Wiener on Cronon

by Harry on March 28, 2011

Jon Wiener on Bill Cronon at the Nation’s blog.

I especially liked this:

He’s not Bill Ayers, the education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who happily defends his Weatherman past. Cronon describes himself as a “centrist.” He says he’s never belonged to the Democratic (or the Republican) party. Yet he faces a Republican demand for his e-mail, while Bill Ayers never did.

But also:

The power of this simple fact lies in the way it disrupts the Republicans’ explanation of what they are doing in Wisconsin. They say the new law there ending collective bargaining with public employee unions is an emergency response to this year’s fiscal crisis. They say it’s a response crafted by local Wisconsin state representatives to help their neighbors who are facing big new tax burdens. Cronon suggested that none of this is true: the law is not a response to the current fiscal crisis, it’s been a Republican priority for decades; it’s not a Wisconsin idea, it comes from a national Republican think tank. And the goal is not to protect the little guy in Wisconsin but rather to help the big corporations that fund Republican operations.

One tangential observation. A lot of people round here are getting new email addresses, and migrating sensitive work-related (including student) correspondence to them. Me too.

Additional Update
: Imitation is the greatest form of flattery (Michigan: it’ll be in your state soon).

1) see Anthony Grafton (hat tip: JW)
2) from Cronon’s blog, the Republican Party’s extraordinary response to his second blog post: read in full, but pause, first, to remember Peter Cook (I don’t know why I thought of him, but it does look as it Cook wrote it, doesn’t it?):

For Immediate Release
Contact: Katie McCallum, Communications Director (608) 257-4765
March 25, 2011
In response to Professor William Cronin’s deplorable tactics in seeking to force the Republican Party of Wisconsin to withdraw a routine open records request, Executive Director Mark Jefferson released the following statement:
“Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.
“I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.
“Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.
“Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information.
“We look forward to the University’s prompt response to our request and hope those who seek to intimidate us from making such requests will reconsider their actions.”

3) Today’s Times.

Today’s Times




Timothy Scriven 03.29.11 at 12:05 am

Surely the bill of rights must block some of this stuff?


Steve LaBonne 03.29.11 at 12:08 am

Kochroaches hate the light.


mcd 03.29.11 at 12:16 am

Climategate all over again. If you find nothing, you say you did, and at least 30% of people will believe you.


Salient 03.29.11 at 12:39 am

Gah, they’re using all the same words — chilling, intimidating.

It certainly is chilling to think the Republican Party’s official line is that these sorts of aggressively responsive open records inquiries are “routine” for them.

The best worst part, though: Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation… The weaselly ‘seems to’ as a loose synonym for doesn’t is perhaps the only construct which saved Katie McCallum from committing libel with that comment. They’re not even trying to act high-minded. Blech.


The Raven 03.29.11 at 12:49 am

If you’re going to get your own e-mail, go the whole way & start using PGP/GPG, ideally from personal laptops. It’s a PITA, but it will keep any state-sponsored goons from reading your traffic, even if they tap the servers.

(Keep in mind, though, that your laptop can be confiscated or keyboard logged. PGP is good basic security, but it alone won’t defend you against a determined assault on your privacy.)


SamChevre 03.29.11 at 12:50 am

A lot of people round here are getting new email addresses, and migrating sensitive work-related (including student) correspondence to them.

I do not know how open records law relates to “must maintain records” laws, so this may be a pointless caution. However, in my industry (insurance), a regulatory request to show records requires all emails from any account used for any business emails. (We are explicitly warned against using personal accounts for that reason; if I use an account even once for business email, or on a work computer, and I’m required to show records, everything in that account must be provided.)


The Raven 03.29.11 at 12:54 am

I think also that it’s especially noteworthy that this appears to have occurred because some attention was given to ALEC. Now, that’s been done before, but never by such an eminent figure. It does look like someone, somewhere in the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy has something to hide.


Harry 03.29.11 at 1:04 am

I don’t know what the answer to that is, SamChevre. My impression is that private accounts are ok. We have no obligation to maintain our emails (i.e. not to delete them), in fact we have very sparse quotas which lead to me deleting far more than I would like. I intend to use a private account for student emails, and emails relating to my consulting, that should fall outside the remit anyway. (I’m particularly concerned with student confidentiality as I said in my first post — a hidden aspect of our job is that we do a lot of what I suppose is counseling though I would call it just making a good caring relationship, and email is one central medium for that). Thanks for raising it.


piglet 03.29.11 at 2:27 am

The term “intimidating” in that context is quite revealing. The Republicans (who are controlling the government) are “lawfully seeking information about their government”, but a professor talking to the media is “intimidating” (the Republicans controlling the government). Can they possibly believe they can score with that tactic? Is this desperation, or are they right to assume Americans to be that stupid?


markg 03.29.11 at 2:54 am

I think a lot of the response to the the Cronon affair has been overreaction. There is actually a lot of protection for personal and confidential documents under the Wisconsin open records law. Personal, non-business related emails are not generally subject to disclosure.
Also, information that is confidential under any state or federal law is not subject to disclosure. See Wis Stats. sec. 19.36(1) Finally, records subject to disclosure may still be withheld if the record custodian determines public interest in disclosure is outweighed by the public’s interest in confidentiality. In short, I don’t think UW professors need to abandon or curtail their use of their public email accounts just because the republican party wants to mess with Professor Cronon, as long as UW legal staff and record custodians understand and are willing to apply the law.  


Nils 03.29.11 at 4:05 am

In general, this is a disaster for the university, as it utterly disrupts the sanctity of campus — of course, from the GOP’s point of view, that’s a feature, not a bug.


Davis X. Machina 03.29.11 at 4:55 am

Is this desperation, or are they right to assume Americans to be that stupid?

Take the stupid and the points. The stupid doesn’t always win, but it always covers the spread.


Hook 03.29.11 at 8:23 am

I like this new tactic–to regard someone who teaches college students as ‘the government.’

So now when we give bad grades, our students claim government oppression.


And man, the nerve of some people! Asking for reasons why a group of lawyers deeply hostile to you should be allowed to read your email! My goodness.


Andrew 03.29.11 at 11:21 am

Well, the silver lining is that the Wisconsin law, if this is ever litigated, will receive a fair amount of clarification, so that the uncertainty that is causing so much concern will no longer exist.

I understand the caution in using private email accounts for certain things (though under some state laws – I am unsure as to Wisconsin’s – that’s really no shield).

However I’d be careful here, since this may all add to an unnecessary panic. It seems highly unlikely that the university would turn over communications with students, or private conversations with other professors and scholars, or private conversations generally that have nothing to do with the running of the university. And it’s even more unlikely that the Republicans would contest the withholding of student emails. And it’s even more unlikely that a court would rule in the Republicans’ favor on that matter.

Certainly, talk with the university’s general counsel, and ask lots of questions – but I don’t think there’s cause for alarm.


Bill Gardner 03.29.11 at 12:08 pm

Apparently, the Republicans got together a few years ago and studied Gramsci. And realized that they had to target the organic intellectuals…


Davis X. Machina 03.29.11 at 12:19 pm

And realized that they had to target the organic intellectuals…

You have to couple that with loud and vocal support of genetically modified intellectuals to be effective, and consistent, though.


Margaret 03.29.11 at 2:00 pm

It is worth keeping in mind that an open records request such as the one involving Prof. Cronon goes to the University not to the sender or receiver of emails. As it happens, the university many or may not notify the person whose emails are subject to this request of what is taking place in a timely manner. This is another good reason for keeping an independent personal email account.


bianca steele 03.29.11 at 4:19 pm

Bill Gardner @ 15
Have you heard of the postmodern conservatives? Totally sincere from what I can see.


Bill Gardner 03.29.11 at 5:30 pm

I hadn’t heard. Nor can I tell what it means.


Bloix 03.29.11 at 9:03 pm

#13 – “I like this new tactic—to regard someone who teaches college students as ‘the government.’”

University professors are generally eager to claim public employee status when raising First Amendment rights.


Barry 03.29.11 at 9:46 pm

Actually, to point out that a public university has to obey the First Amendment.


William Timberman 03.29.11 at 10:47 pm

I hate to say something this simple-minded, but I nevertheless feel compelled to say it. In the continually escalating US class war, which I’ve been watching with growing dismay for more than 45 years, and which is at last openly global in scope, intellectuals in general, and university professors in particular, are simply targets. They’ve traditionally been assigned a lower priority for neutering than left-wing parties, labor unions, journalists, advocates for the poor and for public education, and in the U.S., immigrant organizations, but it seems that their turn has now come.

They have few allies at this point, and I suspect that fewer still will mourn their passing, or alternatively, their complete conversion into apologists for the powerful.


Bloix 03.30.11 at 1:11 am

The right is against the concept of freely available knowledge. You’ve got the religious right, for which knowledge is a threat to belief, and the corporate right, for which secret knowledge is a source of wealth and power and uncontrolled knowledge is a threat.


chris y 03.30.11 at 7:56 am

And realized that they had to target the organic intellectuals…

The organic intellectuals are probably sound. It’s those silicon-based buggers you’ve got to watch out for.

Actually, I’m not sure the term is being used here as Gramsci intended. The universities are not full of organic intellectuals, they’re full of traditional intellectuals. Organic intellectuals in the United States infest the Op-Ed columns of the New York Times, the congressional lobbies and the nameless committees of the AMA who decree that it’s a good idea to oppose single-payer health insurance. Absent mass organisations of the working class, it’s less clear where organic intellectuals on the other side can find a home: public services, probably, which is why they’re a principal target.


Wes 03.30.11 at 7:19 pm

I remember that when pressed about emails that might reveal illegal blending of government and partisan activity, the Bush administration discovered that the files in question had unfortunately been erased as a part of normal “housekeeping” activities.


Barry 03.30.11 at 7:58 pm

Bloix 03.30.11 at 1:11 am

” The right is against the concept of freely available knowledge. You’ve got the religious right, for which knowledge is a threat to belief, and the corporate right, for which secret knowledge is a source of wealth and power and uncontrolled knowledge is a threat.”

And people who have the training, time, energy and protection to analyze the data to produce and disseminate such knowledge are threatening to the right. An engineer whose entire income depends on oil company/nuclear company contracts has limited freedom to make public embarrassing facts. An engineering *professor* risks less.


c.l. ball 03.30.11 at 11:11 pm

following on SamChevre and markg, if writing an email as a university prof is an act of creating a public record, it would not matter if it were in a univ or a private account. It would be the act, not the medium. The fact that the U does not have procedures for preserving prof emails indicates that they are NOT usually public records.


c.l. ball 03.30.11 at 11:20 pm

The GOP is not talking about Cronan, but some guy named Cronin.


Joe 03.31.11 at 12:32 am

Who do your legislator’s work for? Apparently in Michigan its the Koch Brothers.


Fr. 04.03.11 at 5:17 pm

Perhaps the Republican Party of Wisconsin needs the emails to check whether his name is Cronin or Cronon. That’s very thorough of them, and a rare attempt at fact-checking from the Republicans. They should be commended for it.

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