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).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.
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."
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.Good.
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.