The UW-Madison Response: Absolutely Fascinating

Well, the UNiversity of Madison-Wisconsin complied with the request for a noted history professor’s e-mails — sort of, kind of.

Here is the Chancellor’s message to the campus:

And here is the official letter from counsel for the University of Wisconsin.

The money graf:

You should further note that the e-mails that we have reviewed contain absolutely no evidence of political motivation, contact from individuals outside normal academic channels or inappropriate conduct on the part of Professor Cronon.  The university finds his conduct, as evidenced in the e-mails, beyond reproach in every respect.  He has used his university e-mail account appropriately and legitimately.   He has not used his university e-mail account for any inappropriate political conduct.  In fact, none of the e-mails contained any reference whatsoever to any of the specific political figures that you identified (except Governor Scott Walker), nor do they in any way reference the proposed recall efforts.

But I also was quite interested in the following reason for partial denial of the request:

5. Intellectual communications among scholars.  Faculty members like Professor Cronon often use e-mail to develop and share their thoughts with one another.  The confidentiality of such discussions is vital to scholarship and to the mission of this university. Faculty members must be afforded privacy in these exchanges in order to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas.  The consequence for our state of making such communications public will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities that can guarantee them the privacy and confidentiality that is necessary in academia.  For these reasons, we have concluded that the public interest in intellectual communications among scholars as reflected in Professor Cronon’s e-mails is outweighed by other public interests favoring protection of such communications.

I just took a quick look at Wisconsin’s exemptions, and I am not seeing this one. This is one of those Show-Me moments that Dave and I always talk about: “Can you show me where in Wisconsin law it says this stuff is exempt?”

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2 Responses

  1. […] post about the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s response to the FOI request. As I wrote in an earlier post, I think the response created some novel arguments not reflected by the state’s existing […]

  2. Usually I don’t post on blogs, but I wish to say that this article very forced me to try and do so! Thanks, really nice article.

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