Open Records Requests and Bullying

When I was at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I made the mistake of forwarding a message from a colleague about a student organization that was supporting the Dream Act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DREAM_Act). Someone working in my department who hosted a rightwing radio talkshow (she was later canned because of racist comments) and was very publicly anti-immigrant complained that my forwarding the email was a misuse of state funds. I didn’t respond to her aggressive email — as my partner put it, in a pissing match with a skunk, no one is going to win — but my colleague did and to make a long story short, this person made an open records request that any emails we had sent to each other concerning this matter be surrendered. I don’t recall exactly what I had written — I think something to the effect that my colleague should be careful in her dealings because the person in question was an anti-immigrant rightwing radio talkshow host. I think I also used “fear-mongering.” At any rate, I didn’t say anything that couldn’t have been empirically supported from statements she made on her blog or talkshow. The difference was that I wasn’t saying these in a public venue. She, however, blogged about this situation, using both our names, if I recall correctly.

Full confession : I didn’t like this person. Didn’t like her politics, thought she was unethical (as it turned out, there was good reason for this thinking), and that she wasn’t doing her job in the classroom very well. But I don’t have to like people to work with ’em.

The bullying, however, was a different matter. Apparently, she made a practice of requesting emails of those who had crossed her. The irony of this situation is that I had used my personal account for this correspondence– she only had access to  my messages because they’d been sent to someone’s UW account. I got the sense that UW administrators — and my former department — were too scared to make a fuss about her requests, fearing (rightly so) that she would make a fuss in the media.

When I read this piece, it brought back a lot of unpleasant memories from that time: http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-recordsattack-on-academic-freedom/. See also the article in the Atlantic  http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/have-you-no-sense-of-decency-the-wm-cronon-story/73010/.

I’m not sure that folks understand the extent to which this strategy has been used by the right in Wisconsin. I’d also like to hear more about how it’s been used in other states, because I’m sure it has been.

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3 responses to “Open Records Requests and Bullying

  1. Michelle Rodino-Colocino

    Thanks for sharing this, Carol. I think this all points to the necessity of putting our bloggage on a non-university site. Although in a sense, that is caving into using private resources for what should be open debate supported by academic freedom and public funds. I wonder what others think about university blogs? It’s really hard not to get “political” when discussing anything of importance regarding media ownership, representation, etc.

  2. Well, that’s kind of why I’m here and not on the UO server. But I think open records requests for email are even more problematic. I learned a long time ago at a particularly litigious institution that you shouldn’t email anything you don’t want to be a public record. But not everyone understands this.

  3. Michelle Rodino-Colocino

    I wonder what status responding on a gmail account to a university email occupies. Probably, private, yes? So is this also reason to fwd your university mail to your gmail (or whatever) and respond that way, just to un-subpoeana-able?

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