Cookie policy: This site uses cookies to simplify and improve your usage and experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information on how we use and manage cookies please take a look at our privacy and cookie policies. Your privacy is important to us and our policy is to neither share nor sell your personal information to any external organisation or party; nor to use behavioural analysis for advertising to you.

Republican Party demands access to Wisconsin academic’s emails

A branch of the US Republican Party has been accused of attacking academic freedom by using freedom of information laws to access emails sent by a University of Wisconsin-Madison academic who criticised its policies.

William Cronon, the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at Wisconsin–Madison, authored an opinion article published in The New York Times on 22 March criticising Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, and his plan to strip collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers.

Prior to the publication of that piece, Professor Cronon discussed the issue and invited feedback from readers via his personal blog in a 15 March post entitled, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?”

Two days later, a representative of the Republican Party of Wisconsin contacted Wisconsin-Madison’s legal services department. Citing Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, he requested copies of all emails sent from Professor Cronon’s university account after 1 January 2011 containing keywords such as “Republican”, “Scott Walker”, “collective bargaining”, “rally” and “union”.

Responding in his blog, Professor Cronon accuses the state Republican Party of tactics intended to “embarrass, undermine and ultimately silence” him.

Calling their request “an abuse of law and procedure”, Professor Cronon writes: “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.”

Wisconsin-Madison’s policies on email usage include an edict that “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”.

Professor Cronon alleges that the state Republican Party hopes to find evidence of such activity in an effort to discredit his arguments.

He further warns of the “chilling effects” on the intellectual life of public universities if the request is successful and the university is required to release the emails. This would “undermine the university’s longstanding reputation for defending academic freedom,” he adds.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

Readers' comments (2)

  • Gov Walker and his cohorts have gone off the deep end. This story just adds a chill to a cold day. See more at: http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2011/03/walker-dictates.html And also concerning budget cuts to education at: http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com/2011/03/whole-world-is-watching.html

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I hope this is not completely off-topic. Google for 'Southampton electronic communications policy' or check http://www.southampton.ac.uk/isolutions/regs/university/ECommsPolicy.pdf Clearly, a policy drafted by a bunch of bureaucrats totally removed from academia. Section 9 which covers tapping/monitoring of electronic communications is somewhat worrying. Is this the sign of things to come in the UK??

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Print
  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Share
  • Save
Jobs