Posted by | March 29, 2011 10:28 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Just over a week ago, William Cronon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and the President-Elect of the American Historical Association, wrote an op-ed lambasting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for breaking with a long Wisconsin tradition of openness and transparency.  Days later, a Republican request for Professor Cronon’s emails came to the University of Wisconsin.  There are many reasons to be disturbed by this.  Paul Krugman touches on a few:

If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.

The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become.

By all indications, Professor Cronon will emerge from this donnybrook just fine.  His book sales have skyrocketed and his job is safe.  As he said in his own brilliant response:

I don’t think it would be easy for Republican state officials to fire me—and even if they did succeed in hounding me to resign, I have no doubt that I could easily get a job at another university where I would actually earn a lot more money.  (I’m very far from being one of those mythical Wisconsin workers who is earning lots more money by virtue of being a public employee; I could almost certainly increase my salary a great deal by moving to a private university in another state.)

But what does this do to others who want to speak out?  Few people have the job security or the prestige of a William Cronon.  The message this sends to others, is if you speak out, be prepared to be destroyed.  A right to free speech doesn’t do any good if it comes with this kind of cost.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.