March 25, 2011

Wisconsin GOP goes after UW professor

I have met Bill Cronon a few times, and have read several of his books. Josh Marshall mentions his first book, Changes in the Land--and it is indeed impressive. But for me, his book on Chicago (Natures Metropolis) was not only the book that informed my dissertation, but struck me as one of the smartest books I had ever read. A book, I would add, that I read thinking, "there is no f-ing way that I could ever write this book."

Cronon wrote a great NYT op-ed this last week that placed the Wisconsin attack on unions in a historical context. On his blog, he had also started asking questions about who was pushing this attack on unions. He evidently struck a nerve, because the Wisconsin GOP has requested Cronon's university email under their open records act.

Here is Cronon's lengthy and thoughtful response. Worth the read. Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom | Scholar as Citizen


Smitty said...

Usually, Streak, I find you to be a barely-functional basket-case teetering on the edge of sanity, with only this blog to help you keep your shit together (I keed..I keed...I love your insights, this blog and your educational sense of how you approach issues...I just needed to provide an appropriate perpendicular to what I say next). But with this post, you have linked to one of the key arguments in today's whole political mess, and one of the implicating organizations behind it. This is a massively important post.

I am sending the link to this Prof's work to one of my clients; we are about to fight ALEC on "tort reform." This post is massively useful.

Always ALWAYS good shit here, Streak.

steves said...

He had a very thoughtful response. Clearly, FOIA and similar laws can be used to go after individual and organizations, but I am just not completely comfortable with limiting access to public records or requiring a 'good reason', as I can see the pendulum swinging too far towards restricting public records.

I have several e-mail accounts, including one that is work-related. I am very careful in regards to my work account, as it belongs to my employer and can be read by them at any time. Is this different at universities? Even if his e-mail were partisan, what kinds of sanctions could he face? I am assuming he is tenured.

leighton said...

Streak, I thought about you this morning when I read about this, and it's cool to find out that you know him. Are any of his books suitable for lay audiences?

Steve, I'm only familiar with the University of California system, but I am not aware of any professional consequences that could arise from what is essentially investigative journalism. (Wisconsin may be different; I don't know.) However, I have been assuming that he is more worried about something like this than how his administrators would respond.

Streak said...

Ah Smitty, you had me at "basket case." :) Glad to be of service. Leighton, "know" is a relative term. I think he would recognize my face and nod in my direction (he is a very nice and generous man) and we even had lunch one time.

Changes in the land is an excellent introduction to environmental history and a great look at colonial history. That, btw, came out of his senior thesis. Nature's Metropolis was his dissertation. Literally. He handed the published book to his committee. I think Cronon writes so well that anyone might find their work interesting, but Nature's Metropolis is a far more complex book of history than most people have read.

He is tenured and holds at least one chair. It is not an exaggeration to say that he is one of the top scholars in American history, and if Wisconsin were to somehow decide to force him out (I cannot imagine that happening) there are very few Universities that would not jump at the chance to add him to their faculty. I think Leighton is more correct that he is in more danger of becoming the target of the idiot right. After that happening over and over, you would think that the grownups would rethink this. But as you know I am losing faith in those grownups.

steves said...

Both of my parents worked at UW Madison, though it has been a while. I can ask my dad, but he was in the geology department, which is not exactly a hotbed of controversy.

There are plenty in academia that put themselves into the spotlight. I have a few professors that have blogs, appear on news shows, or publish op eds. Some, like Ward Churchill, deserve whatever negative press they get. In this case, this guy doesn't deserve to be harassed. I hope the GOP backs down and tries to engage him in some kind of intelligent debate. If not, then I hope the administration backs him up.