My colleague Bill Cronon tells his story here. This part particularly struck me:
A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students. All thus fall within the purview of the Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA, sometimes known as the “Buckley Amendment,” named for its author Senator James Buckley—the brother of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley). The Buckley Amendment makes it illegal for colleges or universities to release student records without the permission of those students, and is thus in direct conflict with the Wisconsin Open Records Law and Mr. Thompson’s request on behalf of the Wisconsin Republican Party. I don’t know whether Mr. Thompson intended his request to generate a wholesale release of student records, but I myself think that doing so would represent a dangerous intrusion on student privacy. I’m pretty sure the law supports me in this view. If you’d like to review the terms of FERPA, see
A crucial point Cronon makes later is that without confidence in confidentiality many correspondents might either not email, or be less than frank in their emails. I could live with that when it comes to other adults. But my fear is that students, especially perhaps those who most need to break their silence, would refrain from emailing faculty about personal matters. I have been meaning to post for a while on a related issue, which is the very unusual character of some email correspondence between students and faculty—I have had interactions that I would not have had any other way, and therefore not at all prior to email. But on Cronon’s topic: I have emails from students which are deeply personal, expressing worries and sometimes telling experiences under an assumption of complete confidentiality. Sometimes they express ideas that they would not feel comfortable expressing in class, and which constitute some sort of “thinking out loud”. I have total confidence that without this way of communicating with me at least one student would by now have dropped out of college and probably worse, and I’m certain that others would have foregone considerable benefits. And if it were widely known, as it will be if the Republican Party gets hold of Cronon’s records, that no professor, and especially no professor who gets on the wrong side of a legislator of either party, can guarantee confidentiality, many such correspondences would not happen, to the detriment of the students and, at least in my case, the faculty (though the latter should not really count much in the calculation). The worry I have actually remains whether or not FERPA protects the emails of students (which, like Cronon, I’m pretty sure it does) because when they hear a story like this what they hear is “open records” “all emails” etc, comments like Cronon’s and my “pretty sure”, even if they are noticed, are not wholly reassuring. (Given that neither of us are lawyers, even “absolutely certain” would be cold comfort, especially from someone who thought Green Day come from Milwaukee).
Cronon is a moderate—I don’t know him, but have read his work and seen him talk—there is no question that he is sincere in his claim to be an independent.
It is not inconceivable that this is the beginning of a large fishing expedition triggered by the Carlos Lam affair. (Question: is this the end of Carlos Lam’s political career? Have prominent Republicans in Indiana started condemning him yet?)
Update: this is everywhere now. Here’s Krugman. Follow his link to Richard Vedder which seems to have nothing to do with whoever that is, but is riveting nevertheless)
Further Update: Our Chancellor comments.
Yet Another Update: Stephan Thompson, enigmatic man of mystery (thanks Kris).