Like thousands of other historians, I have admired Bill Cronon's scholarship for years and think the Wisconsin GOP was nuts to go after his emails through a public-records request of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the epitome of the solid scholar and far from the evangelizing radical I bet the Wisconsin GOP was hoping to find evidence of. But that attempt is continuing: Somehow, the Washington Post thought the right person to comment this weekend was Naomi Schaefer Riley, who appears to be trying to slime Cronon in an attempt to sell a book. Well, I guess we all have to make a buck somehow.
Was the public-records request a fishing expedition? Absolutely. An attempt to intimidate other faculty? Possibly. A close relative of the Virginia attorney general's attempt to look for wrongdoing in Michael Mann's research when he was at the University of Virginia? Definitely. But I was less horrified than others, probably because I live in a state with a much broader public-records law. The university can remove emails that are about individual student matters, but I suspect that our general counsel's office wouldn't have the same leeway that the lawyers in Madison do to exclude emails because there is no balancing test in the Florida public-records statute.
I suspect that the majority of public-records requests made of my university have come from reporters and others with clearly public need, but I have also known requests (including from some faculty around the state) appeared to be fishing expeditions. I'm pretty tepid on university email, I have personal email, and like Cronon I know the difference. It's disturbing the first time a public-records request happens that requires you divert time from what your main job is, and I am not sure if my desensitization at this point is something to be proud of or worried about. But I haven't blogged about this because I'm still mulling the larger issues over.