Published April 4, 2011
Should the emails of professors at public universities be subject to open records requests?
That’s the latest subplot emerging from ongoing union turmoil in the Midwest, as heard on Morning Edition today. After a noted University of Wisconsin professor questioned the GOP agenda, the state Republican party submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the professor’s emails that contain the words “union,” “recall” and [Gov.] “Scott Walker.”
A few days later, a conservative think tank in Michigan filed a request for emails pertaining to the Wisconsin debate from labor studies faculty and staff at three state universities.
“I think that politicians are trying to intimidate academics from speaking out on issues, especially those who are in state-related institutions,” said University of Kansas Prof. Randal Jenks.
Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, took his criticism further.
“These email requests, for me, were the first time I was willing to say this was a contemporary version of McCarthyism,” he said.
But Lucy Dalgish, of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said professors don’t have statutory protection. And the Wisconsin GOP, in a statement, said taxpayers have a right to know if public employees are conducting themselves in an ethical manner.
We’ve got a vibrant public university system here in Massachusetts — what do you think of the email records requests? Are claims of new McCarthyism legitimate, or hyperbolic? Have your say in the comments section.