedom of Information laws used maliciously as a weapon against you.

    It was also used against climate scientists in the so-called Climategate affair.

    I expect to see more widespread attacks in the future.

  240. Problem is that my life is not easily divided into “personal” and “university” or “JOB” – my life is my job so to speak. The university gains from my association with them (sure, they give me a job and salary) but if I am made to feel like the university can/will censor my communications I might as well never use my university computing facilities and or confess my association with it. To the university’s detriment. It is a sad state of affairs when we have to be concerned about “big brother watching” – narrow minded, punctilious administrators holding a sword over our heads. Might as well just withdraw and conduct our lives detached from university communication resources altogether. In a country where freedom of expression and inquiry is advocated this is very disappointing.

  241. For what it’s worth, I am behind you, and I’d guess most of the tenured and untenured academics in America are as well.
    W. B. Leavenworth

  242. I have an erudite friend who told me two years ago that we were heading for fascism. Hmmm, I think that bus has arrived. Bravo Bill Cronin. Keep up the fight. (I’m sure it’s going to get much nastier than this)

    By the way, if there truly is academic freedom (at state universities), why can’t a professor have political views and back a particular party or candidate? Doesn’t sound like freedom to me.

  243. This should be the motto of the present Republican Party: “When you can’t fight fair and win, fight dirty”

  244. You cant be serious Prof. Cronon. I am quite certain you are part of the crowd that celebrated the release of Wikileaks data. Most liberals did.

    So, according to liberals, even if the President of the United States thinks some information should be protected in national interest, it is okay for a liberal to steal and expose it? BUT, if the Republican Party wants to use legal means to dig into the doings of 1 random professor, it is a threat to the Republic! Wow!

    The Republicans have used FOIA to ask for your emails. They have a RIGHT to do that, remember? Are you saying they should be deprived of legal rights because they disagree with you politically? And yes, if you
    in fact have used your university email for purposes not related to the mission of the university, you ARE liable for punishment. You have indeed committed misconduct if you have used your public funded state email account for non educational purposes. The taxpayers of Wisconsin should not have to fund your political agenda.

    There are any number of free webmail companies…yahoo…gmail…etc. Use one of them and campaign your heart out. Who is stopping you? But, you can’t fault someone for exercising their legal rights…

    What are you going to complain about next? Right wing supporters exercising their right to vote? Is that also a threat to the Republic?

    1. Did you actually read his post or just skim it? Tell me, as a student discussing your grades about a paper on the republican party in the civil war do you want that public knowledge??? I know I don’t, and as a student and he as a professor shouldn’t have to use a gmail account to make that discussion.

      It’s one thing to disagree on the basis that you believe in something, it’s another to disagree because you’re being ignorant. Everything you’re accusing this professor of, being a liberal etc… you’re doing yourself as a republican. How does that make you any better? How does that validate your points here?

    2. SS (interesting moniker, by the way) I just finished reading Professor Cronon’s rather lengthy post, so I can understand why you might not have been able to make it all the way through or read with it any comprehension and I attribute most of your mystifying comments to that assumption. Your last comment, however, did grab my attention and prompt me to respond. While it unfortunately hasn’t elicited the same kind of media attention as Wisconsin’s political turmoil, take a look at what is happening in the Michigan State House in Lansing right now. You can indeed be worried about disenfranchisement (that is a big word that means depriving someone of their right to vote, or marginalizing their power – particularly regarding their vote). The newly elected Governor Snyder (R) has managed to write into law the ability to appoint emergency managers of school districts and municipalities that he feels are in financial difficulty. Those emergency managers have the power – among other things – to remove elected officials, dissolve all contracts (including collective bargaining agreements) and even dissolve entire local governments and have them be absorbed into others. Strange that this is all emanating from conservatives. It seems quite radical, to me.

      1. Cyndy, I don’t think snottiness elevates the discussion nearly as much as you think it does. The problem liberals have in our current national discourse is that few people besides liberals take them seriously because of this apparent inability to distinguish between lack of intelligence and honest disagreement.

        Try a little humility, it’ll do your soul good. It also, in the end, will lend you a little credibility with those of us who are not of your tribe.

    3. You obviously didn’t read. It’s unfortunate that your own winner-take-all partisanship prevents you from recognizing that there are others out there with more moderate and considered views that do not toe any party line.

    4. You can’t be serious yourself SS, and I find it strangely appropriate that you use SS as your ID. I am a liberal, though not in the strictest sense of the word. Yes FOIA serves a vital purpose, and yes I agree that Julian Assange should be prosecuted. But there is a difference between prosecution and persecution. apparently you cannot or will not see the difference. Apparently you are one of the Republicans that are out to silence the Professor for simply raising very salient questions. This kind of strongarm tactic cannot and will not be tolerated. This request to examine Professor Cronon’s e-mails is a terror tactic designed to protect the interests of politicians that are acting outside of the boundaries of law and justice. I am thoroughly apalled at your post, and I am apalled at the actions of the Wisconsin republican legislature. How dare you sir? How dare you indeed? Pack up your jackboots and move to one of those disgusingly repressive totalitarian countries where they will welcome you with open arms, and then with open firearms. Our forefathers established this great nation on certain basic freedoms. We will stand and fight to protect them to our last breath, and never surrender to political weasels such as yourself.

    5. You apparently did not read Professor Cronon’s post; you fabricate unfounded assumptions about his attitudes on issues not discussed or pertinent to the issues and you make accusations of “guilt” based on no other evidence than the GOP’s transparently flimsy concerns. In his post, Professor Cronon responded to all the “ifs” you throw around, so with those accusations you are calling him a liar. On what basis? I didn’t see any attack on voters of any persuasion in his post; why do you end with such a childish prediction? Why, finally, does the right engage in politics as though it were playground bullying?

  245. Prof. Cronon:

    Let me thank you this first time for the things you have said about our state and the academic freedom within it.



  246. First let me say thank you for standing up for what’s right. No political or governmental body has the right to harass its citizens. This harassment you’re experiencing is further proof of the under handed means by which our new state government works and that is a scary prospect.

    Second, I’ve worked in IT for over 12 years. I’ve spent time in UW-Madison’s DoIT center and the DoA (Department of Administration) and I can tell you that any request like this coming through any IT office would probably get laughed out of the office. Jokes aside though, most enterprise (email) servers keep the email as long as it hasn’t been retrieved by the user. After it’s been retrieved it’s deleted from the server and the only way to recover it is if the system has a tape backup which are usually done as a nightly thing and only kept for a small amount of time. This is usually why IT tells you to archive your emails on your computer because retrieving emails from the server once they have been recovered is a pain and usually impossible. It is almost a safe bet that your emails that far back are no longer recoverable and only your emails in the last month have any hope of recovery but I still doubt it. Somehow I don’t see the school paying 150k+ for the backup system needed to keep emails that long. Nor do I see the students who make up the majority of the IT team even remotely enthusiastic about going through one of their professors 2000+ emails in an attempt to find emails with a dozen key words. As another commenter pointed out this is a job that would take months!

    Thanks again for standing up for whats right in Wisconsin. You give hope that there are people who are willing to ask the hard questions and not back down when the beehive that is our local government gets aggressive.

  247. I know I should not be surprised by such tactics by the Wisconsin GOP, but I d keep hoping for a more democratic response by your state’s GOP and the GOP in this country. Their action to intimidate you in an obvious attempt to silence you, is one we all must stand against.

  248. While having been beaten to the punch at the mention of the climategate stolen e-mails, I wish to assert that there is a great danger in what the Wisc. Repubs wish to do here. You may have done nothing that you would want to hide, but they are looking for something that they can twist to make it look like your are doing evil against the Badger State.

    You could look for them to use ellipses in quoted passages to mine damning data where there is none.

    Given that conservatives are quite all right with using James O’Keefe’s edited versions of a hidden camera video at a lunch with an NPR exec as a tool to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it’s quite clear that they would have no compunction against doing the same to you from your correspondences.

  249. Could the Freedom of Information Act be used by a student or colleague to gain access to confidential letters of recommendation or evaluations for tenure and promotion? Much of an academic’s correspondence must be confidential, whether it’s email or paper. Even the GOP in Wisconsin should understand that.

  250. Dear Prof. Cronon:

    As a retired newspaper editor who has used FOIA on countless occasions to pry lose information to which the public is entitled, I applaud your courageous stand agains the Wisconsin Republican party’s blatant abuse of the law.

  251. I am very proud of you, Dr. Cronon. What a great job you are doing!

    You are fighting for all of us.

    The current crop of neo-fascist Republicans is a huge threat to our democracy.

    Remember, you have tremendous support behind you!

  252. Thank you for clearing explaining why this issue is so important to our democracy. We stand with you, Professor Cronon, and against those who would place limits on what we can know about the acts and actors, that seek to covertly and overtly change our way of life.

  253. If ever the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar” could be applied, it would be to you. Keep writing and studying; professors like you are why I am trying to return to higher education at the UW Madison.

  254. As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin (BA, MA, Ph.D) and current academic well out of state, I am enormously proud of the constructive work which Bill Cronon has done to provide a larger picture of the history of Wisconsin Republicanism and its current betrayal. Lee Dreyfus was governor when I was an undergrad at UW and, while I didn’t necessarily support him, I always respected him and felt that he respected those who disagreed with him. Walker and the current Republican crowd have abandoned that proud tradition of basic civility and comity. It gladdens me that Bill Cronon and other UW scholars are now serving the public good by reminding us of the history.

  255. Fantastic article. I hope that cooler heads will prevail and that the Wisconsin GOP will withdraw their politically-motivated request. Kudos to you for refusing to be intimidated by their blatant scare tactics.

  256. Prof. Cronon,
    I read your excellent op-ed in the NYT. Now I am learning from Andrew Leonard in Salon what you have reaped from your adroit coverage of the background of the current Wisconsin Republican agenda. Comparisons between this agenda and that of the Nazis in Nazi Germany, Shirer notes in “The Collapse of the Third Republic” that as of 1936, relatively early in the Third Reich, Hitler had cancelled collective bargaining for the unions. You are the right person for this hard job. Please continue with your work to expose the corrupt underside of this pernicious trend.
    Edward Hillard,
    Palo Alto, California

  257. Thanks for the insightful work (all of it). I have one question: what are the results of the FOIA/Wisconsin Public records law request for emails between the Wisconsin legislators and @alec.org?


  259. The request for your work emails made by the republican party does surprise me. While I have not achieved the academic level or attention as you have in your position at UW….I work as a teacher for a public school system in neighboring MN. While my work emails has never been purged in the way yours has been…I am made acutely aware that anything I write or send from my work email address is considered the property or my school district. You and I are both public employees in a world bound by rules and hidden agendas. I do congratulate you on the sharing of your thoughts…consider this request my the republican party a job hazard. And, be glad for tenure. Because without tenure, both you and I would have been ousted from our present positions long ago!

  260. Dear Professor Cronon,

    I’m a university professor (tenured) who has often wondered about the disappearance of the public intellectual. I happen to agree with you, but even if I didn’t, I’d be glad you were out there, showing us how it’s done, at no little cost to yourself. I’m now actively contemplating how I can follow your good example.

  261. Dear Prof. Cronon,

    You have performed a great public service for which I am thankful. Your Blog is fascinating reading even to someone who is an ecologist and not a historian. Though I’ve been a CT Yankee for 45 years now, I’m a Chicago native and appreciate Midwest values. I’m an Independent by choice, but i truly hope that your writings will unleash the “fires of hell” on the Untra-conservative Republlican movement in this country. They are not the party of Lincoln!

  262. I feel I need to say thank you for seeing this overt power grab for what it is and debating rationally against it.

  263. Professor Cronon makes excellent points for why the FOIA request is abusive. What concerns me even more is that the Republican party made absolutely no attempt to conceal their tracks which can only mean they do not give a damn what we think anymore.

    The larger picture though is that Professor Cronon clearly stirred up a hornet’s nest which can only have happened, as he surmised, because he came too close to the actual truth of the matter. He is to be congratulated because not enough people of standing are asking the hard questions that need to be asked. Can’t anyone see that the worker’s rights and public services being stripped away in Wisconsin are under the same attack across the USA and even in other countries like Canada and Britain. There is something much larger at work here that affects that majority of us citizens and we cannot unite against it while we are cleverly divided by smokescreens like religious differences, fear (of everything), greed and envy.

    So what do the politicians get out of the agressive stripping away of public services and worker’s rights? Now that is something I’d love to see a FOIA request for.

    On another note isn’t it interesting that the uprisings in the Middle East countries are being driven by middle-class and working-class people tired of oppression from the wealthy and politically well-connected. There apparently is a limit to how abuse human beings will accept.

  264. “I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
    —E. B. White

    Thank you Professor Cronon for improving the world through education.

  265. I find this blog and discussion very educational. I am also a graduate student at a university that is not in WI and it is interesting to see what one should be careful of when using the university email system. I agree with the professor in that this seems to be a ploy to intimidate academics throughout his state and to inspire others to do so nationally, and as a public school teacher, I have been wondering when the attacks on the universities would begin – this appears to be an opening salvo.

    A few years ago I attended a talk about how private organizations and corporations were becoming more involved with funding universities, to the point where the “public” universities were not actually public. It leads me to wonder what the definition of “public university” is? I notices that less than 50% of UW’s funding actually comes from state or federal sources. Does that mean that they are only 1/2 public employees and half independent or private sector? If so, does only half the law apply? The information on UW funding is public domain at http://www.wisc.edu/about/facts/budget.php

    Just something for those who call for public disclosure for “public” employees to mull over…

  266. As a fellow historian (at a much lower level in every way!) who also tries to be engaged in public discourse, I am not surprised that the Republican party would resort to this. Perhaps all of us have learned a lesson, too, about the honesty and morality of some politicians, eh?

  267. Bravo for your fearless academic inquiry and publishing. Your posts alert us that we should be paying much more attention to the historical context of today’s seemingly unique and outrageous attacks on freedoms of every kind. What a privilege it would be to be a student in one of your classes!

  268. I am as removed as can be imagined from this drama:

    – I am not American, I’m French
    – I don’t live in America, much less in Wisconsin, I live in France
    – I am not an historian, I am a computer professional
    – I am not a scholar, I work in the industry
    – I am not a public servant, my company is private

    yet I am deeply moved and worried by this new development from one of the greatest democracy in the word, at least so far.

    You have all my support, totally worthless as it may be.

    Jean-Denis Muys
    Paris, France.

  269. Bravo for standing up here! I enjoyed your Times Op-Ed. And I’m honestly horrified (though not surprised) by the republican effort to try and undermine you.

    Seems to me that the republicans are stirring up one more hornet’s nest, which is going to lower them still further (if that’s possible) in the eyes of honorable folk, whether here in WI, in the US, or even around the world.

    I’m sorry for all the inconvenience this is causing you. But in the end I suspect it will lead to even greater inconvenience and heaps of scorn upon those who seek to smear your reputation. Like a boomerang it will come back to them!

    Peace be with you. And strength and courage!

  270. Professor Cronan,

    I am currently a graduate student in a museum studies program, and as part of my coursework read your book “Changes in the Land”. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that I am a big fan of your work, past and present, and I support your efforts here to bring a modicum of scholarship to today’s political discourse.

    It is sorely needed.

    Keith from New York

  271. You obviously didn’t read what the professor wrote. And I quote:

    “I want to close by repeating that I support the Open Records Law and the freedom of information traditions of the United States. They are precious guardians of our democratic liberties.”

    Please sir. Don’t only see what you want to see. Read the piece and just for once start reasoning for yourself.

  272. Cool! I can now send FOIA requests with keywords “to” and “from” for all the profs I hate… there is bound to be something juicy in some of those e-mails that I can use to get even on the low grades I got. At the very least it will waste a lot of time from those unhelpful administrators in my school and give the profs a hurt burn. Republican party, thanks to your creative ideas every day I find myself one step closer to the idealized rational-agent found in economics textbooks!

  273. Nice post. Best wishes for a good outcome.
    I get the impression that a lot of politicians in the US still do not realise how their actions are widely reported worldwide, and do not understand the damage that their worse-than-childlike actions and utterances do to the reputation of the US in the world community. I know there are a lot of wonderful and generous people in the US, but my whole view these days is skewed by news such as what as happened here.

  274. Thank you Prof. Cronon for being a good and responsible citizen of this world. Your very succinct detailing of what has become a political cancer in our country is nothing short of troubling. We need to identify these political cancerous tumors and then eradicate them. My field of study in college was Political Science…I found out too late I didn’t have the ruthlessness, deceit, and penchant for financial self enrichment to be worthwhile in the field. Instead, I opted to become a firefighter/emt and serve my community in a meaningful way. Keep up the good work!

  275. At the Harvard Conference on the Internet and Society in 1996, Bill Gates stated to the roughly 700 people attending, most of them, save me, Harvard graduates, that if he were to send his children to college it would be to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He continued, “why you might ask? Because it is the best school in the world.” He went on to explain his reasoning, some of which had to do with the breadth of academic research and the important way that the State of Wisconsin sought to support education with funding. I would have to think Mr. Gates would be prone to reconsidering his position right about now.

    I applaud Mr. Cronon. And should he not prevail, I would imagine there will be no shortage of FOIA requests directed towards any number of various ruling elite’s email accounts. Time to break out the ole search engine skills.

  276. The question we are asking at this point in history is about what we definite democracy and republic to mean.

    Do we wish for a combined wealth of plurality of all kinds of powerful voices and protection from the abuses of de Tocquville’s “tyranny of the majority” such that noble goals might be discovered, explored, and moved forward upon.

    Or do we wish for the efficiencies of a narrowly, possibly corporatist defined leadership that cows the chaotic, irresponsible “rabble” such that it can achieve its pre-decided noble goals.

  277. The tactics of Republicans on any issue you can imagine should not surprise anyone who has even casually followed the past thirty years or longer of the political war going on. They in fact will use ALL issues you can imagine to manipulate public opinion in their favor. For them it is Political Assassination 101 to attack Prof. Cronon. Kids play.

    Another thing you must know is that they could care less about the social issues you hear them shout about most. Abortion, gays, guns, evolution, whatever. They use these issues to keep the religious right and super patriots in line. The only issues they are interested in is power and the means to gain permanent power. All other issues are exploited for however they can be used to attain that goal.

    So when we get upset about the audacity of the WI Republican Party attacking Prof. Cronon, how unfair it is and abusively intimidating, they are patting themselves on the back for another assassination well done and move on to the next level of attack which is broadcasting the news to 40% of the public who worship them that Prof. Cronon is your typical crackpot liberal leftist radical professor with possible ties to Nazi Communist Muslim Alien Terrorist organizations, just like Obama.

    Stay tuned.

  278. A similar thing is happening in Virginia, with the Republican attorney general costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars going on a fishing expedition to look for things that may undermine the finding a prior UVA professor had about global warming. This does nothing but waste taxpayer dollars and force great educators and researchers to run away from public institutions and the state in general.

    Of course, one could get back at them by using the FOIA to get their emails for a similar fishing expedition.

    1. Right, this is “similar.” Mann very obviously faked enormous amounts of “research” and then tried to cover it up. The problem is he was using funds from taxpayers and fraud is fraud and the AG of Virginia is supposed to make sure people don’t get away with fraud.

      1. John Q Pubic said, “Mann very obviously faked enormous amounts of “research” and then tried to cover it up.”

        Please stop lying. Mann did no such thing and you have zero proof of it. He was already investigated by the federal government and they found no evidence of fraud or wrong doing.

        Also, nothing about this controversy disproves the FACT that Global Warming is real and is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of rain forests.

        The only major controversy surrounding Global Warming is this: Are the deniers just plain idiots or are they complete morons?

      2. Obvious for whom? Nothing came of it. Other than those like you who keep convicting a man cleared of wrongdoing.

      3. John Q., The problem is people like you spreading lies like this. People like you are destroying our country. Shame on you.

        1. @steven: Warning that abusive language and personal attacks violate the Terms of Service. Please refrain.

  279. Thank you so much, Professor Cronon, for your insightful analysis of these developments, and for your candor and courage in the face of this disturbing request from the Republican Party. Please continue to stand strong. I support and admire your efforts to educate people across the country about our state’s proud history and our troubled present.

    For truly dedicated faculty, it is nearly impossible to draw a line between what work is “official university business” and what work is not. Your work with scholarly organizations raises the stature of UW, advances your field, and establishes connections with other scholars that may help you and your students advance their research and their careers. Your work with editors and other writers and scholars fulfills similar functions, as do, of course, your scholarly and general-interest publications, which include your op-ed and blog.

    Almost all universities expect faculty to participate in many such “unofficial university business” activities, and professors who do not will be hard-pressed to pass their annual, tenure, and promotion reviews, and indeed hard-pressed to find work teaching anywhere at the college level.

    If your emails become public, I hope they will enlighten the public to the vast and varied work professors do, night and day, on weekends and holidays, and with great generosity, commitment, and personal sacrifice. Thank you for standing up for our proud traditions, our rights, and our future.

    Valerie Laken
    Assistant Professor of English

  280. Certainly Prof. Cronon is an honorable and decent American. To suppose that the requests made by the Republicans are made in an attempt to discredit him starts to border on paranoia, The Freedom of Information act applies to ALL entities and citizens alike. Likewise the act can be used, and has been used, to disclose information regarding Gov Walker and the Republicans. Just like freedom of speech allows people to voice their opinions it also provides a voice for the vile and foul opinions of Nazis, White Supremacists, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and others we don’t agree with. So grin and bear it, use the act to expose the conspiracy of the Republicans and Democrats alike and return to your elitist academia ways.

    1. “…return to your elitist academia ways.”

      It is odd how you start off saying Cronon is “an honorable and decent American” but then veer into what sounds like anger at the end. What exactly are you accusing him of here? How, exactly, is teaching at a public university and being an extraordinarily popular lecture “elitist”? Is there something wrong with teaching at a college? How is writing a book aimed at a wide readership on the development of the American economy and physical environment elitist? How is maintaining a blog aimed at disseminating information to a broad public elitist? Your anger is misdirected and does you a disservice.

      As to your claim that he is wrong in seeing the request as a way of intimidating it — what exactly is your interpretation about why Republican would file a FOIA request on this (and only this) professor two days after publishes a blog entry that is potentially detrimental to that party? Certainly they have no reason to suspect that he has abused university resources, since publishing a blog in no way contradicts university policy.

      1. To infer the the FOI laws should not pertain to him or any other academic is elitist. They should and do apply to ALL. I am not angry as you have perceived but am disappointed and disillusioned with our current political ploys. What happened to providing for the public interest? Instead we spend countless hours and many resources in perpetuating self interests. Certainly Prof Cronon has my support if the requests for emails results in a smear campaign against his views. But to assume that the Republicans “have it in for him” starts to border on paranoia. And the supposition that all republicans are “bad people” is just wrong. I have used the Freedom of Information Act in my state [Connecticut] to expose the wrong doings of republicans and democrats alike. Political affiliation should not trump the truth, be it Republican or Democrat
        Certainly public university professors are elitists in many ways. As defined- elitism :consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group. The mere mention of the supporting groups one belongs to is elitist. Public university professors are paid by the public and are shielded from downturns in the economy by virtue of their guaranteed 3-4% raises. In addition they hold the power of success or failure. I do not hold any disrespect for this group but simply point out the elitist status they hold.

        1. Ric,

          You should perhaps reread the blog post the Prof. Cronon put up. He is not saying that FOI does not pertain to him. He is stating that the use of FOI in the manner it is being requested of him will abuse an essential tool of democracy (Read the Section “Essential Tool of Democracy).

          It seems extremely prudent to your argument what you feel the Republican’s are trying to get from his e-mails. So what is it?

          I can see nothing but character assassination in the request, and I think Prof. Cronon does a great job of detailing what the Republican request entails. He also highlights the importance of the FOI, and believes it is a good thing that it does apply to professors. Create a counter argument rather than just asserting that he is border-line paranoid, because he seems quite sane to me.

          Furthermore, you make the statement – “the supposition that all republicans are ‘bad people’ is just wrong” – if this were a supposition of Prof. Cronon’s then you’re right, it would be wrong. However, Prof. Cronon does not argue that Republican’s are bad people, nor does he argue they’re good people. He is a historian and is, at least outwardly, neutral on these grounds.

          Your dictionary description of elitism certainly fits William Cronon, he is clearly proud of being a professor at the University. Though the word elitism, by no stretch of imagination, clearly comes with some negative connotations. It seems as though it was unnecessary to your base argument to call him elitist in the dictionary sense you mention. I see no reason for you saying it unless you were trying to convey some of those negative interpretations of the word. That may not have been your purpose, but you should certainly be more careful with the word in the future if those were not your intentions.

          Give his blog another read through, it seems your understanding of what he says is entirely off the mark, though your intentions aren’t.


          Michael Dean

    2. Where do you come up with the notion that FOI applies to “all citizens”? It refers only to governmental bodies as rather tortuously defined in Wisconsin Public Records Law Wis. Stat. § 19.31-19.39 [19.32] (2003). I’m not entirely sure it even applies to faculty members of the UW system, but I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not entirely clear about that.

      You may not want Prof. Cronon to put up a fight in this, although I suspect you might not cheerfully turn over your emails in response to this sort of fishing expedition, in spite of your supposedly anti-elitist “all citizens” take on the law. The political motivation for the GOP request is ludicrously transparent and should not be accepted as expressing a legitimate need for the “records.”

      “Elitist” is not a dirty word.

      1. Greg,

        I’m not actually sure if you’re specifically addressing me or not? But I assume you are.

        I don’t have a notion that FOI applies to “all citizens” nor did I ever say so. I do believe the law applies to Prof. Cronon as a state employee, though I am not a lawyer either.

        I actually am incredibly for Prof. Cronon putting up a fight, and sincerely hope that the Republicans retract their request, and I further believe the initial request of the Republicans was ludicrous. I apologize if I was unclear on that very central point in my argument against Ric.

        You’re absolutely correct that I would not like to hand over my e-mails in a fishing expedition like this.

        I don’t know if I would call myself “anti-elitist,” I simply believe that when you call someone elitist in the sense Ric did, you are implying a certain level of arrogance on the person you call elitist. I tried to be very neutral in my comments on that section as it is simply up to word interpretations. As an analogy, liberal may have bad connotations in some circles and not in others. I personally am happy to call myself a liberal, despite it’s dirty connotations in some social/political circles.

        My reply to Ric was intended to be more of a criticism of his rhetoric in commenting an lack of understanding of the central points in Prof. Cronon’s blog. I wanted to encourage him to become further informed since it is awful to try to debate with someone who only uses a straw man argument to support their points.

        1. Upon second look at the entire thread I see you weren’t addressing me Greg… my bad.

          Though I would side comment that elitist does carry negative connotations as it implies an arrogant belief that “elites” should rule society and that the individual percieves themselves to be part of that “elite.” I do not believe that William Cronon is to any degree an elitist, and I would say Ric’s use of the word is intended as a form of underwritten slander and a poor shot at an ad hominem attack.

  281. Thank You Professor for your sharing this thorough and enlightening information. I’m not a scholar of Constitutional law (or any other kind of law for that matter) but after reading the pdf you linked it seems pretty clear that your records should be protected based upon student confidentiality and other factors. It would at least appear that you should be given ample time to remove any communications which would violate that standard.
    You have my full support and respect and I look forward to following the progress of this matter.
    Jennifer L. Hazard, M.S.

  282. You say in your article, “The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”
    The unions showed none of this. They cried like a bunch of petulent children who didn’t get their way after their party was beat in fair elections. Their senators used tactics like skipping town, abdicating their elected duties in order to twart the will of the electorate. I didn’t see you criticize any of this in your article which makes you partisan. I believe the Republicans are testing your theory about how open and transparent you really are and as a public employee, you and the University should be as transparent and open as possible. Do I approve of these tactics? No, I think it’s twisting the laws to suit a political party but Democrats have been playing these games for 20 years against Republicans. Here’s the most recent go at it. http://politifi.com/news/DNC-Files-FOIA-Requests-With-Pentagon-for-Info-on-GOP-2012-Hopefuls-1267090.html
    So much for neighborliness and mutual respect.

    1. I followed this link and found the story to be of very limited relevance. In the example you offer, the Democratic National Committee has requested information about public figures who have indicated they are considering running for president in 2012. In what was is this equivalent to a professor at a public university publishing his research on current events? I fail to see any linkage beyond the fact that a political organization filed a request for public records. And we all know that if the Pentagon does release anything, it will be heavily redacted.

      I am a partisan, unlike Professor Cronon, and therefore have no problem whatsoever in calling BS on your partisan nonsense.

    2. This is a fallacious argument and completely out of bounds from this discussion. Presenting your opinioned case amounts to essentially discrediting the narrative at hand by way of unrelated omission – just because the Prof didn’t talk about your Union/Democratic conspirators doesn’t mean the events occurring with the Wis. Republicans are suddenly untrue or of less merit. Why? Because he WASN’T talking about your Union/Democratic conspirators, he was ONLY talking about the Wis. Republicans and the scope of events at hand.

      Your actions are akin to discrediting a UN council investigation on the horrors of Libya by screaming they’re biased because they’ve said nothing about the horrors of Katrina. Or more accurately, someone criticizes, “Those cops just threatened me because I questioned their authority!” And you respond with, ” Yeah, but illegals took our jobs!”

  283. As a tenured professor of government, I am appalled at the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In addition to other concerns registered in this blog, I have on other (pertinent, I trust) question: why is it that the Republicans, who tout themselves as the party of patriotism and American values, have since 2001 been the party to subvert those American and patriotic values? (If it matters, I am, like Professor Cronon, an independent centrist.)

    1. Because what was once a party concerned with governing the republic has become an ur-fascist alliance between fantasy-dwelling ideologues and machiavellian monopolists. And together, they have created an idea-virus of anger against all form of governance that gives the terrified masses something easy to hate – instead of confusing them with the details about globalization and hostage-state-sponsored global corporate welfare that really explain why life is getting increasingly painful and insecure for them. This is the thing that has gripped the Republican Party – and it offers much more visceral oomph than reasoned analysis does. It sells. We lose.

    2. Answer: The Conservative Party’s leaders have been co-opted by power and money:
      Neo-Cons are in charge now. Us “Paleo-Cons” (D. Cheney) are through….

      My father’s political motto was: “There are two kinds of people in the world: Democrats
      and SOB’s. (BTW: He meant the WHOLE “world”. “But, Dad”, I’d protest to no avail: The
      “whole world”, it was. I was glad that I never had to face him when I switched to Goldwater
      in ’64. But, that’s all gone now, Dr. Daugherty: The Walkers, and worse, are in ascendency
      and I can envision no scenario, short of armed revolution, that displaces them, so strong
      is the strength, attraction of “power and (great wealth)”.

  284. Make no mistake, professor. They are not seeking to intimidate you; they are seeking to eliminate you as a political ‘enemy’, which you now are, regardless of how ‘centrist’ you believe you may be or have been. These are not uncertain people who simply might try to influence things: these are very powerful people who are very used to manipulating things. The odds are very good that you will be unemployed in the near future: there is going to be something in those emails they can blow up out of proportion to discredit you. Hell, they will have the Wisconsin Legislator write a law just to have a reason to fire you, if necessary. And don’t be too sure your options will be as open as you believe. The world of private education is even more anxious to accommodate the rich and powerful than the rapidly dwindling world of public education.

  285. I read the part about FERPA and had to remind myself to breath again — holy cow, how could I have forgottent THAT one? As much as I admire this carefully reasoned and presented post, I think that point deserved greater emphasis. To comply with Thompson’s FOI “request” would expose the university to the possibility of ruinous lawsuits. But all most people will see is an attempt to “avoid telling the truth” — a grotesque travesty of the facts, but who trucks in truth or facts these days when knee-jerk impressions are so easy to manipulate?

    My compliments to Prof. Cronon for his fine work here.

  286. I want to first thank you for your original post. It answered quite a few questions for me. I firmly stand behind the professor’s reasons for the original post and for his stand against what totally looks like a political response. Our government should never use laws that were passed for good reasons as weapons against us. Talk about overreach and hubris. Only two months into the term and the GOP has decided to go all in and could care less who knows.

  287. I too am the victim of a Republican public records request. I am the president of a WEAC local. The person that requested my emails lives in Oak Creek Wisconsin, which is about 40 miles outside of the school district in which I teach, so this person is not a resident. I know that this has been done to intimidate me, just like the calls from Mark Belling to my superintendent are supposed to intimate her. I refuse to be bullied into giving up my first amendment rights and doing my job, and I would urge all of those who receive these requests to wear them like a badge of honor. Professor Cronon was right to use the Joe McCarthy analogy. These people think that they can make up information and controversies and that people will believe them. They will suffer the same fate that McCarthy did. The more that the populace exposes these phonies for what they are, the more that the silent majority will get activated. These people have actually done a great service to good governance because they have motivated the apathetic “identity” voters into actually thinking about the little that the Republican party has done for them. Having voters think before pulling the lever will be the Republicans undoing.

    Tamara Johnson

    1. It saddens me so deeply that this is the thanks you get for dedicating your life to teaching your community’s children. I can’t understand how anyone could have any other feeling than the deepest gratitude for that work. I grew up in Wisconsin but live in Vermont now. I was so impressed with our local school when our daughter started there that I served on the school board for 6 years just to do whatever I could to help them with their tremendous work. It’s called a community school, and it is just that, with almost universal community support. I hope you know – and get explicit confirmation – that most parents probably feel the way I do.

  288. Professor Cronon, thank you for offering an example of what academia at its finest can offer the nation in a very difficult time. The annoyance of this vindictive nonsense may be intense, but it will pass. You will emerge with honor for having served the truth. Your students are fortunate to learn from you, and more important, to see you as an example.

  289. Thank you Professor Cronon for your thoughtful framing of our current problems in Wisconsin. Your dedication to high quality scholarship and the study of history enriches us all. Your words will help our state pull out of these dark and divisive times. Keep telling stories about stories; we need them now more than ever.

  290. If you do in fact have to publish your emails I think it would be extremely important to not just give them to the republican party but mirror them in a torrent file or on your U of Wisconsin server space so they can be publicly accessible to all who are interested. We are in the era of massive information warfare and nothing is a stronger weapon than exclusive rights to some bit of info. The holder of that info can control what’s given to the public and what isn’t. S/he can tweak contexts to match the narrative and basically bend whatever it is you have written to point towards the desired outcome.

    If everybody has access to the same docs you will have an army of willing infowarriors sifting through the data you were forced to provide, verifying, countering and balancing the conclusions the people who requested the info are going to inevitably make with it.

    I wish you the best of luck and I hope you heed my advise and make the docs viewable to all if they are forced to be given to the few who seem to be out to ruin you.

    1. Big Al – It’s not about “ruining” anyone, necessarily. Obviously the fishing expedition is hoping for some startling revelation that the Prof or someone he talks to is some kind of radical/ subversive/ undesirable. But that’s mainly wishful thinking and we can’t be sure that someone in the requesting office doesn’t sincerely believe that there really is ‘something’ there worth finding and amenable to twisting in the public’s mind.

      The truly ruinous aspect of this is the diversion of university resources and the professor’s time in reading and sorting and classifying emails. The one and only good thing about this request is that it covers only the period from Jan 1. Going through one by one and identifying those that do contain the items sought. Then identifying student correspondence, selection and job reference correspondence, other committee work subject to confidentiality restrictions, and on and on and on within that set.

      And then, documenting the reasons and the statutory basis for withholding every. single. one. of the items thus identified.

      1. adelady:

        That’s not how it will work.

        The republicans provided “key words” because all the emails are stored electronically on the U. server. These email programs have a sort/find function like a word processing program does. All that needs to be done is an IT guy put in the key words and the system can pull up the relevant emails containing those key words virtually instantaneously. This is over a three month period and I can’t imagine there would be more than a couple of thousand relevant emails, most likely, it will probably be a couple or maybe a few dozen emails which contain the keywords during the relevant time period (Jan – march 2011).

        At that point Prof. Cronon will probably meet with university legal counsel and review the emails. Most of them will probably be random. I doubt the university is going to make a legal fight out of this unless there’s something really embarrassing in there. The only thing the Prof. needs to worry about is if there’s something really embarrassing like (hypothetically): “LOL this will really scr*w Scott Walker when I get it published!” or something like that.

        But, won’t that kind of stuff, if it exists, make Cronon an even bigger hero in Wisconsin?

        1. Plastic –

          Obviously, you are correct that using search utilities on the dataset in question will quickly yield the subset of emails outlined in Mr. Thompson’s email request, but Adelady still has a valid point. If that were the only filtering that needed to be done, we’re still talking use of university resources – network administrator time to pull up the archives and system processing cycles to perform the search requests. While not enormous, these are still expenditures of public resources which, at the very least, should be included in the cost of Mr. Thompson’s request.

          However, a far more resource-intensive activity must necessarily follow, and I think this is what Adelady was really driving at. After the search is complete, the professor and co.will have to sit down and manually read through each and every single email to sort out which are protected student communication, which are “maybe protected” professional group communication, etc. As Adelady said:

          “[…] identifying student correspondence, selection and job reference correspondence, other committee work subject to confidentiality restrictions, and on and on and on within that set.
          And then, documenting the reasons and the statutory basis for withholding every. single. one. of the items thus identified.”

          This manual human filtering and documentation of reasoning and statutory basis is where the bulk of the time cost will come in. I would imagine, considering the volume of the dataset and the breadth of the filter terms that that cost could be substantial. Especially if, as you posit, the professor will then have to “sit with university legal counsel.” Surely you must agree that University resources are precious, and that utilizing them in this manner is suboptimal at best, regardless of the intentions of Mr. Thompson OR of Prof. Cronon. Again, at the very least, the University, if it does comply at any level, should be compensated a substantial amount by Mr. Thompson for the use of computing resources, administrator time, legal resources, and the time required for sifting through the data to ensure that student privacy and the privacy of other non-involved parties is adequately protected. Wouldn’t you agree?

    2. Big Al:

      I think the University should put the non-confidential part of the emails up publicly just like you say, but right now, and not wait for court actions. The longer legal battle this is drawn out, the more vulnerable Prof. Cronon is. He makes himself the issue by keeping the focus on this battle. Prof. Cronon is not looking too good by claiming to stand up for “academic freedom.” Academic freedom supports the release of the emails, not fighting against their release.

      I would guess that there’s some embarrassing material somewhere in some of those emails, might not have anything to do with Wisconsin politics at all, though, but Prof. C. doesn’t want it released for personal reasons, not professional reasons.

      Who knows what it might be? Have any of you folks ever received or forwarded a naughty email or something containing something inappropriate, like an ethnic joke etc.? Is it possible in three months time that the disclosure is sought for, Prof. C. might have used his U. account for purely personal business of some kind? Something relatively innocuous but would be embarrassing if publicly disclosed? I’m not saying this is the case, it’s all speculation, but Prof. C’s objections sure raise red flags.

      1. Actually, while I have received some mildly questionable emails, probably less than a half dozen, I do not forward them to anybody.

      2. As you know, 889, all this is to silence the critics: If they win, good; If they lose, fine…
        there probably won’t be a next time.

        This exercise is. solely, to avoid answering the points raised.

      3. I find it fairly preposterous to consider it an example of academic freedom to release the e-mails. I think the professor makes important points considering the compromise of the private business and correspondence of professional associations, colleagues and students, none of which is the business of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, or anyone else, for that matter, and is all certainly a reasonable use of his .edu e-mail account. Yes, he is a “government employee,” but he’s not a government official. It may be unfortunate that the law is written as it seems to be, but FOIA and Open Records concepts are intended to enable citizens to find out information about government officials and the conduct of governmental affairs, not to enable politically motivated fishing expeditions of university professors. If he worked at Yale, or Marquette, for instance, this would not be possible, and just because it seems to be technically legal does not make it right.

      4. Plastic:
        Do not ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.
        In short, how about we all see your private emails as well? I mean, if you have nothing to hide…

  291. Thank you, Professor Cronon. I will be following your blog from now on.
    Perhaps you and other like-minded professors will form a movement (using your private email addresses) against today’s so-called conservatives and their mad excesses; perhaps you can have a greater number of spokespeople on TV and radio; perhaps we can all join with you to save our nation from the Republicans, whose goals seem to be 1) to move wealth from the poor to the rich; 2) to maximize corporate profits, whatever the cost to our soils, rivers, oceans, and air; and 3) to destroy all democratic and grass-roots movements through intimidation and expensive PR campaigns, and whatever tactics they deem useful; 4) to divide people from one another who would otherwise have a great deal in common–parents, middle-class and working-class people, etc.–by throwing around accusatory terms like “elitist” to separate top-notch thinkers, like Prof. Cronon, from the people they champion. The real arrogant class running this nation are Karl Rove and the heads of the Fortune 500, who truly care nothing for our values, such as clean water and food, good schools, and some measure of fairness and justice for ordinary people.

  292. Professor Cronon, I agree with your conclusions regarding threats to academic freedom and the other important issues. To paraphrase Congressman Barney Frank, you’re trying to have a conversation with a dining room table. The response from the Republican Party starts out with a statement accusing you of demanding that they withdraw their request. You didn’t demand anything, rather the Republicans can be expected to distort anything and everything you say that’s not official correspondence.

    You are probably aware of the Wisconsin statutes regarding your rights and responsibilities when you are requested to provide records and your rights that protect public employees from retaliation or harrassment by legislative officials. These public employee protections do not protect you from harrassment by members outside the sphere of public officials. This suggests a reson that the FOI request originated in the Republican Party organization, a non-public entity, rather than from a legislator or a public employee.

    I urge you to review the Wisconsin statutes, particulary section 230, which provides specific protection from anything that violates your 1st Amendment rights. Other sections describe your responsibilities when responding to a FOI request. There are specific exclusions that require you to protect others’ privacy rights, for example. The narrow list of excluded information is spelled out in the statutes. You must redact certain personal identification information, but this does not permit you to exclude a whole document simply because it contains private information. You are not required to provide unrelated documents. In this case, the request is ambiguous. Email about the Union Army is an example. You probably aren’t required to provide this record, but you might need to explain such decisions or request a clarification in order to resolve such ambiguities. Although the request implies that records about the Union Army don’t meet the requestors intent, it’s best to consult someone more knowledable about FOI requests.

    You, as a public employee (as I interpret the statutory definition), are protected from retaliation and harrassment in several ways by law. Similarly, the statutes require you to protect the privacy and rights of others.

    I strongly urge you to retain legal counsel to ensure that your response is complete and compliant with both the spirit of the sunshine laws and the related Wisconsin statutes. Your suggestion to reexamine the implications of the request from the Republican party was certain to fall on deaf ears. This posting was, however, critically important information for the rest of us. Please continue.

    This blatent political attack on academic freedom and the subsequent events is already historically important. This is now about every academic institution in the United States.

    We, the people, need your strength and wisdom to help us protect academic freedom for everyone. We’re all in this together.

    Thank you so much.

    1. Bill Robbins:

      You are mistaken as to the procedures involved with one of these requests. The request was directed to the University of Wisconsin, not to Prof. Cronon. The University is the public entity and is clearly subject to the disclosure law. Any emails generated by the Prof. during the course of his employment for the University are presumably archived on the University email system/server in accordance with the University’s document retention policy. I would guess they probably keep old emails archived for at least a few years. The University has rendered a public statement on its website saying it recognizes its obligation to comply with the law. They will have to comply with the disclosure request but they can request 25 cents a page in copying fees. There are exceptions such as personal information of students and those emails can be excluded or identifying information redacted out of the documents.

      We all know that’s not what the rebpublicans are after though. And Prof. C. knows that, too.

      I associate a panicked need to maintain secrecy of government documents with the Nixon Administration and Watergate. Maybe you are too young to remember that, but Prof. Cronon surely isn’t. The emails are government documents.

      If there is something in there that reflects negatively on Prof. Cronon his best approach is to get out in front of it rather than to fight this losing battle, it is just making him look Nixonian in the extreme.

      1. I understand the obligation to respond to the records request. Professor Cronon reinforces this point in his blog entry. The Republican Party response indicates that they may have interpreted his statements as a refusal to comply with the request. This is clearly not the case. I suspect that this is your interpretation, too, since you reference “a panicked need…”

        Professor Cronon made no such statement that he planned to refuse to comply with the record request. On the contrary, he indicated that the sunshine laws would be honored. Indeed, the UW administrators have a responsibility to redact certain personal and private information about students and a narrow list of exceptions as specified in the statutes.

        I am older than Professor Cronon. As a youngster, Joseph McCarthy was my Senator, I clearly remember the controversy and the shame that his witch hunts brought to Wisconsinites. Today, Walker’s actions have widened the divide and embarrassed Wisconsinites once again. Professor Cronon simply suggested some considerations that the requestor (and the public) should think about.

  293. i have “kochtopus” fatigue. the genre of activist journalism which deals with conspiracy theories which posit that everybody who disagrees with the progressive faith is an automaton programmed by a shadowy elite has been popular recently. so i’m weary to parse through and point out every question-begging insinuation in the professor’s contribution to such nonsense.

    there are many in the luridly titled, “who’s really behind recent republican legislation?” leaving the title aside (“who really brought down wtc7?” a similarly-minded person might similarly ask), the professor sends inquiring minds to two admittedly leftwing encyclopedia-style repositories of oppo dirt on conservative groups and individuals. why? he explains, “for obvious reasons, many of these groups prefer not to be monitored very closely.” what are these reasons? obvious to who? why does the professor withhold from us his insight into the operative preferences of those who prefer to work from the shadows? there is nothing dry about this language. there is also nothing truthful in the insinuation. the professor himself links to the ALEC website where they are pleased as punch to spill the beans on all of their nefarious plans. he even attempts to cash in on their openness in the post above to lend toward the notion that his ersatz “expose” had no agenda noticeable to anyone. what a shock that openness must come to those who caught the professor’s hint that they lurk in shadows because their activities are of a character averse to sunlight.

    more often than not, interest groups are obscure, and they are nearly always obscure by default rather than design. that is, until they are plucked from obscurity and employed as a character in some grand narrative. that is all that has happened here. the professor’s too-ready insistence that he was writing from scholarly interest reeks of horseshit and dirty socks. his insistence in dusting off old tropes about the legendary scourge of “mccarthyism” yields unintentional ironies. here, the professor was doing some mccarthyizin’ of his own; researching and cataloging a shadowy malefactor which operates, deviously, under the guise of constitutionally protected issue advocacy, and drawing to it and from it linkages to individuals who were, until these revelations, only suspected to be at war with our precious fluids. the linkages are like a web. but a totally different kind of web from the infamous “red web” of the john birch society. this web is a totally different, not-at-all-paranoid-or-antipluralistic web. and so are sourcewatch and rightwingwatch, completely different from the bircherite “red web”.

    by the by, did you ever hear of the center for media and democracy? must be because they, for obvious reasons, seek to conceal themselves. did you know that they advocate for policies which are distasteful to many americans? and they accept donations from other groups which you may also be unfamiliar with and pursue similar ideological agendas (cue theremin).

    in any case, stinkier than the original article by far is the screeching hypocrisy of the appeal left above. the professor makes a risible attempt to cast his contribution to the kochtopus conspiracy mindset as a work of dry scholarship and, from that footing, cites a privilege of his own imaging which protects the emails of university employees. sorry to burst this delusion, but there is nothing which transpires in the office of a university professor which bears any moral resemblance to what priests, doctors or lawyers are bound to. the professor is smart enough to recognize what the requester is after; he is probably pumping recall petition chain-mails through his office computer and his resistance to comply with the FOIA request does lend weight to such suspicions and the whole spectacle casts him with the appearance of a hypocrite who believes himself entitled to attack the motives and situatedness of others without having to endure the same sort of examination.

    he’s also smart enough to recognize that he has no way out of this scrutiny he’s brought upon himself but to pull on his “academic freedom” underoos, wrap his moral indignation around him like a cape and try to fly out on a gust of hot air.

  294. I would like to start by suggesting we reverse the panopticon here. It has been shown time and again that Anonymity is a great power. Those who feel they are anonymous make more outrageous claims and sharper attacks against others than someone who places his or her name on the line.

    As such, I’m going to be publishing here (and elsewhere), some of the personal information I have discovered about Stephan Thompson:

    Name: Stephan Thompson
    Mugshot: http://a2.twimg.com/profile_images/521454498/facebook_pic_bigger.jpg
    Current Town: Pewaukee
    BA in Political Science from Carrol College

    Deputy Campaign Manager
    Friends of Scott Walker
    January 2010 – December 2010 (1 year)

    Arrowhead Strategies, LLC
    January 2009 – December 2009 (1 year)

    Social media:
    Twitter – smthomps (private)
    Klout – http://klout.com/smthomps

    DOX pastebin (set to autodestruct in 1 month): http://pastebin.com/LrV2c4Ai

  295. Amazing. The more one digs into the political [often non-]science of your almost great country the more one despairs as to the shennanigans embraced by the conservatives. It is frightening that under this current administration such ramapant attempts to curtail free expression and opinion through subterranean means is possible at all. One expects this [well not really] in the old Soviet Union but today’s America. Speechless. [pun intended]

  296. Streisand Effect [..]
    Heard of it?
    you soon will 🙂

    [webmaster 8:33am obscenties removed] scum

  297. Actually Prof. C. it looks like there’s a rather large loophole/exception in the disclosure law which you should be able to take advantage of:

    “Record” does not include drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originators personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working; materials which are purely the personal property of the custodian and have no relation to his or her office; materials to which access is limited by copyright, patent or bequest; and published materials in the possession of an authority other than a public library which are available for sale, or which are available for inspection at a public library. 19.32(2).

    So, any of the Prof.’s emails which arguably can be considered to be “drafts/notes/preliminary” versions of whatever he published, you know before he edited out the scurrilous references to Scott Walker and the Republicans (j/k), can probably be at least tied up in litigation for several years.

    Hey keep it goin prof., no doubt you are getting great publicity, will get a book deal, lecture fees are skyrocketing, see ya on Oprah.

    1. Plastic, I urge you to think again about your doubtless well-intentioned thoughts concerning protection of parties other than the professor if these e-mails were all to be released.

      The professor will not be the one who selects or turns over any set of e-mails should any of them be released. He will not have any voice in the selection process. As a result, his concerns about accidental release of material that is not linked in any way to the suspected reasons for the request are quite understandable.

      As others have observed, history is not a tightly compartmentalized are of study. Even if environmental history were his only focus, his studies, teaching, and research would have to include significant understanding of the political climate. If he has even a hint of human curiosity, his understanding of political discourse in the US is likely to be both scholarly and active (in the sense that the topic is always relevant and thus deserving of attention). Arguing that he is unqualified to have insights that are worth sharing, and that his opinions represent amateur meddling in the affairs of those who are better informed, is absurd. Sadly, absurdity has become more and more common in political discourse over the last thirty-plus years.

  298. “What Does Bill Cronon Have to Hide?

    By now, you’re probably beginning to wonder “What does Bill Cronon have to hide?” That is, of course, one of the predictable narrative elements of the drama that Mr. Thompson and his party have tried to set in motion by making their request. If the victim of the request begins to squirm and tries to prevent release of the requested emails, we can all be forgiven for beginning to think they must contain something pretty interesting for the victim to make such a fuss about them.

    That’s how these kinds of stories work: even if they turn up nothing at all, they can damage the victim simply by implying that he might have something to hide.

    So let me quickly say that my outrage at Mr. Thompson’s request does not derive from fear—though I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about the prospect of having the Republican Party and its allies combing through my private and professional life in an effort to hurt or discredit me. I am, after all, a chaired, tenured professor at one of the greatest research universities in the world—an institution that has a proud tradition of defending academic freedom from precisely the kinds of attacks that Mr. Thompson is trying to launch.”


    Rather shameless demagoguery, Prof. C. But you know how to play to your audience. They eat this stuff up.

    (But you know better, don’t you?)

    1. Embarrassing, today, to see the Party of Goldwater descend into such tactics. Plastic899:
      Would you want strangers who have a stated anger toward you to pour over your private
      communications? Of course not. And I would support any action you took to prevent that.

      “Something to hide”? Not at all, it’s shameful behavior by dishonorable people.

    2. “What Does Bill Cronon Have to Hide?”

      Doesn’t matter. It’s completely irrelevant to the underlying question, which is why the FOIA request was made in the first place.

      I think a more interesting question is who will be first to file an FOIA request against Governor Walker and Republican congress members with the search terms “ALEC” and “American Legislative Exchange Council ” in it? Wonder if they have something to hide?

  299. “I want to close by repeating that I support the Open Records Law ”

    You don’t have to support it, Prof. C.

    Just comply with it.

    1. So, in other words, “Hey Cronon, STFU & hand it over”

      Do yourself a service and take a closer look at the legal conflict between this and FERPA before you suggest someone simply comply without consideration.

      1. you are adressing the wrong individual.

        and think of rephrasing your demand in a more respectful way, that might help your cause.


        1. I am most certainly addressing the correct person and think you have missed the intent behind the bluntness of my re-phrasing. Re-consider the post, my reaction and response, then have moment to consume it. You’ve overlooked something the first time around.

  300. I do not see my first posting so I will assume that there must have been an error with the first post. The only other alternative is that the very man who complains about being silenced silences others when they produce logical arguments that he disagrees with.

    First, I would like to say that the request for your emails is stupid (I did not mention this in my initial response). Second, I would like to say I respect your work as an environmental historian (something I also did not mention in my previous post).

    That said, you are misrepresenting some key facts in your story.

    1. Let’s start with Wisc Stat 19.32(2). Your worries about the secrecy of other academics’ scholarly pursuits being revealed before publication may be covered under one of the listed exceptions to 19.32(2). Those exceptions are listed in the second part of subsection 2. Be fair and balanced when you present your argument.

    2. U.S.C. § 1232(g) covers FERPA. You did not post a link to the actual statute, but an actual reading of it reveals that the it has exceptions that allow for the release of student records under certain circumstances. In other words, the law is not as clear-cut in favor of your position as you present it to be. Some require consent others do not. Again, be fair and balanced in presenting your case.

    3. The only search item that might lead to student records would be “Republican.” A number of search strategies could be used to ensure that non-relevant emails that would invade student privacy or the future scholarship of other academics is not revealed. Or why not just tell them why searching the term Republican alone is problematic and ask them to refine their request. Why not just vindicate yourself and make them look like fools? Point this out in your argument to be fair and balanced. The way you wrote your blog makes it appear as though all the search words are troubling and there is no easy solution to your predicament. Be fair and balanced.

    4. My main point of my first reply had to do with your use of the term “scholar.” This is a term that historians like to use to afford themselves academic authority in areas in which they have no degree or training (usually areas of activism). Your work on environmental history, which is wonderful, is scholarship; you are without a doubt a history scholar. But you, and every other PhD abuse your professional title when you purport yourselves to be “scholars” of areas in which you have no real training or degree. Doing so dupes people into thinking that you are an authority on the subject and this is an abuse of your Phd. Mathematicians generally do not go around calling themselves “scholars” when they go on their political rants, so why should Professors in humanities and social sciences. Your activist interests are private pursuits and you should not use your unrelated professional title to give you authority on those subjects

    5. In short, the request for emails is absolutely stupid and a hardball politics tactic, but be fair and reasonable when you present your argument. Finally, I propose you change your blog to Citizen William Cronon. You are a scholar of history not a scholar of activism and political thought.

    1. ooof Nikita, brutal but accurate criticism directed at Prof. C!

      Yes I think you are correct–suddenly the prof or someone on his behalf is “moderating” posts that question his position.

      I agree with you the Repub request is stupid but only if you believe there’s no smoking gun in the emails. It’s relatively no cost for the Repubs to do this, therefore a smart political tactic–a roll of the dice.

      Methinks there may be something of a “personal nature” on that email server that the prof is desperately trying to prevent disclosure of.

      This is all a big smoke screen.

      All Prof. C. needed to do is say: “The university received this request for my emails from the Republicans, it’s been sent over to legal counsel’s office, we think it’s a huge waste of time and money, a fishing expedition, I’m letting the lawyers handle it, nothing to see here, move along.”

      Why the smoke screen? Why the angst?

      This type of reaction from a public figure caught up in a controversy typically precedes the more restrained announcement of “Taking a leave of absence/resigning his position for personal reasons”‘

      We will see how far this goes.

      Wisconsin political bickering is very entertaining for the civilized parts of the country.

      Thanks guys.

      1. @plastic899: Your email address is bouncing so I can’t contact you directly. Please be aware that due to the frequency alone of your comments, not the content, they are getting automatically held for moderation. A hallmark of spam is frequency of post, and the software is doing its job. I apologize for these delays, and will clear you from moderation as soon as I can.

      2. [webmaster 5:30pm obscenities redacted] I can see why you would come to their aid. But you should separate your political and professional lives. Don’t feel obligated to defend them [more obscenities redacted].

        1. @Grippus: Unfortunately, our spam software is marking your comments as spam since you add obscenities into what otherwise might be allowable responses. Please, commenters, keep it clean and civil.

    2. I don’t think you understand what academic and scholarly research really means. Let’s say an electrical engineering professor who did his doctoral dissertation on computer processor design and optimization started his own lab working on the same problem, only later to realize that cooling devices was a major challenge. He then branches off his original research topic and starts doing heat/mass transfer research. Would you then say, “Dr. X, don’t call yourself a scholar of heat/mass transfer. You are only a processor design scholar”? That would be absurd, especially, if the hypothetical professor X’s research turned an interesting breakthrough in cooling computer processosr and allowing for faster processors.The same concept applies to a history professor who takes an interest in the history of a rather obscure political organization and its contributions to politics and activism. Especially when his research adheres to scholarly standards in the field.

      1. First of all, thank you Prof. Cronon. I would not want people to go into my e-mails for any old reason, take what I’ve written, and interpret it whatever way they like to damage my reputation. People send me e-mails believing that these communications are private, as I do when I send e-mails to others. We aren’t sending anything that people couldn’t see, but the interpretation of them could be wildly inaccurate.

        Secondly, I have issue with the “he’s just an environmental historian” argument. As a history grad student myself, I can ASSURE you that our education is well-rounded. While we each find our own little interests which we focus much of our time on, we are challenged by our professors to expand our horizons. We must have minor fields in other studies in history. It might be hard for a medivalist to do local American history (as my friend is discovering), but it is important for every historian to have a well-rounded historical perspective from which to base their own academic thinking.

        I don’t know if you’ve thought about it but environmental history has always been closely linked to politics, as the environment has closely been related to politics and how people interact with it and each other in regards to it. So just because he’s officially an environmental historian does NOT mean that he isn’t doing scholarly work in another field of history.

        Also, at UW-Madison there are strong ties between the history and political science departments. I should know, as I got a BA in both. It’s hard to learn one without the other. Politics permeates our history…heck, it often CREATES our history. His work in professional organizations also require him to look into other fields of history and, yes, politics.

        Don’t hate on the guy for wanting to do his job, which is to teach and study history. He is studying how history is currently being written and discussing it with others in his field. This discussion is leading to learning about the past, present, and potential affects for the future. I would not want to stop the discussion, even if I disagree with it. It’s important that things are discussed, truths are learned, and the best path for ALL of us is laid before us. There’s nothing in my e-mails that couldn’t be shared with everyone here. But SHOULD they? Would you want YOURS to be on display for us to analyze and interpret as we please? Would you want your colleagues to be questioned for what they wrote to you in private? Prof. Cronon clearly states that he knows the UW’s e-mail rules and sticks to them. The e-mails uncovered will not violate them. So why go digging? To discredit an academic? To spark a debate on what’s private and what’s public knowledge? To question what our rights are as people in this great state in regards to job security, privacy, welfare, education?

        We’ve forgotten what’s important in all of this debate – WHAT IS RIGHT, what is right for us, for our neighbors, for our fellow Wisconsinites and Americans. We’ve forgotten how to talk as civilized people and compromise. No one all-out wins, but more importantly, no one all-out loses. We all share, we all gain, we all prosper. We should be focusing more on the problems of health care, Wall Street, and balancing a government budget without gouging any single group and hurting the future of our kids and our country than on the partisan politicking that has been happening these last few months. Each side has done bad things, each side has done good things. No one is entirely right or entirely wrong. We need to question our leaders, let them know when they are doing things we like and things we don’t like. Prof. Cronon took one of those questions into the bloggosphere and is now being personally and professionally attacked for it. He responded to that attack via the bloggosphere. Now it’s up to the law to decided what is the truth. Hopefully they will.

  301. Ha – lets see what the politicians in ALEC have to say about their own requests regarding FOIA for those that have open records laws in their state!

  302. i should add that the professor’s appeal is not an appeal to human decency, as the silly reference to robert welsh is intended to convey, but an appeal for material aid in the form of pro-bono legal representation. he wants to fluff himself up into an a-list martyr-hero to attract activist lawyers to the cause of delaying or voiding the foia request.

    1. j fleming:

      Prof. C’s legal counsel is the uni lawyers. When involved in a legal pickle, all lawyers will tell the client (in this case Cronon) to be quiet, the more you say, the more you can damage yourself.

      The only circumstance in which Prof. C might need to hire his own attorneys, as opposed to just using the university’s, is if there is a potential conflict of interest between Cronon and the university. (Attorneys for the uni can’t represent Cronon if there’s a conflict of interest.) Typically this would arise if the university thinks there may be potential liability against the university arising out of Cronon’s conduct if the conduct is beyond the legitimate scope of his duties as a uni employee. Or, it might just be a situation where the university thinks the employee did something very embarassing and they want to be able to have their attorneys disavow the conduct. If the uni’s attorney needs to point the finger at Cronon, or even thinks that might be a possibility, then Cronon might need his own attorney who is independent from the university.

    2. That might be one way to read this post…but not a very insightful or accurate one. In fact, one would have to wonder as to how else your lack of reading comprehension in general and your partisan viewpoint in particular distort your worldview? Anyone reading your comment can bear witness to the fact that ascendent elements within the GOP, who are causing the train to tip perilously close to derailment, have the mindset of, “It’s our way or the highway”. In fact, with what I’ve seen from the GOP in the last year, I better understand what Reagan Democrats meant when they stated that they didn’t leave the Democratic Party; it left them.

      This open records request is completely inappropriate given its political goals. The most appropriate response by the University would be to take inspiration from Brig. Gen. Anthony Clement “Nuts” McAuliffe, who commanded 101st Airborne in Bastogne during in the Battle of Bulge. When asked by the Germans to surrender, McAuliffe replied, “Nuts!”

      In the spirit of full-disclosure, I am a life-long Republican and have worked as a volunteer on three Republican presidential campaigns.

      1. we’re all left questioning: what is this partisan viewpoint which you claim is distorting my worldview?

        i didn’t claim any insight. my assessment of the professor’s leavings here and at the new york times don’t require it. he is transparent and what i noted is apparent.

        i didn’t however stake any partisan claims, so we’re all left questioning: what is this partisan viewpoint which you claim is distorting my worldview?

        it couldn’t be that you have simply inferred a “partisan viewpoint” from the single fact that the professor’s nonsense about shadowy conspirators pulling strings struck me as dishonest and stupid. i could be of either party or no party at all and hold that view. surely a staunch and completely authentic republican such as yourself would agree.

  303. This is a fascinating and not at all surprising development, and to touch on the thought in the opening of William Cronon’s post regarding scholar as citizen, we thought an apt bit of supplemental reading could be found here:


    Thomas Schwandt, professor and Educational Psychology Department Chair at the University of Illinois, published a paper called Educating for Intelligent Belief in Evaluation, that considers the importance not only of critical thinking in both the university and public setting, but addresses aspects of our culture that seek to undermine that importance. You can link to his paper from the web address above.

  304. This is a great post, I would like to send it to colleagues at other universities but now I realize they might get in trouble since most of them are “official” email addresses…

    It seems to me that the republicans have set it up to win both ways. If he gives the emails they will quote mine it to make him sound like one of those anarchist socialists and if he doesn’t they will accuse him of hypocrisy since his original op ed criticized the GOP for withholding information and violating sunshine laws.

    Mike Ducey

  305. My contribution may be small, but they add up, and sounds like you’ll need it.

    “Thank you” is necessary but not sufficient.

  306. Your blog defense is both gently understated and brilliant. If your adversaries enforce the State law they will violate the Federal law, and the latter trumps the former. The NYT Op Ed piece was not the issue, print media is already doomed; your blog was the problem. Nobody reads the NYT anymore, I use to read it every day but I haven’t spent a penny on it since the Jason Blair fiasco. It is the new electronic mass media that frightens your adversaries. Print news media frightened politicians when it was new as well, George III would have hanged Junius (Sir Philip Francis) for sedition if he had ever figured out who he was. In yet an earlier technology sea change, Martin Luther was just doing his job when he suggested debating his propositions; after all he was a professor of theology concerned with the faith, worship, and practice of the HRCAC. But he hadn’t imagined the effect of the somewhat earlier invention of moveable type. Within two weeks his propositions were printed and distributed in every language in Europe. When a political group cannot gainsay a critic, it must discredit him, if he cannot be discredited, it must ignore him, and if he refuses to be ignored, then he must be exiled or killed. Socrates and Jesus are history’s most quoted examples. If your adversaries persist I think your four prophecies will come true. I spent most of my academic career at UMinn. We struggled to move from one of the top 20 public research universities in the US to the rarified atmosphere of UW-Madison in the top five but never managed to do it. It is one thing for politicians to shoot themselves in the foot, but quite another to shoot themselves in the head.

  307. If the request is not withdrawn, it would seem appropriate for Professor Cronon to file an Open Records request using the same keywords augmented by his name and perhaps a few other keywords “university”, “wisconsin”, etc.).

  308. Professor Cronon:

    This note is to thank you for your articulate and thorough analysis of the current problems in Wisconsin government. I appreciate your hard work, your scholarship, and the thoughtful way in which you present information. Your students are indeed lucky to have you as their professor.

    Elizabeth Riley
    Assistant Professor of Nursing
    The College of St. Scholastica

  309. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’ve said it all and anything I write would be trite. I’m a proud UW grad and mother of UW grads. We all support you and the principles you uphold. May the University have your back.

  310. What are you so afraid of, Professor? It’s about time we start demanding socialists like you quit teaching our kids to be rude and violent. Let’s face it, if you weren’t worried, you wouldn’t have wasted 5,000 words.

    1. Sir – who is the rude and violent one in this situation. I suggest you look in the mirror. I don’t think anything that Prof. Cronon espoused suggests Socialism but rather espouses true democracy. Hypocricy on the other hand has been the way that the bought and paid for Republican leadership has tried to deal with the citizens of this great State. And before you label any “ism” as being a totally bad thing, I suggest you do your research and stop just listening to whatever talking head has told you what position to take. THANK YOU PROF. CRONON for being a light and a leader.

    2. @ Emerson North

      Suggesting that it takes a university professor to make kids rude and violent indicates that you’re even more detached from reality than one would assume by your calling Dr. Cronon a “socialist”.

    3. @emerson: Warning that all kinds of opinions are welcome here, but the Terms of Service require respectful, non-abusive language. Please refrain and restate your comment.

      Commenters, this thread is closed.

    4. Dear Emerson North,
      Pardon the ad hominem attack but you are obviously a reality challenged TEAtard… Why not go back to watching Glen Beck reruns? You obviously lack the critical thinking skills required for academic debate. Now I feel dirty and some what more stupid for having lowered myself to your level.

  311. thank you dr cronon. i wish this were the kind of world where the day is won by the articulate, the sincere, and the well-researched. too often, however, it appears that the field is taken by the fearmongers, the liars who lie biggest, and the purely machiavellian.

    it would do a great deal to alleviate my personal cynicism towards post industrial democracy if thompson withdraws his foia request against you.

    good luck.

  312. It’s instructive that Prof. Cronon’s supporters express themselves in positive, articulate tones, while his opponents freely use language that reveals what small-minded, hateful, dishonest fascists they are. It is rather helpful that both sides are so honest about themselves.

    1. actually, several obscene comments from the professor’s supporters have been edited for crude and uncivil language.
      (eg.: http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/comment-page-7/#comment-1260 )

      oddly, a comment of mine, which would have appeared directly above yours, has been completely removed. the nature of it was to call people to consider the case of prof. anne althouse, who was a victim of actual intimidation, including explicit death threats, at the hands of walker opponents just two weeks ago.

      1. @j.fleming: Please repost your Althouse comment. The spam software is getting a workout, and may have caught yours by mistake. We apologize.

      2. Sure, sure. A familiar meme now: “Odd as it may seem, Lib’rals are actually violent people”.

        1. familiar, and yet we are challenged to consider this straightforward, legal FOIA request as the step which brings us beyond the pale of what progressives find tolerable.u

  313. I have a colleague at UW who is also a friend (this is, of course, common in academia). If I contact them using their UW address, it is quite common for me to ask about their family or include my own family news before turning to business; such friendliness is expected.

    From now on, I will have to rethink that habit. The Republicans have succeeded in creating precisely the chilling effect they desire. There will be no benefit to the people of Wisconsin, but there will certainly be harm to civilized discourse.

  314. The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies…. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as enemies.
    ~ Henry David Thoreau