Academic Freedom offers no protection for professor's emails
You may by now have heard the story of Bill Cronon, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who - after writing a New York Times OpEd and blog posting regarding the provenance of Gov. Walker's anti-labor legislation -- became the subject of a public records request by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which seeks all of Mr. Cronon's emails referring in any way to the state's contentious labor dispute or to key agencies and Republican lawmakers.
Yesterday, three public universities in Michigan received similar requests for all emails from labor studies professors that include the keywords "Scott Walker," "Wisconsin," "Madison," and "Maddow," the MSNBC commentator.
The requests have occasioned a discussion on university campuses on the maintaining the balance between academic freedom and the public's right to review "public documents," which in most states include university e-mail accounts. (An exception: students are protected under a federal privacy law.)
I just co-reported a story in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education on this issue, revealing that blanket requests for faculty e-mail have been heretofore unheard of at other major public research universities, but that in most states they are indeed disclosable. (Unfortunately, the story is currently available online only to Chronicle subscribers.)
I've been a correspondent of the Chronicle for nearly 22 years now, reporting on academe and scientific research around the globe. My most recent story -- which is available online -- was on foreign students and faculty getting inappropriately detained at the U.S. Border Patrol's "internal checkpoints" at highways and bus stations far from the Canadian frontier.
I am an award-winning journalist and author of American Nations, American Character, Ocean's End, The Lobster Coast, and The Republic of Pirates. I'm a staffer at the Portland Press Herald, where I won a 2012 George Polk Award for my investigative reporting and was named a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist.