Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed piece today is about William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin. Not only has he written in his blog against conservative policies, but he also wrote a column for the NY Times criticizing the governor of the state!
So the GOP has now filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get access to all his university email that has one or more of a large number of words in it, including the names of some state officials. Krugman notes:
If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.
You might think that the moral of this story is, If you don’t have tenure, don’t write political attacks in the NY Times. (Cronon does, but even with his security, he could be worried about what those who control the university through funding decisions might do next.) But that’s not quite right. You had better skip attacks in blogs too, or so we should learn from the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, who took on Brian Leiter’s reproaches to those involved in attacking collective bargaining rights.
Leiter’s own cautionary tale is here. It involves threats against the President! More happily, there have also been apologies or retractions from those doing the smearing. The moral here might be: don’t take on a philosopher! Just remember, though, Leiter’s relatively secure, despite what could be read as a particularly nasty reference in the WSJ about where money for professors comes from.
So am I joking about being careful if you don’t have tenure? Of course. Nonetheless, it is a sad that some university administrators are really not keen on having moneyed and/or powerful members of the public angry with the university.