Via Anne Mosher on twitter, news of a new blog by historian/geographer Bill Cronon at the University of Wisconisn-Madison, called Scholar as Citizen, which seeks “to reflect on ways that scholarly methods and habits of mind can help us ask better questions and thereby offer constructive approaches for better understanding why current events unfold as they do.” Cronon’s first post earlier this month put recent political events in Wisconsin in the wider historical context of conservative ascendancy in US politics over the last 30 years or so, including a ‘how to’ guide for anyone interested in researching this process of right-wing assertion further. He has a new post discussing the political reaction to this first one, from the state Republican party, who have used freedom of information legislation to request his emails since the start of the year. All sounds very nasty, a clear attempt to intimidate him and seek to chill public criticism. And it does remind me, this week when UK-based academics have been involved in strike action, with all its inconveniences and interruptions, that we should be aware that these sorts of rights for academic and other public sector employees are the target of very explicit political assault in the USA at the moment.
It’s quite obvious that faculty (and student) email is not subject to disclosure under the Wisconsin open meeting laws (19.31-19.39). A plain reading of 19.32, which is the section cited in the request, makes it clear that only top UW administrators and executives (chancellor, vice chancellor, presidents and vice-president, with possibly associate and assistant vice-presidents) are subject to disclosure. So this is a blatant intimidation tactic with no basis in law or fact.