“When faculty members use eMail or any other medium to develop and share their thoughts with one another, they must be able to assume a right to the privacy of those exchanges, barring violations of state law or university policy,” she said. “Having every exchange of ideas subject to public exposure puts academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is created.”

In her statement, Martin encouraged UW faculty to “continue to ask difficult questions, explore unpopular lines of thought, and exercise your academic freedom, regardless of your point of view.”

Cronon had not responded to an interview request from eCampus News as of press time, but in an April 1 post on Scholar as Citizen, he thanked UW for its support during the controversy and briefly discussed the ramifications for academic freedom.

“My colleagues at colleges and universities across the country … have joined me in expressing strong concern about the threat to academic freedom represented by requests of this sort, but expressions of concern do not by themselves solve the difficult challenge of figuring out how best to balance the genuine public interest represented by freedom of information and open records laws on the one hand, and privacy, academic freedom, and First Amendment rights on the other,” he wrote.

Cronon joins a growing list of professors targeted by conservative organizations during the escalating national debate over public-sector labor unions.

The Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy on March 30 filed FOIAs seeking eMail messages sent and received by faculty at Michigan State University, Michigan University, and Wayne State University.

The Mackinac Center defended its information requests in a blog post, saying FOIAs remain an “important tool for monitoring our government” and adding that the organization “has no intention of curtailing that use in the future.”

The group’s FOIA asks for eMail messages sent by faculty and staff in the universities’ labor studies departments that include words such as “Wisconsin,” “Scott Walker”—Wisconsin’s Republican governor—and “Maddow,” presumably referring to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

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