Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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1/1/11: William Cronon ’90PhD

William Cronon ’90PhD recently compared his governor, Scott Walker, to another famous Wisconsin politician: Senator Joe McCarthy. The key similarity, Cronon wrote, is Walker’s “contempt for those who disagree with him.”

Count Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, among those who disagree—and as a target of what some commentators call a McCarthy-style attack. In what he terms an an “abuse” of Wisconsin’s open records law, the state Republican party wants to read all of Cronon’s e-mails since January that mention Walker, Republican leaders, or the public-employee unions that are locked in mortal combat with the Republican governor.

Cronon believes the GOP was inflamed by a blog post—which the professor labeled a “study guide”—that exposed national conservative influences behind the Wisconsin legislation stripping public employees of their collective-bargaining rights. Himself a public employee, Cronon is prohibited from using his state e-mail account for political activity. At the same time, state law protects confidential communications with and about students, and academic freedom protects faculty from political intimidation.

“It is chilling indeed,” Cronon writes, “to think that the Republican party of my state has asked to have access to the e-mails of a lone professor in the hope of finding messages they can use to attack and discredit that professor.” It may be little consolation that he is no longer alone: a Michigan think tank is now demanding similar e-mails from labor professors at that state’s universities.

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