Republican Party fails to get all of Wisconsin-Madison professor's emails through open records request
The Journal Sentinel
April 2, 2011
Citing issues of academic freedom and privacy, the University of Wisconsin-Madison released some but not all emails written by a prominent UW professor that the Republican Party had sought through an open records request.
UW Chancellor Biddy Martin took the unusual step of releasing her own statement on the email request, which generated national attention from academics as well as commentators on blogs and op-ed pages.
In a letter sent campuswide, Martin praised William J. Cronon, a history, geography and environmental studies professor, as one of the university's "most celebrated and respected scholars, teachers, mentors and citizens."
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.
Martin added that exposing an exchange of ideas to public exposure "puts academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is created. The consequence for our state will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities where collegial exchange and the development of ideas can be undertaken without fear of premature exposure or reprisal for unpopular positions."