Jon Wiener: Wisconsin's Cronon Affair: The Power of a Simple Fact





[Jon Wiener teaches US history at UC Irvine. His most recent book is Historians in Trouble.]

More than a million people teach at colleges and universities in the United States, but only one faces a Republican demand for his e-mails: William Cronon, who teaches history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison....

The Republican Party of Wisconsin last week filed an open records request demanding access to any e-mails Cronon sent or received since Jan. 1 containing the search terms “Republican,” “collective bargaining,” “rally,” “union” or the names of eight Republicans targeted for recall by liberal activists. That seems to be legal under the state’s version of the federal Freedom of Information Act....

What provoked the Republicans was Cronon’s first-ever blog post, published at his new website, “Scholar as Citizen.” The demand for his e-mail was filed right after that appeared; thus that blog post provides the key to understanding why the Republicans want to stop Bill Cronon. It was titled “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?” Cronon’s post didn’t make a complex argument, the way his books do. Instead it presented a simple fact, pointing to a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model laws which are then introduced by Republicans in state legislatures—for example, laws eliminating collective bargaining with state employee unions. ALEC has been in operation since the seventies and claims its members introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation every year in all fifty states.

The power of this simple fact lies in the way it disrupts the Republicans’ explanation of what they are doing in Wisconsin. They say the new law there ending collective bargaining with public employee unions is an emergency response to this year’s fiscal crisis. They say it’s a response crafted by local Wisconsin state representatives to help their neighbors who are facing big new tax burdens. Cronon suggested that none of this is true: the law is not a response to the current fiscal crisis, it’s been a Republican priority for decades; it’s not a Wisconsin idea, it comes from a national Republican think tank. And the goal is not to protect the little guy in Wisconsin but rather to help the big corporations that fund Republican operations....


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Charles Lee Geshekter - 4/1/2011

There has been considerable AHA hand wringing and complaints about the FOIA request made of Prof. Cronon.

I would like to see the AHA just once remind its members of their legal obligation to uphold the various state mandates that when hiring new faculty, they do NOT discriminate against nor give preference to any candidate on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.

Let's start with California, Nebraska, and Michigan.......

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