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




108 Responses to “NYT Editorial and Other Coverage of Cronon Open Records Case”

  • webmaster:

    @everyone. This post is now closed for comments.

  • Greg:

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

  • hail c:

    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.

  • 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.

  • HCA:

    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 …

  • AS:

    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).


  • Paige:

    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.

    • plastic899:

      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

      • John Mashey:

        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.

        • webmaster:

          @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.

  • Neill:

    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.

  • Seth Graham:

    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?

  • Douglas Fir Trees:

    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.

  • quidditas:

    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.

  • 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.

  • K.H.:

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

    • plastic899:

      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.”

  • Dave Counts:

    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.”

  • Michael Worthington:

    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.

    • webmaster:

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