See? This is What I was Worried About…

Remember last year, when e-mail controversies swirled around academics at Wisconsin and UVA? I fretted then that the episodes likely would find their way into bad legislative proposals aiming nuclear weapons at molehills…and then along comes this:

[Maryland] House Bill 62 would allow universities and community colleges to deny requests for “data or other information of a proprietary nature that: was produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of a public institution of higher education; was produced or collected in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical, or scholarly issues; and has not been publicly released, published, or copyrighted.”

If that’s not enough, the secrecy would extend to “correspondence or research produced by faculty of a public institution of higher education on public policy issues.”

But isn’t a public university professor a public employee?

“Professors are different than bureaucrats, and there are issues of academic freedom involved here,” said Del. Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, the primary sponsor.

He said the bill was prompted by controversies in Virginia and Wisconsin.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sought a former professor’s emails under a state fraud law, and a state lawmaker sought the same emails under the state’s open-records law.

This was painted as an attack on academic freedom, on the theory that making professors’ emails public would have a chilling effect on research and open debate. The Virginia cases are still in court.

Meanwhile, Rosenberg read a New York Times column by Paul Krugman on a University of Wisconsin professor. After professor William Cronon wrote a piece criticizing his state’s new Republican governor and a blog post on a group pushing conservative legislation, Republicans filed a public-records request for his email.

This, too, was painted as an attack on academic freedom, even though some of Cronon’s emails were turned over and nothing came of it.

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