Why Federally-Funded Academics Should Seriously Consider Blogging Pseudonymously

A few weeks ago, Glenn Greenwald gave a speech where he discussed the climate of government intimidation in the U.S.:

I received a lot of comments from people via email, from people in person telling me at my attended events, from people in my comment section, American citizens who said the following: "I understand and agree with the idea that Wikileaks has a lot of potential to do good, but I'm actually afraid of donating money, because I'm afraid that I'm going to end up on some kind of a list somewhere; or that eventually I will be charged with aiding and abetting, or giving material support to a terrorist group."

This was not one or two people who tended toward the pole of paranoia saying these things. These were very rational people, and there were a lot of them. Some long-term readers whom I knew to be quite sober in their thinking. The fear that they were expressing was somewhat pervasive. That, to me, was extraordinarily striking: that these were American citizens who were afraid to donate money to a group whose political aims they supported; who had never been charged with, let alone convicted of any crime who felt like they were going to end up on some kind of government list, or possibly be charged with aiding and abetting or giving material support to terrorism.

In light of that, comes this chilling tale of targeting University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon who publicly opposed Republican governor Scott Walker:

Earlier this week, Cronon published an Op ed piece in The New York Times that contained a scathing attack on Walker and the Wisconsin GOP, alleging that their anti-union proposal represents a radical break from Wisconsin history. Cronon also posted a blog entry that alleged that a little-known conservative outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which tries to engineer right-wing policies in state legislatures, is behind the Wisconsin anti-union push.

Shortly thereafter, Cronon says, the University of Wisconsin's attorneys received a request from the Wisconsin GOP, under the state open records law, for copies of a huge amount of Cronon's emails sent from his state account at the university. That request is posted right here. Tellingly, the Wisconsin GOP asked for Cronon-authored emails that contain a range of union-related keywords, such as "AFSCME," "collective bargaining," "recall," etc....

Cronon theorizes, based on the keyword requests, that Wisconsin Republicans are trying to catch him in violation of state university rules by using a state email account to engage in "lobbying and electioneering to try to unseat these Repubican legislators." In other words, he says, Wisconsin Republicans want to damage him professionally in response to his criticism of them.

"That's what they're hoping to find," Cronon says. "They're trying to intimidate me. What they're saying is that if an academic raises these kinds of questions, we're going to make his life really uncomfortable. Intimidating people from asking legitimate questions is a McCarthyite tactic."

Movement conservatives, since the days of Donald Segretti and the other 'rat-fuckers', have always done this. They don't reconsider or rethink, they regroup and rearm. Their only rule is that there are no rules. They get away with these scorched earth politics, in part, because we present ourselves as targets. Pseudonymity is a way to speak your peace, and not be retaliated against.

Just something to consider, especially if your career--and livelihood too--is dependent on federal funding.

Case in point: The Republicans are now claiming they're being intimidated.

Troll-be-gone: This isn't about being called names (if you can't handle that, then the open bloggysphere probably isn't for you). It's about ruining people's ability to pay the rent, simply for being in the political opposition.

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The obvious parallel with McCarthy just hit me the other day. It is chilling.

It's about ruining people's ability to pay the rent, simply for being in the political opposition.

Oh, come on - how can you claim they're singling him out by that? Republicans are busy trying to ruin everybody's ability to pay the rent, they're only trying to do to him first what they'll do to everyone else later.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 26 Mar 2011 #permalink

I'm torn, but for once I really have to give the Republicans a pass, for one reason and one reason only: the Freedom of Information Act. I'd much prefer that public university faculty have to go through the tiny inconvenience of not using their academic email address for political uses than see FOIA weakened any more than it already has been. In this day and age it's really only a tiny inconvenience to avoid using university owned computers and phones at all when communicating. If preventing a state-employed political appointee from running a PAC or a re-election campaign out of his state-paid-for computer and office means professors effectively can't use their university supplied email addresses to coordinate with labor leaders about political tactics, I think I'm OK with that.

While this is certainly intimidation, it isn't McCarthyism - unless you think McCarthy was somehow in favor of government transparency.

As Cronon has pointed out, any student e-mail containing (say) the word "Republican" would be subject to this request. Such e-mails need not be for "political purposes" (remember Cronon works on *American History*). In fact Cronon maintains that he has already not sent any e-mails "for political purposes" from his faculty e-mail. The real problem is that the request may dredge up all kinds of confidential emails to students, concerning students, concerning tenure evaluations, etc. These are things that should not have to go through a personal e-mail account like a gmail account. They are appropriate for a work e-mail account.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 27 Mar 2011 #permalink