Perhaps the World’s First Protest Against FOI?

Lurie Tower on North Campus at the University ...

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If anyone has pictures of protesters with signs from this rally, which reportedly was held today….I’d love to see ’em.

One University of Michigan faculty member wants to make sure university leaders take great care in responding to the controversial Freedom of Information Act requests filed by theMackinac Center late last month.

Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, has collected about 1,600 signatures through a petition asking people to “protect academic freedom on campus.”

Robinson said he’s asking U-M officials only to follow the example of University of Wisconsinofficials when they responded to similar requests for emails of professor William Cronon. The university did not provide emails that were related to students, potential students, professorial organizations, personal communications, intellectual communications among scholars and communications related to personnel matters, all of which amounted to a denial of the request.

I continue to maintain that faculty opposed to the same transparency demanded of others is wrongheaded.

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More on the Academic Freedom-FOI Flap….

Madison, Wisconsin Dec04 STA 2786

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Newsy has a nice rundown…

And Jack Shafer, as is so often the case, makes the point so, so, so much better than I have.

Here’s the money graf:

Take, for example, the lawsuit filed against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by the Associated Press and the Madison, Wis., Isthmus after his team ignored open records requests for emails he had received. The suit forced a settlement that released the materials. That Isthmus, a lefty alt-weekly, might hold a politicized view of the ongoing Wisconsin drama doesn’t matter in the eyes of the law. FOIA laws exists for the benefit of independent seekers of truth, businesses looking for an edge over their competitors, news hounds seeking scoops, and even politicos seeking to stir the pot. If anything, these laws are underused. I side with the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, which holds, “The Open Records Law is like a muscle: The more it is used, the stronger it becomes. The law belongs to all of us, and it’s our collective responsibility to make sure it stays strong.”

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An FOI Request = The New American Thought Police? See, This is why I was Worried About Blowback…

Krugman in the Times today:

So we don’t need to worry about Mr. Cronon — but we should worry a lot about the wider effect of attacks like the one he’s facing.

Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin’s open records law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university professors. But there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like.

Someone like Mr. Cronon can stand up to the pressure. But less eminent and established researchers won’t just become reluctant to act as concerned citizens, weighing in on current debates; they’ll be deterred from even doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.

A tad bit overheated? Sure. But it’s just this sort of focus on the results of an FOI request, with no thought given to why such laws are so important in the first place, that gives me pause. If both parties start using FOIA to carpet-bomb one another, the bipartisan value of open government loses fans. And that worries me.


The New York Times weighs in on the Wisconsin email issue…

Nothing here to advance the story, but love the quote from Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council:

“I’m pleased to see the Republicans making use of the open records law because they are as entitled to it as everyone else in the state,” said Bill Lueders, the president of theWisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit group that supports open records and open meeting laws.