March 25, 2011

The Wisconsin Republican Party uses Open Records Law to get emails written by the Wisconsin professor William Cronon.

Cronon had an op-ed in the NYT — which I blogged about here — and he's also blogged about the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in the Wisconsin budget repair bill. Now, his political antagonists are trying to get the UW to turn over all his "wisc" email messages "which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union" and a lot of names of Wisconsin legislators.

Cronon thinks the Wisconsin Republican Party is hoping he's violated the Wisconsin email policies, which forbid use "to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum." I've long worried about the ridiculous and chilling overbreadth of that provision. It's supposed to refer to running a political campaign using university resources, not interacting with people about political issues or even expressing opinions about candidates. In fact, the university has long promoted what it calls "The Wisconsin Idea," which is all about professors influencing legislation.

When does the Open Records Law apply to email? Is there a special rule protecting professors' email? Cronon says it shouldn't be used "to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress....  It is chilling indeed to think that the Republican Party of my state has asked to have access to the emails of a lone professor in the hope of finding messages they can use to attack and discredit that professor."

With hindsight, it's easy to see what a mistake it is to use your wisc email account for anything other than class email lists and responding to email that UW people sent to your wisc address. I've known for years and years that there is Open Records vulnerability here. I use gmail myself to keep my notes and personal interactions out of this potentially public realm. (I love the way "union" is one of the search terms that the Republican Party put in its request. That would could come up in all sorts of contexts, including the most minimal. )

ADDED: FIRE enters the fray:
Last year, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that "the contents of employees' personal e-mails are not a part of government business," and that "[p]ersonal e-mails are therefore not always records within the meaning of Wis. Stat. 19.32(2) simply because they are sent and received on government e-mail and computer systems." Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District, 327 Wis. 2d 572 (2010).

In Schill... the Supreme Court of Wisconsin determined that the emails had no connection to government business and were thus not records under the statute. Concluding, the court wrote:
If the content of the e-mail is solely personal, it is not a record under the Public Records Law and the e-mail cannot be released....
To the extent that a Wisconsin public university faculty member's emails are connected to a "government function," they may be covered under the state's Open Records law. But whether Cronon's emails meet this criterion is not presently clear. And even then, the court held in Schill that if the emails are in fact records, "then the court must undertake a balancing test to decide whether the statutory presumption favoring disclosure of public records is outweighed by any other public interest."
Cronon should win this. And by the way, thanks to all the left-wing assholes who think the best response to the intrusion on Cronon is to seek access to my emails. You've revealed a lot about what freedom means to you.

AND: UW Chancellor Chancellor Martin has issued a statement:
Compliance with public records requests involves a balancing test.... [W]e will need to consider whether disclosure would result in a chilling effect on the discourse between colleagues that is essential to our academic mission.
Academic freedom is one of the university’s greatest contributions to a democratic society. No other institution is charged specifically with protecting the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it may lead. Individual faculty, staff and students inevitably consider and advocate positions that will be at odds with one another’s views and the views of people outside of the university. It is the university’s responsibility both to comply with state law and to protect our community’s right to explore freely and freely express their points of view.
Good. 

126 comments:

Paul Zrimsek said...

First that business of not letting the Senate democrats vote even after they came back, and now this. I like most of what the Wisconsin GOP is doing, but they do seem to like overreaching.

Leland said...

Martha Stewart was unavailable for comment.

Fen said...

Cronon says it shouldn't be used "to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress.... It is chilling indeed to think that the Republican Party of my state has asked to have access to the emails of a lone professor in the hope of finding messages they can use to attack and discredit that professor."

Normally I would be sympathetic to his point and agree that the law should be read narrowly, not abused to get a judge disqualed on a hyper-technicality...

But then I rememeber what the Democrats did to Palin - abusing the ethics law to force her to resign as Governor (or subject Alaskans to the distraction of a continuous witch-hunt).

So, Cronon, sorry but tough shit.

DADvocate said...

It's supposed to refer to running a political campaign using university resources, not interacting with people about political issues or even expressing opinions about candidates.

Most companies consider email sent from their email system to be the property of that company. Using company/organization based email for for questionable practices is always risky.

I don't care for the Republican Party's actions but don't doubt the Dems would do it in a heart beat. Hopefully, Cronon used an alternative email service. If not, is he really smart enough to be a professor?

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
4d59df1c-571a-11e0-a572-000bcdcb2996 said...

Fen -

You really don't see the difference between an publicly elected official and a private University professor?

Serioiusly?

DADvocate said...

Oh, for got to say, the line between running a political campaign using university resources and interacting, expressing opinions can be very thin sometimes.

shoutingthomas said...

Welcome to the world the rest of us live in.

When I work for an employer or work at the office of a client, I am extremely careful not to use employer/client e-mail for anything except business.

That said, the Republicans probably need to let this one go.

And, this is a right wing weblog! Dammit! Just thought I'd say that before any of our staunch knuckleheads chime in.

And, just for good measure: Stinking Fox News!

Now, you don't even need to post, Ren, Alpha, Ritma, etc. I've done it for you.

James said...

I see your Open Meetings rule and raise you an Open Records.

It's war.

halojones-fan said...

@Fen: Exactly.

@code: What makes one state employee subject to different protections than another state employee?

traditionalguy said...

U of Wisconsin is not private. Let the sunshine in. Open meetings is matched by open records demands. Both are two edged swords, so be careful what you ask for.

Original Mike said...

"I use gmail myself to keep my notes and personal interactions out of this potentially public realm."

If you are medical school faculty you are likely prohibited from using accounts like gmail in order to not run afoul of HIPPA.

Basically, you can't win.

James said...

private University professor?

Huh?

AJ Lynch said...

Good, the Reps are learning to play hard ball. The good professor will now see what happens to librul propagandists after they write op-ed propaganda for the NY Times.

Emil Blatz said...

Live by open records requests, die by them.

Canuck said...

"So, Cronon, sorry but tough shit."

It's not Cronon's problem. All of his private messages are on his computer under a different e-mail, not his work computer. (see his blog post.)

But any history student writing to Cronon about the Union Army will be made public. As in "Prof. Cronon, what's my grade my paper titled the Union Army and Sherman's March through Georgia?"

oh we'll be marching through Georgia...

shoutingthomas said...

Emil, that's a hell of a scary picture.

Where are you incarcerated?

Canuck said...

"U of Wisconsin is not private. Let the sunshine in. Open meetings is matched by open records demands. Both are two edged swords, so be careful what you ask for."

oh yes, it's clearly absurd that the students should expect that their grades and correspondence with profs are public information.

the wolf said...

I understand the policy and feel this is an overly broad interpretation. What I can't figure is the Republicans' basis for demanding to see the emails. Does the policy imply that, when it's violated, the offending emails become public domain? I can imagine a scenario where Republicans demand an investigation, the university agrees and doles out whatever punishment fits, but where in this scenario does that require the university to release the contents of the emails.

prof_x said...

@Canuck: Student grades, etc., would be protected under FERPA.

Canuck said...

The state republican party can have a blast reading about students and scholars who are writing on the Union army and the Civil War.

James said...

oh yes, it's clearly absurd that the students should expect that their grades and correspondence with profs are public information.

I don't see anything in the Open Record request that asks for student information. Do you?

Fen said...

Sockpuppet said: You really don't see the difference between an publicly elected official and a private University professor?

You really must hate black people. Why?

Serioiusly?

Yes, "serioiusly". When you're done beating your strawman, try addressing something I actually said.

Canuck said...

"@Canuck: Student grades, etc., would be protected under FERPA."

These two laws come into direct conflict - don't they?

The lawyers at UW will have to waste time dealing with this mess.

And Cronon acts as an anonymous reviewer for manuscript under revision. A lot of them talk about the Union army and the republican party and republican ideology and republican philosophy and

Bah....I am beyond disgusted. I wonder if Cronon will leave and take his grad students to an Ivy. He's got family and roots in the state so he'll probably stay, but he's quite a well-known scholar who could get a better paid job.

The Grand Inquisitor said...

As horrible as the left's most crazy people are, sometimes we lapse into thinking they are fighting some awesomely good entity instead of the lame GOP.

Republicans are just relatively better than democrats most of the time. They have plenty of dishonest jerks willing to stretch the law.

What we need is a judiciary that isn't political or corrupt the way Madison voters like it.

Lem said...

The republicans are fighting back with a toll that is available.. it might be ugly but its legal.

The democrats fight is just right down dirty.

Lem said...

i meant to say 'tool' not toll back there.

Canuck said...

"I don't see anything in the Open Record request that asks for student information. Do you?"

Any e-mail that refers the Union army will come up in a computer search with these search terms.

For example: "Prof. Cronon, what's my grade on my midterm paper titled "the Union army and the Civil War?"

Or my paper on The Revolution and republican philosophy.

Or John Locke and republican ideologies.

He's a history prof!

Roger O said...

Professor Althouse, just remember that if you use your gmail account on a University Computer, it may still be a Public Record under Wisconsin law. I know that is the case in Florida.

MayBee said...

In fact, the university has long promoted what it calls "The Wisconsin Idea," which is all about professors influencing legislation.

I'm beginning to see Wisconsin as a really annoying state.

shoutingthomas said...

Professor Althouse, just remember that if you use your gmail account on a University Computer, it may still be a Public Record under Wisconsin law. I know that is the case in Florida.

What if you use the university wifi to network your personal computer, but you don't sign onto the university intranet?

Quayle said...

If you feed off the government tit, you should be ready to get branded with the herd.

Canuck said...

"What if you use the university wifi to network your personal computer, but you don't sign onto the university intranet?"

yep.

Sigivald said...

This is why all higher education should be private, not public.

Guid-Dude-responding-to-fen: UW is not a private school.

Thus, what I said above.

Private schools don't have to deal with state interference like this, from any party in any direction.

But if they want to be on the public teat, they're stuck with politics.

Canuck said...

"it might be ugly but its legal."

Are you ok with this if it hurts people that you agree with politically?

Cronon doesn't have to worry about any career or personal problems. He's been careful and if this annoys him he'll simply leave to a better school because he's an academic star.

Sigivald said...

Canuck: Who cares?

I mean, seriously?

"Oh, no, someone might find out I asked the professor what my grades are"?

"Oh, no, someone might find out the grade I got on a paper"?

This isn't the school counselor or health department. It's a professor.

I'm just not seeing why I should actually give a damn about the possible, notional student involved there.

Maguro said...

Sounds just like a FOIA request. What's the big deal?

Canuck said...

"I'm just not seeing why I should actually give a damn about the possible, notional student involved there."

1) Students care. They will complain if their private correspondence will be made public.

You might not give a s**t but the University will have all sorts of problems.

2) This will hurt the academic reputation of UW if authors have to worry about their unpublished manuscrips and research being released to the public.

Richard Fagin said...

Harris County, TX lost an otherwise competent district attorney (Chuck Rosenthal) because of personal e-mail messages sent on his county-operated e-mail account. This is the kind of mistake that few who work for American private-sector entities make any more.

"The rule" is don't use the company e-mail system for personal business. Ever. Period. That rule is even more stringent for public-sector employees.

If the Wisconsin Republican Party doesn't have anything better to do than to in essence sift through a professor's trash, shame on them. But "the rule" still stands.

Ann Althouse said...

"What if you use the university wifi to network your personal computer, but you don't sign onto the university intranet?"

You need to sign in to use the wifi on campus.

garage mahal said...

Bah....I am beyond disgusted.

But not to be unexpected from these petty dictatorial douchebags. even conservative newspapers that endorsed Walker are bailing on them. Everything they touch either turns to shit, or has the opposite effect they had hoped for.

Biff said...

Original Mike said..."If you are medical school faculty you are likely prohibited from using accounts like gmail in order to not run afoul of HIPPA.

Yes and no. HIPAA actually takes no position at all on Gmail, and, indeed, it's possible to configure Gmail in a way that complies with HIPAA regulations. Further, it's trivially easy to violate HIPAA using even the most robust, highly regulated and closely managed institutional email systems.

That said, individual institutions will often block third party services and websites as a matter of policy in order to minimize the likelihood that someone will accidentally disclose information through an unmonitored channel.

In an age where personal smartphones and 3G/4G tablets/iPads are becoming ubiquitous, there really is very little need ever to use an employer's infrastructure for personal communications.

Original Mike said...

""The rule" is don't use the company e-mail system for personal business. Ever. Period. That rule is even more stringent for public-sector employees."

Now I'm worried about that Minnesota Vikings joke I e-mailed to a friend on Monday.

It was just a joke. No hard feelings, right?

Evan said...

"I'm just not seeing why I should actually give a damn about the possible, notional student involved there."

Because federal law requires you to give a damn.

Ann, glad to see you address this issue.

Original Mike said...

"Yes and no. HIPAA actually takes no position at all on Gmail, and, indeed, it's possible to configure Gmail in a way that complies with HIPAA regulations."

Yeah, but that would take some actual work by the IS people.

"In an age where personal smartphones and 3G/4G tablets/iPads are becoming ubiquitous..."

No cell phone reception in our brand new building.

(Man, I'm really in for it, now.)

infinite.space said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
roesch-voltaire said...

I guess the Walker Republicans will try to intimidate the opposition any way that they can from trying to deny the Wisconsin 14 voting rights on committees to harassing those brave enough to write opinion columns. As they reveal their true colors, more folks line up for the recall.

Douglas2 said...

I've given out my gmail to a few people for specific instances of transfer of large files. Unfortunately, once that address was in their inbox that is the address that got used, then they propagated it to others in planning meetings.
I finally gave up trying to get people to stop using my personal email address for emails that would fall under open-records law, and I now have gmail just autoforward (to my official address) and delete anything that has an email address from my university on any from, to, cc, or bcc line.
Not that I'm hiding anything, but after the Palin and Climategate email brouhahas I don't want to give anyone the appearance that I'm hiding anything.

rhhardin said...

My personal and business emails were the same for years and years, until the company asked us to keep them separate somewhere around 2005, the business email being more stable and flexible than what was around privately.

But if you have identical private and public personas, it's not a problem either way.

A Democrat doesn't have that luxury.

Maryann said...

Interesting!

Triangle Man said...

"The rule" is don't use the company e-mail system for personal business. Ever. Period. That rule is even more stringent for public-sector employees.


Richard. That may be your advice, but it is not the policy of the University of Wisconsin.

Is it that he used a wisc.edu domain that the open records request was based on, or that the email was delivered and stored on wisc.edu servers? What about someone who uses their Yahoo or Google mail account with their wisc.edu address? The mail never touches UW servers. There is no policy that wisc.edu emails must be retained that I can find online.

This is just bogus harassment of a perceived political opponent. Too bad because the guy seemed to take a pretty balanced view of the situation.

Maguro said...

Too bad because the guy seemed to take a pretty balanced view of the situation.

Right. Cronon's "balanced view" is that Scott Walker isn't Joe McCarthy, except that he kinda is when you really think about it.

Bob From Ohio said...

"Progressives in Wisconsin are up with a TV ad that puts the negative in negative campaigning: sitting state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser defends child molesters instead of their victims, the groups say."

Garage?

R-V?

The Grand Inquisitor said...

"I guess the Walker Republicans will try to intimidate the opposition any way that they can from trying to deny the Wisconsin 14 voting rights on committees to harassing those brave enough to write opinion columns. As they reveal their true colors, more folks line up for the recall."

See, this is a good example of what I'm saying earlier.

This is a pack of lies. They are aggressive, knowing lies, too. How can the people this Roesch psycho is lying about not be really really good?

Well, the truth is that the GOP is far from ideal, despite its opponents being insufferably evil.

For example, the 14 fleebaggers were trying to vote while denying a voting quorum exists. They took the results of a peaceful election and decided to shut democracy down with screaming and protests and anarchy.

I'd rather go back to letting both sides make their arguments and we all get an equal single vote, instead of screaming and lying. That's what the democrats took away from Wisconsin.

peter hoh said...

What if you used your office computer to access your gmail account? Could the open records law be used to gain access to your gmail account?

Econophile said...

Cronon says it shouldn't be used "to harass individual faculty members for asking awkward questions, researching unpopular topics, making uncomfortable arguments, or pursuing lines of inquiry that powerful people would prefer to suppress..."

That Cronon fashions himself as some sort of noble iconoclast is absurd. There's nothing entirely special about holding the same view one's colleagues mindlessly hold, as Cronon does. The self-righteousness is exhausting.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Email pussies!

Try being in the Securities business. You must use an email address that is approved by your Broker/Dealer and/or the SEC. All emails are pre screened before they are allowed to be sent and they are archived.

You are allowed to use a personal email account for personal correspondence but that email account is also subject to review. In addition registered securities reps are not allowed to post on websites or make comments on websites that have anything to do with securities.

Every letter you send out to clients or prospects has to be pre approved first.

All this is to prevent you from making wild claims, pumping stock, front running etc.

Personally I think if the Professor was using the University resources for political campaigning and political purposes, he is an idiot. There are plenty of other sources and as a private citizen, not on the company dime or using the company emails, he is free to day whatever he wants. Instead he is using taxpayer provided resources to politic. Dumbass.

Thorley Winston said...

I can’t really muster any sympathy for the professor here. Emails sent using an employer’s email account are generally considered to be the property of the employer. In addition as a public employee, his work emails are apparently subject to FOIA and anyone can request a copy of them at any time. If he’s using his work email that is subject to public disclosure for something that is potentially embarrassing to him or possibly a violation of his employer’s policies, then he’s only got himself to blame.

AlphaLiberal said...

Hey, thank you, Ann, for those thoughtful and informative comments.

CharlesVegas said...

If a snow plow driver can be fired based on GPS monitoring of his whereabouts, ivory tower academics can have their emails sent on publicly-owned computers released to the public.

MadisonMan said...

I suppose the signal to noise is quite low. Meet me at the Union. There's a meeting at the Union. Union Brats!

I'm not sure how well the public reacts to the State Govt meddling in UW affairs. It's an interesting and prickly relationship.

How much time will be wasted on this, I wonder.

Lex said...

Right. Cronon's "balanced view" is that Scott Walker isn't Joe McCarthy, except that he kinda is when you really think about it.

And then the GOP had to go and bear Cronon's analysis out, right on cue.

It's as politically dumb as it is unethical.

cryptical said...

If it works the same in Wisconsin as here in MN, I'd be suprised if UW didn't have an office that's responsible for responding to open records requests for email from news organizations, etc.

It's a pretty standard thing nowdays.

pax001 said...

Ann, you disappoint me. Your response here is a complete cop-out. It isn't even a response. Regardless of whether you personally separate out your personal from your work email, what would you do if you were in his position (and be careful, because with this kind of precedent you might just be)... How can you possibly defend this action? Do you not think this is a blatant attempt to chill research and investigation into uncomfortable topics?

Maguro said...

And then the GOP had to go and bear Cronon's analysis out, right on cue.

It's as politically dumb as it is unethical.


Look, we're talking about a FOIA request.

How is it "unethical" to file a FOIA request and how does the act of filing such a request bear any resemblance to what Joe McCarthy did?

I agree that it's not a particularly brilliant political strategy and can't imagine what the Republicans think they have to gain from it, but let's not overdramatize what's going on here. It's a routine, legal request for government information.

pakurilecz said...

"This is the kind of mistake that few who work for American private-sector entities make any more."

i agree. I work for a very large company. my corporate email account is used solely for business. I use gmail for personal purposes. I also have 2 cell phones, one for business one for personal. My employer allows some personal use of the company phone, but I try not to.

The good professor Cronon is finding out that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I fully believe that if he were a republican writing about the Democrats then that party wouldn't have wasted a second going after his email

Evan said...

@pakurilecz

"I fully believe that if he were a republican writing about the Democrats then that party wouldn't have wasted a second going after his email"

You're posting to a right-wing blog written by a UW professor, who has been around for years, yet no such request has ever been made. Are you really so dense that you can't see that the tailor made counter-example that's staring you in the face?

And if some moron decides to make a retaliatory strike against Ms Althouse, I will line up to denounce it, based on the very same reasoning Cronon showed, in spite of the fact that I think she's wrong about nearly everything she writes.

Maguro said...

And if some moron decides to make a retaliatory strike against Ms Althouse, I will line up to denounce it, based on the very same reasoning Cronon showed, in spite of the fact that I think she's wrong about nearly everything she writes

So why would you denounce it? Against Open Records in general or just don't thnk it should apply to university professors?

Biff said...

Regarding some of the comments in this thread, the University of Wisconsin does publish its email and IT policies (as Prof Althouse mentioned in her original post.)

While many/most might consider them to be overly broad, the policies are very typical of those at most universities, and they are quite a bit more relaxed than what are found outside of academia.

Sections 8 and 9 of the Appropriate Use policy seem germane.

For example, "University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum. No one may use University IT resources to represent the interests of any non-University group or organization unless authorized by an appropriate University department."

On the other hand, personal use is not forbidden outright, but, that said, de minimus personal use merely is "tolerated."

There is also useful information in the general IT usage policy page.

Everyone should read their employer's IT policies from time to time. There are almost always policies giving an employer essentially unfettered access to anything that travels on its network, and keep in mind, too, that system/network administrators generally can see almost everything that flies across a system or a network, regardless of policy. If an institution runs certain types of security monitoring software, you may well be shocked at how much "private" information ends up being archived somewhere.

PS. Those who are asking, "Well, what if a student's grades are divulged?" would do well to examine the university's policy regarding dissemination of grades. It's in there.

Big Mike said...

Two reasons for not using company Emails for non-business purposes:

(1) An Email message is a legal document, and subject to search ("search" is probably the wrong legal term, but I'm a mathematician, not a lawyer).

(2) It's a firing offense.

And Professor Cronon needs to understand that ASCII bytes are forever! He can never be certain that the last copy has been deleted. (Same with teenage girls Emailing naked pictures of themselves -- strange that a full professor is as unaware as a teenager.)

Evan said...

@Maguro: "So why would you denounce it?"

I would denounce it because I think using open records requests as weapons to constrain free speech is morally wrong. I think using open records as a way to respond to the content of someone's speech, without cause to suspect wrongdoing, is deplorable. And I think that academics deserve a higher standard of privacy than elected officials, as the principles of academic freedom are critical to maintaining the university system that drives so much of the economic and cultural development of our state.

I don't think it should be illegal - I think open records law should stand as it is. But I think it's immoral and should be denounced, loudly, and from all quarters.

I think the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church are deplorable, too, but I think they should remain legal. Legal doesn't make it right.

Revenant said...

You're posting to a right-wing blog written by a UW professor

I guess if you're far enough to the left, everything looks right-wing.

roesch-voltaire said...

Okay I understand, under the New Republican Order, I must never use my office computer to make email requests when researching unions, or collective bargaining, or Wisconsin and Progressive because that is interacting with individuals about political issues. And I must never suggest that my wife meet me at the union as the new approved place to meet is only the Tea Party Lounge?

Pogo said...

I have mixed feelings about this. It's low and mean and dirty.

At the same time, the endless connections and corruptions between the government and teachers and unions and media suggest that these are desperate desperate times.

Maguro said...

Okay I understand, under the New Republican Order, I must never use my office computer to make email requests when researching unions, or collective bargaining, or Wisconsin and Progressive because that is interacting with individuals about political issues. And I must never suggest that my wife meet me at the union as the new approved place to meet is only the Tea Party Lounge?

No. As usual, you don't understand at all. You can research unions, collective bargaining and Progressives to your heart's content, but you have to turn over your emails if someone asks because your emails are public records.

I'm in the same position beause I work for the Federal government. In my office, we respond to FOIA requests all the time. It is really no big deal.

Besides, as the Wisconsin Public Records Law puts it:

In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them...The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.

Feel all better now?

Paddy O said...

Republicans are idiots sometimes.

They're like the dumb kid who always takes everything too far because he doesn't get what's going on and just wants some of the attention for himself.

Maguro said...

Apparently your emails are safe, r-v...you can rest easy now.

wkdewey said...

As a student, I have never thought of my ".edu" address as anything but my email--aside from the fact that when I graduate everything might go away. I was at private universities until recently. Good thing I have Gmail now, but my only motivation for that was being able to maintain a stable account, not separating business and personal stuff. I email my professor parents all the time on their own .edu accounts with "personal business". They don't even have any other email accounts--aside from a yahoo account to attract spam. Never in a million years would I have thought of their email as public property, or that sending certain kinds of message would constitute abuse of public property.

I'm a Democrat, but I would have found this just as strange if this sort of request was directed at a Republican. Private email is private email; maybe this isn't "private email" but I've never in my life treated it as anything else. Does the fact that I use the University's wireless internet mean that my entire search history is public property?

YoungHegelian said...

I'm sorry, as someone in the IT biz, I just way beyond having any sympathy for someone with a PhD being too stupid to know that e-mail is forever, and that if you're a public employee and you step on the toes of people in power they just might come after you.

Has this man learned nothing from American history?

Oh well, at least he's not as stupid as the Harvard theologian who called university tech support to take a look at his PC, which had stopped working.

It turned out he was out of disk space. Why he out of disk space? Because he had filled it up with downloaded porn.

Oooops!

Paddy O said...

"to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum."

Well, that's so broad that it's asking to be taken advantage of.

Normally, I'd say that professors should be involved in the process, because that's part of their role as public instructors, but I can't see how that meshes with the email policies. What we might think or promote doesn't seem to be what Wisconsin actually has as a policy.

Well, an email policy. All political activities should be done through snail mail.

MayBee said...

No other institution is charged specifically with protecting the pursuit of knowledge, wherever it may lead.

Such self-puffery!
When the pursuit of knowledge inadvertently leads to discovering Scott Walker is like McCarthy!

Academics bug me when they think every thought they have is soooo....academic. So brave.

Having said that, I don't think the GOP should ask for or get his emails. But for heaven's sake, at least admit sometimes academics produce silly political drivel.

David said...

The Republicans are going as bonkers as the Democrats. If they get this information, what the hell value does it have. Drop the damn request, you fools. This is a contest for public opinion, not a moot court.

Cronon, by the way, is a great historian, a writer of skill and a truly original thinker. I do not use the word "great" lightly.

Ryan said...

Sorry Ann - you're wrong here. My dollars pay for that email. Taxpayers are entitled to know what they're money is being spent on. I find the academic freedom argument unpersuasive. How does sunlight chill academia? Were you opposed to climategate email release? Sorry I don't trust public workers any more than private.

peter hoh said...

In case there was any confusion, my 4:38 comment (What if you connected to your gmail account on your office computer) wasn't directed at any individual. My intention would have been clearer had I used "one" and "one's" instead of "you" and "your."

MadisonMan said...

People seeking access to althouse's emails (what a stupid stupid thing to do) should instead seek access to Legislators' Hard Drives. That would be a far more interesting mine to sift through, I'd wager.

After all, according to Ryan, we pay for them, and we should be able to see what's there.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

When you are working for a company or in this case for the government: all your time on the job and all of your production on the job belongs to the employer.

If you you use company/government resources to do things that are not a part of your job for personal or political pursuits, that constitutes theft of your employers/governments/taxpayers resources.

When you are doing personal business on the company/taxpayer's time: that is also theft.

You have zero expectation of privacy when you are using the resources of other people.

If you want privacy...pay for it yourself you cheap fuck. Use your own time....your own ISP...your own computer.

DUMBASS!

Original Mike said...

"Sorry Ann - you're wrong here. My dollars pay for that email."

Oh, puhleeze. State support for the UW is below 25%. You're entitled to read only every fourth word of his e-mails.

Talk about self-puffery.

ShadowFox said...

@Canuck--student records are expressly excluded under WI statutes.

Which reminds me--I just looked over all the comments on the Adler post @VC and all the comments here and a combined TWO people mentioned the actual statutes. From some of the comments of the other 200+ posts it is quite obvious that none of you so much as read the statutes in question. Before any of you posts more nonsense, I suggest you go and read the relevant text--it's freely available, no special account needed.

Since you guys are too busy for two clicks in Google, here's the link:
http://goo.gl/aXfNS
Look for 19.31 to 19.39 and a couple of associated definitions under 19.42(13) and (14).

Chip Ahoy said...

I learned recently that these Republicans of whom you speak are WMD'S. So be forewarned.

vbspurs said...

DBQ wrote:

If you want privacy...pay for it yourself you cheap fuck. Use your own time....your own ISP...your own computer.

DUMBASS!


DBQ was always feisty, but I noticed it's been ratched up ten-fold since my absence. I like it, because I love the passion, but I wonder what is behind it. Job? :)

DJ said...

The number of comments here that try to equate email at a university to email at a private company is astounding. Academic freedom is the only reason that those faculty members are at universities making a fraction of what they could in industry. I know this because, as a former academic, I'm now making 6x my former salary in industry.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sorry Ann - you're wrong here. My dollars pay for that email. Taxpayers are entitled to know what they're money is being spent on. I find the academic freedom argument unpersuasive. How does sunlight chill academia? Were you opposed to climategate email release? Sorry I don't trust public workers any more than private."

Let's say I have interactions, the equivalent of phone conversations, with other professors about their work, including frank discussions with criticisms of other people's work, collegiality issues, problems with students, admissions of embarrassing errors, playing with arguments that I decide I don't want to make. You don't see that there is a realm of privacy within work? Also, we're authorized to use our email for private communications, for the sake of convenience. Just like I might talk about my children or my health problems (if I had them) with a colleague at the coffee machine, I might have stuff like that written in email. If you take that away from people, work becomes a much less human place.

Pogo said...

I think Althouse is correct here, and that her view is the traditional and sane approach most people would expect regarding e-mail.

But the legal and regulatory domination of the business world has destroyed that very sane desire, and did so long ago.

The posts above describe its effects well. One learns that the workplace is a legal minefield, not meant for normal human activity.

In politics, the razing of puny humans has become commonplace, using every aspect of their lives, from diaries to e-mail. Just ask Scooter Libby.

The idea that we have some right to privacy has been dead for deacades.

Pogo said...

And she's right. Work has become a much less human place because of it.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Biff said...

Original Mike said, "[Private sector colleagues] have the added advantage of not having to turn on the news, or read blogs, and see themselves vilified as parasites."

I take it that none of your private sector colleagues work in healthcare, financial services, the automobile industry, the food industry, insurance, home construction, the defense industry, the pharmaceuticals industry, the energy industry, etc., etc.

Original Mike said...

Wrong, Biff. But they do work at small companies, which is an important distinction.

lawyapalooza said...

"And by the way, thanks to all the left-wing assholes who think the best response to the intrusion on Cronon is to seek access to my emails. You've revealed a lot about what freedom means to you."

Who are you referencing? I don't see anyone here going after your emails.

Biff said...

Pogo said..."I think Althouse is correct here, and that her view is the traditional and sane approach most people would expect regarding e-mail. But the legal and regulatory domination of the business world has destroyed that very sane desire, and did so long ago."

I agree. As for me, I haven't commented here on whether or not I believe the laws/policies are good or bad, just that they do exist, they have numerous, unintended, and perhaps counterintuitive consequences, and a lot of people don't pay attention to them.

My career has taken me through academia, government, and industry, and, in my experience, one of the most glaring differences between the sectors is the treatment of regulation. Businesses tend to be acutely aware of regulation, they train their personnel accordingly, and, despite the occasional, spectacular failure, they tend to monitor compliance to a much greater extent than the other sectors. I don't pretend that this is for any reason more noble than avoiding fines and punishment.

Government focuses on making regulations, not following them. When I was a government employee, I was stunned by how often government was exempted from its own regulations.

Many academics seem to presume that regulations don't really apply to them, and, in practice, they have been right, since academic culture has been relatively free of scrutiny from other groups. I realize that it doesn't always feel that way within a university, but the compliance and oversight infrastructure at almost any university tends to be laughably small and toothless compared to what comparably sized commercial operations typically put in place. I think this state of affairs will change quickly, and it will be quite uncomfortable for faculty.

Anthony said...

Thank you, Professor Althouse, for your contribution to the conversation about this new development in the increasingly distasteful and alarming twist in Wisconsin state politics. I don't often agree with what you say, but I must give you credit for intellectual integrity here. Of course, you have an interest, too. I hope people seeking to game the open-records law will reconsider their actions. Thanks again for your views, and your work on your blog and elsewhere.
Best Regards

Lincolntf said...

So they'll keep the policy but ignore it this time. And then they'll wonder why people are cynical.

Shadow said...

Respectfully, as a former faculty at an Ivy League University and current federal employee, I think that there is a misconception regarding public university email accounts. From the standpoint of the IT policy, they consider professors to be state employees subject to state records laws as described by "E-mail is subject to State Public Records and Open records laws" from the ARMS policy statement.

Also, under the "Access" section of the university policy:
"Access and confidentiality. E-mail users do not own their e-mail messages and should NOT assume that their communications are confidential or private. E-mail is not confidential."

Consequently, this implies that all emails to a professor's .edu account are subject to that policy. It doesn't matter if it was private or not, embarrassing or not, foolishly phrased or not. The analogy that I have used is that sending an email from a .edu university account is the equivalent of sending snail mail on university letter head, and many people misuse this resource (email) for personal communications which they would never consider sending on University letterhead.

As former faculty, i feel the pain that this can cause to faculty, but the solution is easy. Use a free gmail account for anything that is not university business. Open records laws are there for a reason but can be abused to harass individuals (and for the record, I disagree with seeking this professor's email, but it is a legal option and within the university obligations to provide them).

Original Mike said...

I agree with you, BifF, I just don’t think that’s a good thing. And apologies for taking my post down, but considering the topic it was the prudent thing to do.

Biff said...

No worries, Mike. Best wishes.

(BTW, I agree that the cumulative effect of many of these policies is to make the workplace less "human." At the same time, I've also seen how attempts to make the workplace more human can open the door to all sorts of liability. It's astonishing what some people are willing to threaten grievances or lawsuits over. Not everyone has matured beyond the playground.)

Original Mike said...

It always seems to get back to the lawyers. ;)

Thunder90 said...

How does UWSA's code on emails apply to student groups such as College Republicans or College Democrats, whose chairs use their campus emails to disseminate information about who to vote for and their political beliefs? Are students exempt from this?

Geoff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denn Yee said...

Why is everybody here assuming that Cronon did in fact use his campus email in ways that might be problematic? Suppose he was careful to do all his political activity in gmail on his home computer and has absolutely nothing to hide here. Mightn't he still feel indignant about the FOIA request on general grounds of the insult to his privacy? I for sure would. What genuine conservative can countenance this tactic? Or is this one of those "creepiness in the defense of liberty" things?

ShadowFox said...

Suppose he was careful to do all his political activity in gmail on his home computer and has absolutely nothing to hide here. Mightn't he still feel indignant about the FOIA request on general grounds of the insult to his privacy?

Your making too many assumptions... I, for one, never considered the content of the email to be relevant to the issue. The only question is the legitimacy of the request. I see no reason why private correspondence that has no bearing on state governance (because the person in question is not a public official) should be accessible for Open Record requests. And if, by chance, it has some government connection, it would be appropriate to get it for the other party, presumably a public official.

Speaking of which, seeing that Stephan Thompson is a Walker aid on the state payroll, why not FOIA his correspondence? Let's have some fun at his expense. He;s already broken the law by conducting partisan political activities while nominally working for the state. It's quite likely he's done far worse things.

Darci said...

I am old enough to have had an email account before the Internet. For many years, the math dept at my university was the only place to get an email account, so there was necessarily no separation between work and personal email. This situation has persisted for many academics, despite the wide availability of free email services, simply because it is more convenient and as has been pointed out above, the academic culture is very different from corporate culture. I now have a personal gmail account which enables me to ignore students' emails over weekends and breaks guilt-free--- I simply don't log on to my university account. Well, unless I'm teaching an on-line class.... Oh, well.

Jacquelyn said...

I'm really floored that most of the focus of the comments seems to be on the actual records request (i.e., whether it's fair or Cronon should just suck it up), and not on the fact that this is clearly a challenge to academic freedom - it's so obviously a retaliation against a high-profile blog post that put the current situation in Wisconsin in a historical perspective. There is no equivalent of probable cause, here-- no reason to suspect that Prof. Cronon, as opposed to any other member of the University, acted unethically except for his dissent. Since when is dissent probable cause? Since when is requesting the e-mail records of citizens "routine?" I am well aware of the fact that the GOP need not cite a reason for the records request, but their continual failure to do so only makes them look like petulant bullies.

Milwaukeean said...

The chronology of events shows that the NYT piece was not a problem for Stephan Thompson, lately of the Walker administration. The cause was Prof. Cronon's blog post on ALEC, a post that he constructed and labeled as "a study plan." Now, think that through for academics: Are study plans, lesson plans, etc., to be attacked for partisan purpose? Are profs who construct such plans to examine more than one aspect of an argument to be attacked for not presenting only the side currently in political favor and power? I would imagine that the good Prof. Althouse also constructs study plans for her students to examine, even argue for stances with which they (and she) may not agree.

And also consider the impact of the Open University efforts online to encourage academics to share for free with the public a form of coursework -- an exemplary extension of the Wisconsin Idea but international now. Prof. Cronon was emulating that effort in his own blog, not on a state website, as evidenced by his blog title of "Scholar as Citizen" and his explication of the blog's purpose. We could have hoped for more examples of willingness of a top historian to share his skills in research and teaching with the public at large, and for free!

But no more, I suspect, can we expect Prof. Cronon to do so -- and if one of the most well-known and respected academics today, as he is (a MacArthur grant in his 30s, landmark books, president-elect of the prestigious AHA, etc.), count on others to also be unwilling to be scholar-citizens sharing their knowledge via the new technologies. (This even could crimp improved online education for those far from campuses, online education in the UW that was beginning to compete and move beyond the lower level of offerings at many for-profit schools.)

Sad. Is this really what the state Republican Party wanted to do, depriving the people of Wisconsin who cannot afford the University of Wisconsin a chance at a free education, "study plans," from one of the UW's top professors? Depriving others from across the country, even beyond its borders, as well? Seems so. Sad.

ShadowFox said...

Is anyone else having difficulty posting comments from a gmail-connected Blogger account? I lost two posts from early this morning (no, the 1:19 AM one was not mine). The same thing happened last week when two of three posts initially showed up posted, then disappeared, then two of them (one previously appearing and one not) again appeared in the feed. The other vanished into a black hole (my post complaining about this did appear with no problem). Now my last two posts disappeared.

Ari said...

Perhaps it is time to reconsider the scope of FOIA. The last thing I'm interested in is having this level of invasiveness. Surely we can do better to balance the need to know with the need to have intellectual freedom.

Serr8d said...

Ann, you failed to post the complete text of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision...

If the content of the e-mail is solely personal, it is not a record under the Public Records Law and the e-mail cannot be released. If the content of the e-mail is personal in part and has a connection with the government function in part, then the custodian may need to redact the personal content and release the portion connected to the government function. The record custodian’s inquiry focuses on the content of the e-mail and asks whether that content is connected to a government function. This is more of a pragmatic inquiry than an elaborate legal analysis.

Emphasis mine, to point out that 'personal' information in the email (e.g., student's grade discussions as well as 'bring home a gallon of milk, dear') could be redacted before release.

What really bugs me about this is not that Team R asked for the information, but that Cronon runs crying first to his far-left supporters to try the case in the court of (far-left) public opinion rather than bringing the matter to a real court. Chilling effect on the professor or no, this has to go forward now because of all the attention it's received and in spite of the far-left's heads exploding. Why, there might be an email from George (Owner, Democratic Party) Soros to Cronon directing his every move, as the Koch brothers do for Governor Walker. )

And I like that the GOP is using some Alinsky. We are losing big time; as Jeff Goldstein puts it, 'designed decline'. It's going to take some hard Rights to save this Republic.

Ari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luna said...

People referring to University policies against politicking or using University computer systems are missing a key point.

University policy is just that--policy. It is not the law and there's no criminal penalty for violating the policy. The policies might require dismissal, but that is up to Cronon's supervisors--not the Wisconsin legislature or the Republican party of Wisconsin.

You don't get to file an FOIA just to see whether someone violated their employer's policies.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court made it clear that Wisconsin's "sunshine laws" are for the express purpose of allowing the public to see what is going on with *official* policies and *official* business.

According to Wisconsin law, teachers and professors are not government officials. The Chancellor is a state official, but Cronon is an employee-for-hire.

Therefore, no one has the right to use an FOIA to view his personal e-mails or any e-mails that do not relate specifically to the University's official business.

Most e-mails involving the terms mentioned would not be relevant to official University business; while they could theoretically get Cronon fired or be used to embarrass him, there is no public "need to know." They do not relate to official public business.

E-mails containing those terms that do relate to public business would probably fail to give the Republican party the fodder it seeks.

The primary problem with the request is the intent of the requestor. It is being used with the sole purpose of trying to intimidate a perceived critic by attempting to threaten the security of his job by bringing to light information that could demonstrate violation of University policy or embarrass his employer.

At least, that's what they are hoping for with this fishing expedition. These kinds of requests do not appear to be legitimate according to Wisconsin law and recent Supreme Court decisions.

I predict failure on the part of the Republican GOP, and they had better hope it fails or every Republican "employee" in government will need to be in fear over every e-mail he/she has sent.

geoffb said...

"and they had better hope it fails or every Republican "employee" in government will need to be in fear over every e-mail he/she has sent. "

Ah, there is the Democratic Party we have all come to love so much over the past 50 years.

ShadowFox said...

You don't get to file an FOIA just to see whether someone violated their employer's policies.


Actually, you get to file the FOIA (or equivalent) for any reason you want or no reason at all. Reason is required to open records that are normally closed. The whole purpose of FOIA is to keep many records permanently open even if they are difficult to obtain.

But there appears to be a fundamental misinterpretation of "agency" and "government function" in the GOP request (and among those who support it). Unless we are willing to say that all state employees perform a "government function" irrespectively of their job description, there is no reason to consider the university proper (that is, any of the individual universities) an "agency". The agency must perform a government function, therefore, the Board of Trustees for the entire System is an agency. The top administration is "public officials" both because they govern a state own institution and because they are specifically defined as public officials in 19.42(13). But faculty, in general, have no governing function. They have a state-directed function--to teach and conduct research--but that's not a "government function".

I seems somewhat doubtful that courts will buy this, even though this is clearly not the legislative intent of 19.32. It is unclear whether public school teachers should be subject to 19.32 under these criteria, as it is much harder to separate the governmental function from public school than from the universities (for one, the universities only get about a quarter of their revenue from the state, and not all their students are state residents (as many of them know from financially painful experience). And much of the research is directly sponsored by external agencies (including computers they use and even email, because of standard overhead included in grants specifically for this purpose).

But the point has been the whole time that the issue of privacy of academic correspondence rests on academic freedom and not a court interpretation of who is or is not a public official or whether the university is an agency. The Open Record law has a clear exception where releasing the records is against public interest, and this case falls under that restriction.

ShadowFox said...

I am going to assume that my post from early Sunday morning disappeared because of Google problems and not because Ann deleted it. So am going to re-post it, although a part of it has already been duplicated in a different post.

The first part is in response to Denn Yee

Suppose he was careful to do all his political activity in gmail on his home computer and has absolutely nothing to hide here. Mightn't he still feel indignant about the FOIA request on general grounds of the insult to his privacy?

You're making too many assumptions... I, for one, never considered the content of the email to be relevant to the issue. The only question is the legitimacy of the request. I see no reason why private correspondence that has no bearing on state governance (because the person in question is not a public official) should be accessible for Open Record requests. And if, by chance, it has some government connection, it would be appropriate to get it for the other party, presumably a public official.

Speaking of which, seeing that Stephan Thompson is a Walker aid on the state payroll, why not FOIA his correspondence? Let's have some fun at his expense. He;s already broken the law by conducting partisan political activities while nominally working for the state. It's quite likely he's done far worse things.

Tomas said...

I'm guessing none of the "left-wing assholes" who suggested going after Prof. Althouse's email is doing so in their official capacity as a Democratic Party operative, and eager to spend his Party's money to do it.

Also funny how some commenters already assume that Prof. Cronon is guilty of something. That's how the smear works.

John McAdams said...

Remember, a couple of journalistic organizations demanded and got e-mails written by private citizens to Scott Walker expressing an opinion on his budget repair bill.

That backfired when it was found that the majority of e-mails he got supported him.

But the issue is that private citizens had merely communicated with their elected officials. One could easily see how things like this would "chill" citizen expression of opinions to elected officials.

These issues can get complicated, and it's interesting that lefties are now caught in one of these complications.

ShadowFox said...

That backfired when it was found that the majority of e-mails he got supported him.

Are you completely delusional or just pretending?

Walker released about a dozen letters that he got, in the process alleging that he got over a thousand letters, most of them supporting. Of course, the ones he released on his own initiative were from supporters. The reality proved to be the opposite--the majority of the remaining letters (that is, the majority of all letters) were opposed to his efforts.

Of course, if you agree with Walker, you'd be more inclined to take his word, even if it's contradicted by reality.

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