Is the Demand for Cronon’s E-mails a Threat to Academic Freedom?

Peter Wood says no in a post at the Chronicle’s Innovations blog. He acknowledges that this is an act of political reprisal, and that “professors who sow the political wind reap the political whirlwind.” In that sense, his opinion parallels that of Mitchell Langbert quoted by Candace, that “he [Cronon] chose to involve himself in politics and the GOP’s response is a normal political tactic.”

What is more troubling is the reaction by the AAUP and the AHA, denouncing the open-records request as an assault on academic freedom. Their reaction, and that of many others, illustrates the importance of knowing what academic freedom really is — what it does and does not protect. It does protect Cronon’s taking a partisan political stand on his personal blog and in the New York Times. It does not protect him from a legitimate legal inquiry into his use of state property. 

Peter writes:

If Professor Cronon were in jeopardy of losing his job for what he wrote on his personal blog or published in the Times, I would agree with the AAUP and the AHA. Academic freedom in that case would be at risk. He faces no such risk. Separating the ostensible motive of the Wisconsin Republican Party (i.e. political reprisal for his public writings) from its chosen tactic (the Open Records Law request) may seem a fine distinction, but it is a necessary one. It’s necessary because the doctrine of academic freedom will lose legitimacy if it is allowed to become an excuse for breaking the law.

So while the Wisconsin Republican party would have done better to have responded to Professor Cronon’s arguments directly rather than going after his e-mails, its action does not jeopardize academic freedom, rightly understood.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More