Academic Freedom: R.I.P.

The Wisconsin Republican Party was so threatened by a recent blog post and NY Times op-ed from University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon, that they filed to recieve copies of all of Cronon’s emails. Cronon detailed connections between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the present Republican administration in Wisconsin, who seek to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, and ultimately reduce them to the status of poorly paid interns.

ALEC receives funding from a wide range of shady groups including the American Nuclear Energy Council, the American Petroleum Institute, Coors Brewing Company, Texaco, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, VISA, Exxon Mobil, the National Rifle Association, Amway, and, of course, the infamous Koch Brothers.

William Cronon

One would assume, of course, that upon recieving the emails, smear professionals will scan the entire data base for scandalous tibdits that, when taken out of context, will ruin Cronon’s credibility. The results of this Republican led data mining experiment will be used to generate a case to fire him as a state employee or, at the very least, publicly make his life completely miserable and unlivable.

Cronon is like anyone who might read this blog. Given that many associated with this blog are at least in some way connected to either academic institutions or free thought and expression, I believe that we all have much to worry about.

Cronon’s recent experience reminds me of the recent arrest of political science professor, Dr. Blessings Chinsinga of Chancellor College in Zomba, Malawi. Dr. Chinsinga, referring to the at that time recent political uprisings in Egypt, pointed out that Malawi’s ongoing problems with fuel shortages, food insecurity and the lack of foreign exchange could one day prompt similar uprisings in his country. Word reached the office of President Bingu wa Mutharika, who had Dr. Chinsinga arrested at his home, detained and questioned for hours.

The state has little to no legal grounds on which to prosecute Dr. Chinsinga. However, his arrest and detention are clearly intended to intimidate, defame and publicly humiliate a potential critic of an political group determined to hold on to power.

Rather than sow the seeds of true democracy, Mr. Mutharika and the Wisconsin Republican Party have sowed the seeds of totalitarianism, taking points directly from the playbooks of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. Those three are certainly extreme examples. It is doubtful that the WRP will send Cronon for reeducation, nor have Cronon killed. However, the precedent is already there. Given the ugly, extreme and polarizing nature of modern day American politics, if intimidation of public citizens is to be accepted as fair political game, then it is only a matter of time before intimidation turns to true retaliation.

In contrast to the United States, faculty at Chancellor have gone on strike to protest Dr. Chinsinga’s detention. Malawian students have taken to the streets to demonstrate in favor of academic freedom and the public expression of criticism and independent thought. Students at Chancellor College have endured violent repression by police, multiple riots have ensued and arrests plentiful. To my knowledge, American students, like many Americans, are disturbingly quiet on the subject of political suppression of written dissent.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

2 responses to “Academic Freedom: R.I.P.”

  1. TeacherPatti says :

    I’m screwed if this is the trend. I don’t abide people who post anonymously (unless it’s a consistent screen name, like “dragon” on, and even then I’m not 100% comfortable with it) and I don’t want to do that. (Yeah I know I don’t use my last name in my screen name but I think folks know it :))

  2. Pete Larson says :

    I guess I’m out, too.

    I agree! I was watching a documentary recently on chip implants and came to the conclusion that the best way to counter big brother like surveillance and political fallout is to be as above board and open as possible.

    I use my real name for everything, no matter how brainless or ridiculous my opinions may be. If it comes to ruin my burdgeoning career in politics (jk), so be it.

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