University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Biddy Martin has responded to the Wisconsin Republican Party’s request for the emails of professor William J. Cronon with some, but not all of Cronon’s correspondence. Along with the requested emails, she released a statement defending Cronon and the university against what she and many others see as a direct attack on academic freedom. Cronon is a prominent critic of Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Republican Party, both on his personal blog and in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
Martin wrote that the request by Stephen Thompson, the state GOP’s deputy executive director, was a legitimate request under the open records law. But she said the university decided to exclude some records for privacy reasons, and records that “fall outside the realm of the faculty member’s job responsibilities and that could be considered personal . . . ”
“We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas,” she wrote.
Cronon said on his blog that he is pleased with the university’s decision. Previously he described the goal of the Republicans’ request for his correspondence as an attempt 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.”
Chancellor Martin said that an examination of Cronon’s emails demonstrated that his behavior has been “beyond reproach in every respect” and that there was no evidence of “political motivation, contact from individuals outside normal academic channels or inappropriate conduct”. Martin’s choice to include a statement with the requested emails was considered an unusual move for an academic official. The statement was also sent out to all faculty and staff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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