NYT Editorial and Other Coverage of Cronon Open Records Case

Yesterday was among the craziest of my entire life. The story traced in this blog of the Republican Party’s Open Records Law request for access to my emails has in the past twenty-four hours gone viral in a very big way so that this blog has received more than 2 million hits in the past 24 hours…attention on a scale I could never have imagined for the strange circumstances in which I find myself.


I’m posting this latest entry because I’ve just learned that the New York Times will run an editorial on Monday morning (March 28) making an eloquent case for defending academic freedom against intrusions of the kind that the Wisconsin Republican Party has launched against me. Those who know me will know that this is not a battle I would ever have chosen for myself, but I do want to say how grateful I am for the support I’ve received from SO many people over the past 24 hours…not just from the New York Times and the other newspapers and blogs that have paid attention to this story, but from the many colleagues, students, friends, and total strangers who see in this episode a threat to liberties that most Americans hold dear as our national birthright.


In my heart of hearts, I keep hoping that even Republicans who learn about my situation will respond by saying to themselves that this is not what their party should stand for.  Indeed, in my own understanding of the history of the GOP, leaving aside dangerous aberrations like Joseph McCarthy, what I am experiencing is not what the Republican Party claims to stand for. It is time at last for “the better angels of our nature,” in the words of another great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, to reassert themselves.


The New York Times editorial is accessible at


For additional coverage of the story, here are links compiled by my colleague Kris Olds, to whom I’m very grateful. If you’re interested in issues relating to higher education in the world today, don’t miss his helpful postings at http://globalhighered.wordpress.com



108 thoughts on “NYT Editorial and Other Coverage of Cronon Open Records Case”

  1. Thank you so much for shining light on ALEC. Your work makes me proud to be a part of the UW. Stay strong!

  2. Question…if Wisconsin is so broke, how can it afford to have the University spend state money to expend the man hours and effort to collect e-mails and evaluate each one individually as to whether it is appropriate to relase, not to mention photocopying expenses?

    Just as states often charge media organizations for FOIA requests, I hope the University of Wisconsin will charge the Republican GOP for this ridiculous request.

    I don’t see why the University has to comply at all, however. Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a school district did not have to turn over a teacher’s “private” e-mails even if they were made using the school’s publicly owned computers.

    Karen Schill, Traci Pronga, Kimberly Martin,
    Robert Dresser and Mark Larson,
    Wisconsin Rapids School District and Robert


    ¶7 In the present case, the court is asked to decide
    whether the contents of government employees’ personal e-mails
    (that is, e-mails not related to government business) should be
    released to the public in keeping with the purpose and policy of
    the Sunshine Laws that the public be fully informed about the
    affairs of government and the official acts of government
    officers and employees.

    ¶8 Several other states have already addressed this
    issue. Each has concluded that the contents of government
    employees’ personal e-mails are not information about the
    affairs of government and are therefore not open to the public
    under their respective open records acts. We know of no state
    that has reached the conclusion that the contents of such
    personal e-mails should be released to members of the public.

    Plus, according to Wisconsin law, teachers and professors are NOT public officials.

    1. Thank you for quoting the law. My first thought on the request was that it was immaterial, which it is. Of note, some folks on Facebook have been wondering aloud who the requester of the information is. Stephan Thompson. It appears that he may be employed by the office of the Governor…..

  3. Maybe because you’re a historian and study the fairly distant past, it has only recently come to your attention that Republicans no longer stand for what they say they stand for, and what they used to stand for. This has been true for decades. But at least you are objective in saying their emperor has no clothes. Now the deathstar wants revenge, and you will need “the force” to do battle with Darth Republican. Good luck!

  4. Take that Mark Jefferson et al! Word to the wise…. don’t mess with a history prof. They’re a lot smarter and more articulate than you.

  5. Erudition and common sense are in such short supply these days, it’s such a breath of fresh air to read Mr. Cronon’s writing. Would he entertain thoughts of running for governor after Scott Walker’s recall?

  6. Boo fricken hoo. Cronon misuses his position as a state employee by getting into politics and then whines about it when the inevitable blowback comes his way. Looks like the GOP is playing the game just how the Dems play it. Meanwhile, the media was silent when Gabriella Gifford’s doctor’s parents were investigated and exposed as Tea partiers (oh, the horror!) by the Plam Beach Post. And the media was silent when Illinois senate candidate Jack Ryan’s court sealed divorce records were broken into when he was running against Barack Obama. Seems the Dems can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    1. and then, back in 2008, “Joe the Plumber” was investigated by Ohio state employees who looked into his records after he was critical of Barack Obama. No outrage there either.

      And then former congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) had a critic who put up a website named “mycongressmanisnuts” demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder put the person in JAIL and fined. Where was the outrage then, huh?

    2. So, how exactly did Dr. Cronon “misuse his position”? By having the courage to speak out when his conscience dictated? Are state university faculty members to be pawns of the state, and not allowed to have opinions of their own? That pretty much defeats the point of having a state university in the first place.

      Sir, my I respectfully submit that you look at what America is supposed to be all about, and why the very first amendment to our Constitution deals with freedom of speech?

    3. He didn’t “Get into politics”. He merely pointed out the factual existence of a national conservative group (ALEC) whose purpose is to create standard legislation for Republican officials to introduce whether or not it’s appropriate for their respective districts, and suggested that perhaps such a group might be violating the concept of transparent government. Have you read the very first post in this blog? All he’s done is a little bit of research and explain what he found.

      This was apparently enough to scare the Republican party into petty intimidation tactics by requesting access to his university e-mail accounts and attempt to find something they can use against him to cause him to lose his position at the university. There is no other possible motivation for their actions. Of course, by bringing so much attention to this one man, the Republicans are succeeding only in spreading awareness of ALEC around, something which evidently terrifies them. In fact, I’m going to say it a few more times in this post. ALEC, ALEC, ALEC, ALEC, ALEC. Normally found here: http://www.alec.org though they seem to be experiencing technical problems, perhaps on account of all the attention they aren’t used to getting. Every American should be aware of this organization. There’s no legal reason why they shouldn’t, so why are Republicans so afraid of people finding out?

    4. Misused his position? Academics are citizens. Academics are entitled to an opinion. It’s part of every academic’s job to be informed about and engaged in civic life, especially aspects of civic life that are related to one’s scholarly interests. Professor Cronon’s initial posting is scholarly work, even if it was not intended for an academic journal.

      It’s a shame that not more of us engage in public debate and civic life.

      Shame on the Republican Party of Wisconsin. What does it stand for? Self-promotion and protection? Certainly not democracy if their current actions reflect their values.

      Good luck and much resilience, William Cronon! Many stand behind you.

      1. Cronon himself said..

        “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.)””

        Total misuse, pure, plain and simple.

        But what’s funny is that Cronon gets in the political arena and naively discovers it is a bloodsport. And then whines about those mean politicos when they fight back against him. I think the GOP was quite honorable in this case by only requesting emails with certain words in them. Democrats wouldn’t have been so accomodating if the sitiuation was reversed. They would pry into his personal life as I have cited several cases above, in which they did just that.

        1. I’m afraid you don’t really have an understanding of what a historian does. It is the role of a historian to not only study the past but to make correlations with the present day. If you have bothered to read Professor Cronon’s original post, you’ll see that this is all he did. Ten, twenty, thirty, a hundred years from now, historians will be finding and showing the same things Professor Cronon showed in his research. His post was about his research, not a political statement of his own.

  7. I’m reminded of the political activity of my dissertation advisor, John S. Galbraith, at UCLA and elsewhere. Certainly much of it was conducted from his office in the History Department – certainly some of it derived from his position as a Professor of History. I’m quite sure that there was sufficient opposition to his actions that if it had been possible, he would have suffered the same kind of attacks as Dr. Cronon is facing.

    But there wasn’t any e-mail…. Daniel Headrick provides the best understanding of the consequences of technology – but this whole free-for-all would be nothing without the presence of e-mail communication.

    Good luck!

  8. Professor,

    Don’t you find it hard to stay a moderate when the Republican Party and so-called conservatives have become so rabid,
    foaming at the mouth at any facts or points of view that don’t march in step with their dogma?

    1. I am wondering where all the moderate Republicans have gone. Are there any left besides Cronon? I believe that when more of them stand up to the lunatics that have corrupted and kidnapped their party, only then will the GOP be reigned in. But will it ever happen? I doubt it.

  9. Thanks for having the courage to examine the accelerating action in our state; they cannot prevent a public discussion of ideas.

  10. Bill, I’d like to echo Amy’s appreciation for the information about ALEC. At one time there was a website called SPOTLIGHT, I believe, that would send a link to a particular article to media sources around the entire country. I would like to see if it is still functioning because ALEC is an organization that is screaming for public scrutiny.

    I also would like to see someone file a request for the emails pertaining to the plum position (with $12,000 raise) dropped into the lap of Randy Hopper’s mistress.

  11. One need only Google the essay “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement,” by Mr Eric Hubeck to gain a little clearer insite into what the Republican Party in Wisconsin is up to.

    See This section:

    “Movement Must Serve as a Force of Social Intimidation in Its Intermediate Stage

    We must create a countervailing force that is just as adept as the Left at intimidating people and institutions that are used as tools of left-wing activism but are not ideologically committed, such as Hollywood celebrities, multinational corporations, and university administrators. We must be feared, so that they will think twice before opening their mouths. They must understand that there is some sort of cost involved in taking a “controversial” stand–although positions cannot honestly be labeled “controversial” if conservatives are unable to mount a meaningful opposition. Perhaps once we are able to mount such an opposition, we will be able to take some of the trendiness out of leftist cultural activism, because lukewarm advocates of leftist causes will be forced to actually get their hands dirty. Support of leftist causes will no longer be the path of least resistance.”

    It is suggested that Mr. Paul Weyrich was a major influence and mentor to Mr. Heubeck on this essay.

  12. When I was the in-house counsel for Cornell University in the 1980’s we had many of the same requests, but most had to do with the actual scientific inquiry and research of our experts, particularly in the Agriculture and Veterinary programs (both state supported). I defended many of the requests that use to actually attempt to get our proffessors to testify at one forum or another. Cornell was and is a private and state institution, depending on the college. There is nothing unique about these requests in educational institutions, and there is nothing contrary to Republican ideals, upon which this country was formed, in the freedom of information requests made in this case. Why do acaddemics believe that they are free to do whatever they want? That is not what academic freedom is supposed to protect…the subjective desire of the academic to defile their public trust. It is because no one has the stomach to challenge them when they abuse their power. This abuse in higher education is widespread and uncontrolled, because, really, what happens in the academy in the social science departments is really not that important. Truly. What we see here is a very minor and standard intrusion into the halls of the supposedly immune tenured professor, who lives such an isolated and unimportant existence that no one cares to shine a light on the bias and discrimination that is fostered in the halls of higher learning. The govenor wishes to shead a light on the acts of a State employee who has more likely then not allowed his personal political feelings and opinions spill over into his workplace. If someone in the State building was doing this they would be fired. if the good professor is doing it he should also be fired. What are you afraid of proffesor? Does it come as a surpirse that as universities become more one sided politically everyday, and start to get involved in financing and supporting unions, democrats and the liberal left to the exclusion of the true debate of ideas that are supposed to take place in those hallowed halls that at some point the truly powerful whose toes you enjoy stepping on would get tired of the misuse of public funds and position?

    1. “the in-house counsel for Cornell”? I hope that they had spellcheck when you were there and that your law firm has it now. It would also help if you have a factchecker.

      Since you are a lawyer, any comments on the Wisconsin Supreme Court case quoted below by Oh Wisconsin?

        1. It’s not “counsel” he’s wondering about, it’s “surpirse” and “proffesor” and other misspellings that show a lack of care in proofreading.

    2. Assuming, for a moment, that we believe your claim to have been counsel for Cornell University, it makes no difference what you encountered there because this is a matter of state law. What New York state law proscribes is immaterial to situations in Wisconsin, much like the dictates of Chinese law are immaterial to legal decisions in the United States.

      Your belief that what happens in the “academy of social sciences” at universities is not impotant is ludicrous. Social scientists are frequently called on to assess situations involving national security and report on those matters to the government. The head of the history department at my boyfriend’s university was involved in producing a report for the State Department in the run-up to the Gulf War and has been consulting on recent issues in the Middle East.

      Your absurd statements and atrocious grammar and spelling are what lead me to doubt your claim of having been “counsel” for Cornell University.

      I find it interesting how conservatives denigrate the elite institutions of higher learning but invoke them (even falsely) whenever they want to bolster their credentials.

  13. Thank you for your work and your voice. I’m appalled at the behavior of the Republican party in Wisconsin over the last few months. I was a graduate student at UW for several years (music dept) and still live in Madison with my husband and young children, so of course I’ve been following the situation here very closely. I’m concerned about what your case means for academic freedom and I hope cool heads prevail and that the Republicans who instigated their open records request re-think their actions. We need people like you in our academic community!!

  14. Professor, your character is shining through this debacle. You have the hearts and minds of millions in academia and outside of it on your side. It would be easy to give in without a fight or defense, but please see this through.

  15. As a proud Badger, you’re acting heroically, Professor Cronon. Shining the light on this national agenda being pushed down onto the states is a huge issue that has to be exposed, and your rightful concerns over the reasons behind this open records request shows you won’t be bullied by these thugs.

    If Biddy and the UW don’t stand strong behind you, then I won’t stand strongly behind the alma mater I’m damn proud to have 2 degrees from. Keep speaking truth to power.

  16. Bill, thank you for fighting the good fight on behalf of all professors. I wish I were still on the University’s legal staff so that I could work on your case! Your blog and articles are essential to all of us who are fighting for our current government to provide an opportunity to be heard and to permit discussion. As an aside, my mother once double dated with Joe McCarthy before he became a US senator! McCarthy was not her date. Although she didn’t particularly like him, he showed no signs of the hatred and vitriol that later marked his life, and that of the US.

  17. I posted this in the previous blog comment thread, but I think it bears repeating: anyone with an interest in current American politics needs to read this free online book that does a great deal to help explain a lot of the recent behaviour of the Republican party: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

    The author is a well-respected Psychologist and the book is the summation of more than 40 years of research on Authoritarian thinking. Just to nip in the bud anyone who wants to come in here and say he’s just some liberal nut: he’s more educated and experienced than you and has dedicated most of his life to researching this, and has received extensive peer review. Your objections to his theories on political grounds are not going to reveal anything new, and he’s probably already heard and disproved them through actual research rather than your arguments from “common sense”.

  18. My husband and I were in NOLA when the mgr of our B&B brought the article to us. (I was wearing my red WI 14 shirt). Even in this red state, many folks are following our important movement. They seem mosy on the side of academic freedom.

  19. Professor Cronan has stepped up as a citizen leader, protecting the rights of not only the citizens of Wisconsin, but of the nation. Thank goodness this leader possesses selflessness, fair-mindedness, clear and rational thought, and an ability to get his points across. Thank you sir.

    My prediction is that there will be an upsurge in purchases of smart phones on campus, such that personal and confidential e-mails can be protected. It seems that even using your own personal computer over the campus internet, or in your workspace, might be questioned.

  20. Thank you for your efforts to protect academic freedom for all of us. It’s people like you who make the UW truly a world class institution!!!

  21. Bill, thank you for your courage and your marvelous mind. This irruption of insanity will be over sooner than later because of it, reason restored to the republic, Walker recalled, Jon Erpenbach properly relocated to Maple Bluff and your time devoted to inspired teaching and profound and insightful writing.

  22. Keep up the good work, Professor! I am originally from Wisconsin, now in Utah, and it warms my heart to see my state once again leading the way in fighting for the rights of workers and the common citizen against the depredations of the growing aristocracy in America who only seek to return us to a feudal state.

  23. It was also written about in the NY Times in Krugman’s blog.
    Thank you for the reporting on ALEC.

  24. Dear Professor Cronon,

    As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School and an academic myself, I wanted to extend my heartfelt condolences for the trouble you’re experiencing with the Wisconsin Republican Party. Although I’m certainly not qualified to offer a legal opinion on this matter, it seems to me that, as On Wisconsin! and others noted above, the contents of your emails between your students, colleagues, publishers, etc. are not really relevant material for a open records request because you are not a “public official.” Furthermore, I agree that it sounds like the Republican Party is engaged in a harassment campaign against you as a form of retaliation. This kind of harassment of academics is not only inappropriate because it reduces our ability to research independently without fear of the government taking action against us, but also because, as you point out, it prevents us from having honest dialogues in which we can fully explore the consequences of our ideas before publishing them. And while you may be a Wisconsin state employee, your students, your publishers, and your many of colleagues are not, and exposing things they’ve written to you in confidence to the scrutiny of the general public is a betrayal of trust and privacy which may not be legally protected, but is central to academic communication and discourse. I am throughly disgusted with the Wisconsin Republican Party, and as a Wisconsin Alum and an American citizen, I will be happy to see these anti-American, anti-academic conservatives driven from office in the recall elections sweeping the state, for while I have no problem with conservatives, I do have a problem with anti-intellectualism and people of any political party who seek to silence their critics through harassment or intimidation.

  25. I feel I should send a thank you note to the Wisconsin GOP for their thoughtfulness in bringing your blog to my attention. I have now added to my rss reader, the better to share posts. Perhaps I could show them my appreciation by forward all the stories about them that are now showing up in my reader

  26. Hi Bil,

    I greatly enjoyed your commentary on the WI Idea bus a couple of years ago. I am sure you did not choose this role but more power to you now that it has found you. We are all supporting you. The simple difference in tone between your writing and that of the Republicans who desire your emails pretty much says it all.


  27. I’d like to say something deep and meaningful from the other side of the world. But really.

    This is ridiculous. How on earth could these clowns get it so spectacularly wrong? Did anyone bother to check out your credentials, reputation, links – academic or otherwise – before rushing precipitately into exactly the wrong action?

    Ya gotta laugh. Easy for me to say, so far away. But laugh anyway, it seems you now have many, many new friends to share your lighter moments with.

  28. Professor or not, you are still a State Employee. Therefore any e-mails sent over the State owned computer belong to the State.
    Don’t want them seen, then use a private computer at home on your own time.

    1. a) check the legal language again, its not so broad as you suggest, a professor is hardly what one thinks of when the phrase “government official” comes to mind,
      the fact is that someone in Cronan’s job at WI-Madison is working in a manner similar in every way (similar goals, methods, resources, etc) to the efforts a person in the same job at a private university and everyone (students, other faculty, legislators, etc) operates under that tacit understanding. He’s a public employee in a nominal way only and has no say in how the university – let alone the state – is run

      b) wrt these FOIA requests the public interest in obtaining information is weighed against other interests, for example the confidential nature of researched but as yet unpublished material, discussions with colleagues

      There is nuance in these matters, as evidenced in prior litigated cases, things are not black and white as you seem to suggest.

    2. According to Chancellor Martin, the University receives between 18%-19% of it’s budget from the State of Wisconsin. This is, unlike for example, prisons or legislators or governors whose costs/salaries are 100% paid by the State.

    3. Actually, you are incorrect according to a ruling last year from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a teacher’s e-mails were not subject to a records request if the content were personal in nature–regardless of whether they were sent using the school’s public computer system. So, no, that’s not actually how it works in Wisconsin. Nice try, though.

  29. Are you kidding me?

    Professor Cronon is your typical Marxist professor at a publicly funded university using tax payer money and tax payer’s time to support his personal left-wing politics and to brain wash young people into being goose stepping Marxist sheep.

    What is it with liberals at the universities who think they are above the laws of the United States and espouse their Marxist ideology with abandon and don’t think they have to be accountable for their behavior as public servants?

    The truth is if the professor is acting in a political capacity on the tax payer’s dime, the Republican Party, or any other party or political grouping in the US has a right to counter that ideology in a pure political sense, and the tax payers have a right under Michigan law to know if any policies about any tax payer funded political activism have been broken.

    Any fool who has even remotely paid attention to Professor Cronon’s recent anti-Republican activism or his class syllabi know as a matter of prima facie evidence that he has violated the policies of the University of Michigan, and the GOP as a matter of public interest under Michigan law has the right to prove it to be true, using the open information laws at their disposal.

    But that is the thing about the liberal and Marxist elite in the public universities: they think they are the arbiters of truth and above the law and don’t think they have to be accountable for their tax payer funded Marxist politics.

    1. Mr. Saunders, the professor teaches in Wisconsin (not Michigan) and I am pretty sure he is not a marxist.

      1. Sorry, Wisconsin.

        I don’t know why I had Michigan on the mind, perhaps because of March Madness.

        You don’t think he is a Marxist?

        Look at his course syllabi.

        Hate the white man. check

        Hate capitalism. check

        Neo-Marxist class, race and gender identity politics. check.

        You can’t get more Marxist than that.

        1. Mr.Saunders, I don’t personally know Mr.Cronon, but I went and checked his website out. It listed his experience, some of his publications, and courses he teaches. I am just not getting the sense that he hates the white man, hates capitalism, and is involved in identity politics (what’s that really mean anyway?). He teaches history and environmental issues and just seems to be a highly educated person to me. Where are you getting the idea he is a Marxist? Has he written something about global warming? Or about how in the past there were quite a few socialists elected in Wisconsin?

          Also, my guess is that he is smart enough to not use his college email address for stuff that does not relate to his job. I think that Governor Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers are just not happy about that article he wrote in the New York Times. They just don’t want people to be reminded that in the past republicans worked with democrats on such things as union rights for public employees. They will also not like it when people point out that 43 years ago in April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed when he went to Memphis to be with striking public employees who were trying to get their union recognized.

        2. Mr/Ms Saunders
          Did you read any of the writings available at a simple click?


          This is pretty sophisticated analysis. And it’s well-written, eminently readable, fully referenced. Not remotely reminiscent of the pedestrian ideological mantras it’s been my dubious privilege to read from others (from left, right, green, whatever).

          If you want to hit a target, choose wisely. Aim carefully. Scattershot, rapid-fire accusations might hit someone who’s not a target at all.

    2. So, speaking of acting as if they’re above the law, how about the multiple illegal actions taken by the Wisconsin Republicans in attempting to pass their legislation on collective bargaining? This includes:
      -Voting on the bill without a quorum: http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnw/20110310/pl_usnw/DC62930_1
      -Ignoring a court restraining order in publishing the bill: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/118677754.html
      -Having state troopers illegally blockade public access to the capitol building, and continuing to do so after receiving a court order demanding that they allow the protesters in: http://thetruthweneed.blogspot.com/2011/03/governor-walker-is-ignoring-wi.html

      See, that’s a thing called having “sources” on claims, as opposed to just shouting “LIBERAL” at someone and then acting as if you’ve proven your point.

    3. According to Chancellor Martin, the University receives between 18%-19% of it’s budget from the State of Wisconsin. This is unlike for example, prisons or legislators or governors whose costs/salaries are 100% paid by the State.

    4. That has to go down as a great moment in sock puppetry. I’m reminded of the time in the early usenet days that some undergraduate fool smarmily and rudely inforrmed John McCarthy that McCarthy was completely ignorant about computers.

      R.Saunders clearly doesn’t have the slightest idea who William Cronon is.

      As someone who read Dr. Cronon’s masterpiece “Nature’s Metropolis” I am happy to vouch for the fellow as someone far beyond trivial ideological posturing. But that point is hardly even worth making here, as others have said as much and more. The point here is about the bizarre response of R. Saunders, and what it might actually mean.

      Dr. Cronon, welcome to another piece of the puzzle, the “sock puppet”. (As a climate scientist and veteran of internet conversations, I’m very familiar with the type.) Websites are plagued by people of this sort spouting ideological drivel, often under multiple names, some out of loyalty to a strange idea of what conservatism means, and some, perhaps, for pay.

      Their purpose is to leave the impression that they represent the majority. Most people in a democracy follow the herd. Thus, by hastening to represent the herd, the sock puppet squad sows ill will toward those who hardly deserve it. It would be nice to see some decent, honest conservatives again, to give voters a real choice. As you can see, the people you are up against are nothing like that; they’re simply overgrown boys continuing their college republican shenanigans, with no sense of responsibility to anything, real conservative principles included.

      In the present case, you are drawing attention to something they would like not to have attention called to. So you must be painted as some sort of disreputable radical, and quickly. It is a delight to see that they have somewhat underestimated the respect with which you are held in many circles. They should have left well enough alone. Hopefully they will have the sense to back off soon in your case. In any case, I am among many to offer sincere thanks for your original insights (which few would have noticed had they left you alone) and for your principled and dignified response to the bizarre situation which has ensued.

  30. Sympathies, guy. I appreciate the righteous work. As for ““the angels of our better nature,” I fear a great deal of ALEC and related money has been spent on exorcising them from the Republican Party, and I do not expect them to return to their previous home.

  31. Workers of the World Unite!!! [webmaster 8:54am threats of violence removed] It is time to take it to the streets [..]

  32. Professor Cronon, you have my utmost respect and admiration. Here are two interesting links.

    A list of ALEC members created from information on the ALEC website along with other sources (PDF file):
    [webmaster 8:22am: possible proprietary information link deleted]

    Another interesting link, which includes plenty of pictures, is the ALEC Facebook page:

    1. And look at the sponsors’ signs in the background: big pharma, big credit card companies — and tie them to legislation we have seen. . . .

  33. You would probably do well to take a class on Marxism yourself, since you evidently have no idea what it is.

  34. I suspect—and hope—that this is a “Have you no decency” moment. I hope that we will look back on this as a historical turning point. The senseless attack by the Wisconsin Republicans on a distinguished moderate who has brought great credit to the university and the state is deplorable. Anti-intellectualism has become part of the far-right mantra. But, we should not allow the anti-intellectualism of the far right to drive the political agenda. Instead we should be looking to our intellectual leaders, our thought provoking teachers, to help guide us through difficult times. Cronon is one of those and should be celebrated not demeaned.

  35. The ‘Open Records’ law is what it is; a tool that allows citizens and watchdog institutions to shine a bright light on possibly hidden agendas (as your counterparts have done with the Koch brothers, I’m sure). If you value the concept of open records laws, then you should welcome the opportunity to allow any and all to see your State-Owned email records that were generated on equipment owned by and funded by all the Wisconsin taxpayers, not just the segment you’ve attracted. If you have something to hide, then you’ll do as your doing; create a stink, draw attention to your ‘plight’, seek sympathy and try to shut down the process.

    Which makes you guilty of something, AFAIC.

    1. Must be guilty of something, eh? Wow, that’s kind horrific. Remember, if you look long and hard enough, you’ll find something, right Senator McCarthy?

      1. Guilty of inciting lots of left-of-center push back against a legitimate request for information from a government employee who used publicly-funded computers and an publicly-provided email account to provide cover for left-of-center public-sector unions, sure! If there is personal information in those emails, then that can be redacted, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled…


        If the content of the e-mail is solely personal, it is not a record under the Public Records Law and the e-mail cannot be released. If the content of the e-mail is personal in part and has a connection with the government function in part, then the custodian may need to redact the personal content and release the portion connected to the government function. The record custodian’s inquiry focuses on the content of the e-mail and asks whether that content is connected to a government function. This is more of a pragmatic inquiry than an elaborate legal analysis.

        To the extent that a Wisconsin public university faculty member’s emails are connected to a “government function,” they may be covered under the state’s Open Records law. But whether Cronon’s emails meet this criterion is not presently clear. And even then, the court held in Schill that if the emails are in fact records, “then the court must undertake a balancing test to decide whether the statutory presumption favoring disclosure of public records is outweighed by any other public interest.” That may prove to be an interesting analysis; it is easy to imagine academic freedom arguments being marshalled against a request for full release of faculty emails.

        Ultimately, then, the Republican Party’s request may be a matter for the courts.

        Instead of the courts, it seems that Cronon wants to try this in public, to gather as many left-wing supporters as he can as a shield from sunlight. All the more reason to get these emails exposed! There might be one from George Soros (Owner, Democratic Party) directing Cronon’s actions (as the Left has said of the Koch brothers and Governor Walker).

        Cronon, you could always bundle up your emails and flee the state, as did the fleebagger Wisconsin senators. Follow their leadership; run for the hills~!

    2. I don’t think the Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees with you. While sending personal or political e-mails over the University’s computers do represent a violation of University policy (but NOT a violation of law), personal e-mails sent by a teacher over the school system’s computer are not subject to disclosure via an FOIA request, because a teacher or professor is *not* a government official according to the legal definition, which encompasses only officers of the University, like the Chancellor.

      Since the Wisconsin Republican Party is a private organization, it has no say in the hiring and firing of University employees; I very much doubt the Wisconsin Congress has that authority either (though I wouldn’t put it past the new dictators to try to give it to themselves). Thus, the hypothetical personal e-mails of Professor Cronon are not relevant to any government or University business being conducted and the only party with legitimate interest in knowing if any personal e-mails were sent would be Professor Cronon’s superiors.

      It is their choice whether to investigage whether Professor Cronon violated university policy and not a matter of law. The “sunshine laws” in Wisconsin are to “keep the public fully informed about the affairs of government and the official acts of government officers and employees.”

      If Professor Cronon HAD sent a personal e-mail, this would (1) not be an official act (it would be a private one), and (2) it would not be necessary for the public to know this since it is not related to the “affairs of government.”

      If you need proof, please find this Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling and read the whole thing for yourself:

      Karen Schill, Traci Pronga, Kimberly Martin,
      Robert Dresser and Mark Larson,
      Wisconsin Rapids School District and Robert


      ¶7 In the present case, the court is asked to decide
      whether the contents of government employees’ personal e-mails
      (that is, e-mails not related to government business) should be
      released to the public in keeping with the purpose and policy of
      the Sunshine Laws that the public be fully informed about the
      affairs of government and the official acts of government
      officers and employees.

      ¶8 Several other states have already addressed this
      issue. Each has concluded that the contents of government
      employees’ personal e-mails are not information about the
      affairs of government and are therefore not open to the public
      under their respective open records acts. We know of no state
      that has reached the conclusion that the contents of such
      personal e-mails should be released to members of the public.

    3. “Guilty until proven innocent”, the foundation of the American justice system.

      You realize that being accused of something doesn’t make you automatically guilty? I could claim you’re a murderer. If you object, your denial only proves your guilt.

  36. Prof. Cronon, Your even-handed, academically scrupulous writing gives me peace and hope and reaffirms how proud I am to be a Madison citizen. Thank you thank you thank you.

  37. BTW, more ALEC links (forgive me if these are repetitive):
    American Association for Justice (formerly Assn. of the Trial Lawyers of America) report, 2010:
    Alecwatch, Defenders of Wildlife & Natural Resources Defense Council, site seems to be from 2002.

    To anyone concerned with ALEC, download these reports & make copies. ALEC has extensive legal and legislative resources, and can bring a great deal of pressure to bear on its critics.

  38. One of the questions I am most interested in is who is setting ALEC’s agenda? Wealth alone does not draft model laws: there must be people with ideas somewhere in the picture. I would like to know who and who pays them.

  39. I just wanted to say, I am so glad that you wrote your study guide on the 15th and published the article in the NY times. I hope that you keep up the good work. I would guess the e-mail request may be to intimidate you but they could also be fishing for what made you look at the ALEC to begin with and what type of knowledge you may already have. I hope you continue to research and post here. I think you made the right decision about the request for your e-mails, the only good decision possible to you, to tell the public about the open records request before you hand over the emails. I am sure you already came to that conclusion. The reason being, even if you have nothing to hid, which I am sure is the case, the request for your e-mails shows their intent to silence you. Now if they plan to do something about you to silence you they wont be able to do it without looking badly for it. That is not bullying its being careful not to be vulnerable. Sorry for the bad grammar and punctuation, I have never been to college, I only have a GED. But I love to read and learn. I just wanted to express my support of your cause. I am glad that there are intellegent people out there questioning things and showing that it is not only the uninformed that are against what our gov. has been doing recently.

  40. Dr. Cronon,

    I am a registered Republican, as well as a fellow environmental historian. This kind of stupidity goes against the spirit of FOIA, and I am sorry it has become a banner cause for some (hopefully, a small amount of) Republicans. I just wanted to write to express my support.

  41. Is today’s political climate too cold for fellow scholars to stand up and also criticize the Republican party en masse? Let give them what they want and provide them billions of emails for their witch hunt. They got us. I’m guity of being more than a bit put off by their thug mentality. A lot of educated people disagree with their “policies” and, quite frankly, their un-American attitudes they embrace toward those which do not align with their religious leanings, racial composition, and so on.

  42. Why is the Wisconsin Republican Party (possibly with the involvement of the national party) doing this? Why are they bothering to go after Professor Cronon at all?

    They must be mightily interested in keeping the spotlight away from ALEC. To do that, they attack the messenger and succeed (to some extent, at any rate) in making it about him, and making many of us come to his support. They use a scorched-earth policy against someone who comes close to finding out the truth; it’s just how they roll.

    But he is not the issue! Stop looking at the shiny objects. The Wisconsin Party is going to serious effort, despite the blowback, to distract our attention. Don’t let them.

    1. Computer ruling seen as landmark workplace decision
      From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
      Published Friday, Mar. 25, 2011 6:45PM EDT
      Last updated Friday, Mar. 25, 2011 6:52PM EDT

      “And in what is being called a landmark decision, a Ontario court this week ruled that employees have a right to privacy for material contained on a work computer.”


    2. David, Take a look at the SPN website referenced by Professor Cronon and note where they are having conferences. Then I hope you will donate to those they are opposing locally in 2012.

  43. Professor Cronon,
    Please continue to preserver in protecting the rights of your fellow professionals. This despicable action of the Wisconsin Republicans is just another example of the imperialistic attitude that has swept their party.

    They do not intend to “govern”, they intend to rule over us. They continue a 40 year trend of robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Wisconsin, America, wake up!

  44. @j.fleming: Failing to heed prior warnings about verbal abuse in comments per the Terms of Service has now resulted in your entire comment being redacted.


    1. 1) i received no prior warning about the content of my comments.

      2) my comments contained no uncivil or obscene language.

      if the professor deems it “abusive” to be compared to pagliacci, then perhaps he may begin to understand why the people he sought to impugn in print by comparison to joseph mccarthy took offense.

      in any case, i’ll provide your readers the text of the comment of mine which you deleted and perhaps your readers can decide whether you did so in the interests of preserving civility or in the interests of preserving these comments as an amen chorus.

      i see that it is now, in the professor’s own words, “The Cronon Open Records Case”.

      as i said previously, “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.”

      as the theater of canned outrage reaches its crescendo with the professor as its pagliacci, it’s worth it to note the irony that while the professor only pretends at being the victim of intimidation, there had been another tenured uw-m professor, prof. anne althouse, who was made the victim of actual intimidation, including explicit death threats, at the hands of walker’s opponents.


      i should add that the omission of the intimidation wreaked against prof. althouse from the persecution consciousnesses of the people flocking to prof. cronon’s case stands as evidence to the contention that the moral shock they display on behalf of the former is an opportunistic affectation. prof. althouse was kind enough to support prof. cronon. is a death threat less of an attack than a request to prove clean hands?

      1. May I introduce our esteemed colleague to the ‘SHIFT KEY’?

        It’s one of the very first thing one learns in ‘college’.

  45. 1) The same thing has been going on for many months by Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli, attacking the University of Virginia (T. Jefferson would roll in his grave) for email by climate scientist Michael Mann. Something similar was done by US Reps. Barton (R-TX) and Whitfield (R-KY) in 2005, fended off by the science societies, and a Republican Representative of great integrity, Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). Since that didn’t work, they manufactured a show trial around a sham report, the Wegman Report, run by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University. GMU and its various organizations get much funding from the Koch brothers. ALEC gets money from them, ExxonMobil, Richard Mellon Scaife, and related others.

    2) See p.93 of this report, which shows the first of 3 pages of funders versus fundees. ALEC is there, and the Kochs are prominent (Lambe is one of theirs) as is Scaife (Allegheny is one of his).

    3) If people know the Tobacco Archives, just put American Legislative Exchange Council and see how many hits you get. ALEC spent many years helping tobacco companies, which survive only by addicting children. I’d never realized that was a legitimate conservative value, but ALEC seems to think so. I’m sure it pays we;ll, anyway.

    4) The Kochs of course funded Freedom Works and Americans For Prosperity, the two key entities in firing up the Tea party.
    They also gave money to Cuccinelli.

    5) It’s very odd to find this in Wisconsin of all places.

  46. Wisconsin Republican Party:
    Can you say Black Swan? Do you realize you will be held responsible for your actions at the polls? BTW thanks for raising awareness of the corrupt two party system currently ruling…and destroying this once great nation. I have been hoping for a sign of hope for America; thanks to your actions I found it in Professor Cronon. I think Americans are entitled to know as much about ALEC as we are about ACORN. Don’t you?
    I bet the lights are on in the shredder room at ALEC headquarters tonight.

  47. Well, what do you expect from Walker and the (little) boys.
    Petty, vindictive, petulant, narcissistic, vengeful BULLIES. Now we all know what to do with a school-yard bully, and I think the metaphor applies here, you punch him as hard as you can in hopes of breaking his nose, so he will learn that it is not in his best interest to harass you, any longer.
    It is the only way to deal with these fascists.
    They are all certifiably mentally ill!
    Since the residents of Wisconsin elected this Bozo, the only option now is to recall. Professor Cronan…you just keep fighting the good fight. Academic freedom and rational public discourse are at stake here. Be strong, God bless.

    1. @Michael: Reminder that abusive language and personal attacks violate the Terms of Service. We welcome all comments, but please keep it civil.

  48. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former student of Professor Cronon. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to preface my remarks that way if not for the scrupulous example Cronon always set. In fact, I see him as so unassailable, that it is impossible for me to imagine him as a victim. Instead, I pity the Wisconsin GOP for their transparently vindictive action. My hope, then, is that this open records case will be a turning point – another “at long last, sir…” kind of moment. Professor Cronon named his blog “Scholar as Citizen.” I’m hoping this will all turn into one of those rare moments of “historian as history.”

  49. Can anyone ask for emails of public employees? Let’s ask for Scott Walker’s emails, see how he likes it.

    1. In general, elected officials are exempt under Wisconsin law:

      “(11) RECORDS OF AN INDIVIDUAL HOLDING A LOCAL PUBLIC OFFICE OR A STATE PUBLIC OFFICE. Unless access is specifically authorized or required by statute, an authority shall not provide access under s. 19.35 (1) to records, except to an individual to the extent required under s. 103.13, containing information maintained, prepared, or provided by an employer concerning the home address, home electronic mail address, home telephone number, or social security number of an individual who holds a local public office or a state public office, unless the individual authorizes the authority to provide access to such information. This subsection does not apply to the home address of an individual who holds an elective public office or to the home address of an individual who, as a condition of employment, is required to reside in a specified location.”

  50. Add my name to the growing list of your supporters, professor. I agree with your position 100% and hope that intelligence and rationality, rather than fear and blind partisanship, prevail. I am fearful that tactics like these are only going to grow as the Republican Party tries to dominate everything we do even as it claims to support smaller government. The right now seems concerned only with power for power’s sake, not with truly “conservative” approaches to political discourse, many of which I support in part even though on the whole I am “liberal” in my views. Politicians who brook no opposition, insisting that only their view is legitimate, are truly frightening in a democracy. In high school in New Jersey way back when I learned about LaFollette and the progressive movement; it would indeed be a shame for the very state that fostered those reforms we take for granted today to be their graveyard.

  51. I don’t understand why all of you are calling this an issue of “academic freedom.”

    And, I know that Penn State is funded at only about 4% from state appropriations and I’ve seen no one reference a figure higher than 20% for UWM. Is Cronon a “state employee” or he just “an employee”?

    Also, when Cronon posts on a private blog and writes an op-ed for the NY Times, is he writing “as a professor with academic freedom” or as citizen of the State of Wisconsin and the United States of America?

    Because TO ME this looks like a political PARTY thuggishly followed Cronon to his workplace in order to use that workplace to intimidate him into silence. I don’t care WHAT that workplace is. This is an issue of concern to the entire nation, as such.

    This is not a “violation of academic freedom.” It is an attempt by a political party– and a corrupt governor who angles for bribes from OUT OF STATE astroturfing private interests– to strip a citizen of his political rights, just as all citizens of Wisconsin are being similarly stripped by that same corrupt governor (who should be impeached or recalled and removed from public office).

    Our entire democracy is one flush away from being completely tanked thanks to the Supreme Court’s enabling ANY private entity with enough cash on hand to purchase ANY political office in the country–no need to bribe a bribe-able Walker– and you’re reducing this to a matter of special privileges for academics?

    Academics need to demonstrate that they are WORTH these special privileges–and they can start by rejoining the citizens of Wisconsin and the United States by naming these political terror tactics for what they really are.

    They are a sustained attack on the political rights of us ALL.

    I am not interested in merely sustaining your special privileges under the sign of “academic freedom” in the face of something as critical and far reaching as this.

  52. We’re all familiar with this in our everyday lives.

    Our e-mail in the corporate workplace is monitored, as are our keystrokes on the company computer.

    Any manager can check the “not eligible for hire” box for any job candidate in the applicant tracking system, even for completely trivial reaons, even if he has only spoken to a candidate for a few minutes.

    Any employer (client) can drop a recruiter in the vendor management system for not submitting the “right” candidates.

    Workers who express an opinion or a disagreement on the job face retaliation.

    Job applicants are forced to sign background check forms authorizing the employer to talk to anyone who ever knew them, even after the start of employment. They are not allowed to see these reports and to challenge any of the collected statements.

    Hiring managers and background check agencies scour the Internet for any comment an applicant may have written or all associations the applicant may belong to.

    Recruiters are openly admitting on the Internet that they will not consider candidates who have been unemployed for more than six months; they assume that the candidate may be blackballed somewhere else and they honor each other’s blacklisting.

    Career coaches scare job seekers into buying their wares by advertising that they teach candidates how to stay off blacklists.

    In retail and blue collar occupations and in hospitals, job applicants are required to take a psychological test. But they are not allowed to see the results of the test. The employer obtains deep knowledge of the job applicant’s mind, beyond the self knowledge the applicant himself may possess.

    It’s becoming like the McCarthyism of the 1950s, except that this time it’s not HUAC. It’s the industry of employer-side labor lawyers, HR managers and career coaches who financially benefit from turning good workers into bad candidates and from promising to deliver “perfect” candidates. Reputations and livelihoods are ruined at the drop of a hat and the result is a class of people of all skill levels who go for months or years without a job.

  53. That clearly says that only records containing personal info (home address, SSN, etc.) are exempt. Did you mean to copy and paste a different section of the law?

  54. Dear Prof. Cronon,

    Don’t back down, don’t be intimidated! All good and decent people are standing behind you. This is a neo-HUAC power grab, and it should not be tolerated in this country. The Wisconsin GOP should be ashamed.

  55. I’m not sure why this is all being conflated with the concept of “academic freedom.” It’s an information request. No one is even close to suggesting Prof. Cronon’s termination or silence in political matters.

    Perhaps though this can be an opportunity for academicians to think more seriously about what academic freedom actually means and the extent to which their culture does not truly embrace it. Currently, it seems academics are only quick to defend someone with the views of theirs and Cronon. The community does not encourage serious debate and is, in my experience, often quite hostile to sincere but differing opinions. This intolerance within the community is the real problem.

    I feel sympathy for Cronon’s having to deal with a great amount of unexpected attention, of course, but I cannot consider him especially brave for expressing views the vast majority of his colleagues mindlessly accept. And give gmail a try.

    1. Prof. Cronon has dropped strangely silent the past couple of days. Why could that be?
      [webmaster: personal attack on poster was removed]

      @plastic899: You’ve been a frequent poster and intelligent dissenting voice. Readers on this blog want to hear and evaluate differing viewpoints–in a logical way. However, your comments continue to include abusive language and ad hominem attacks on posters and commenters in violation of the Terms of Service. I had provided you extra chances to correct this, and had hoped that you would comply with my requests for civility and respect. Furthermore, since you refuse to supply the webmaster with a valid email address so that we can discuss this privately, I must regretfully notify you here that we can no longer post your comments. Best of luck to you. ~webmaster

      1. 1) Thanks, webmaster. Some of us are quite familiar with sockpuppets and equivalents who can completely derail civil conversations, sometimes just by decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio so much that sane people flee.
        Also, the rise of “denier-bot” or “persona” software does not help.

        2) You may also want to consider creating a thread to which you can move marginal comments, so they still exist and people can see what they say, but that avoid disrupting reasonable conversations. For example, see The Bore Hole @ Real Climate, The Dunce Corner @ Greenfyre’s, etc.

        1. @John: You’re welcome. Sane and thoughtful debate is always MUCH more interesting than ad hominem attacks. I’m sincere when I say that we’d all appreciate more answers from alternate viewpoints.

  56. As a Faculty Associate at UW-Madison, I appreciate the conflict of conscience and ethics that might come about if I were FOIA’d. As you mention, private information about students (and others) and their lives would be compromised. I would have a hard time complying for that reason alone.

    But I also have a conflict of conscience and ethics when I hear you ask an entity to rescind their FOIA request. It’s too far, and it doesn’t address the problem. The problem is not FOIA or the ability to request information under FOIA, it’s the motivations behind this specific request which are not solved even if the request is rescinded. I think you make it clear what it will take to rescind this action when you say that in your “heart of hearts” you hope that at least some republicans will recognize that this motivation and manner is not what their party stands for. That’s the rescinding it seems you’re going for.

    The request fits with tactics the Republican Party has been using for 10-20 years or more (Lee Atwater might be a historical milepost). To be surprised and shocked by it may be a high ground, but it’s not realistic. I see the tactics not so much as intimidating but more as a mockery of intangible norms and tangible laws of conducting government.

    I am not intimidated by the request. I have been working with students to find ways to teach what is going on. The FOIA request will not stop that process of sifting and winnowing. The request, and relevant communications from all sides, will make an excellent case in a course on intersections of university research, public good, and the role of public intellectuals (with lots of opportunities to explore other cases and readings).


  57. Dr. Cronon — I applaud your defense of academic freedom through thoughtful and measured discourse. You make me proud to be an alumnus of the Univ. of Wisconsin Dept. of History. Keep fighting the good fight …

  58. This from Roger Shuler (“Legal Schnauzer”):

    It’s been almost three years now since I was fired as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), after 19 years on the job, in apparent retaliation for critical posts I had written on this blog about Republicans in our state. […] The GOP targeting of public employees has been going on in Alabama for at least three years, and now it has landed in Wisconsin. Don’t be surprised if it comes soon to a workplace near you.

  59. So do you keep all your email on the university servers? Many people are fierce deleters and get rid of email quite quickly. Often people who are not deleters can quickly exceed the storage quota and have to get it off the servers, by setting the account to forward new emails out of the account or download and remove the emails from the server via pop or via imap. UW has nothing like the massive storage capability of say Gmail. What I’m wondering is if we’ll find out in this case if the university is logging all email that goes through accounts or if they are dependent on the user voluntarily keeping all the email intact on their servers, or would even ask users to produce it out of their private storage or non-state owned accounts. Note that technically if the state owns a computer, that is searchable by the state too, as are offices or whatever. But you can buy a lot of storage cheaply on a personally financed home usb external drive.

    If this gives anyone working there any ideas about reconfiguring their email… get on it would be my advice. Sorry someone had to be first with this but thanks for warning the rest of us.

  60. Didn’t VP Cheney block the Energy Task Force documentation from being disclosed to the public?

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