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FOIA requests raise concern over academic freedom

Controversy continues to swirl around collective bargaining rights--and the protests that recent legislation has sparked--in Michigan and Wisconsin.

At issue now is a number of Freedom of Information Act requests done by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The requests have been made for information on faculty at Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.

Some critics are claiming that the FOIA requests are being used to intimidate college professors from participating in pro-labor protests.

However, FOIA requests have been used strategically by groups affiliated with both sides of the political spectrum.

Here's more from an article in Commentary Magazine:

Another request has gone out about whether professors on a state payroll used their offices to play partisan politics; and the political left is again screaming about the end of academic freedom. In the wake of the controversy over inquiries into whether a University of Wisconsin professor who has been a vocal participant in the union/GOP squabbles in that state used his taxpayer funded perch to do so, a Michigan think tank is asking the same question about academics at a number of state-supported institutions in that state. The Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy about professors at the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State Universities is drawing predictable screams of horror from those who think these probes are intended to silence critics of Republicans who have advocated for changes in collective bargaining by public employee unions. The New York Times quotes Greg Scholtz, the director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors as saying that this “will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. We’ve never seen FOIA requests used like this before.” That sentiment was echoed by William Cronon, the Wisconsin academic who has been put under the same sort of scrutiny. He says that the desire of some to find out what he and his Michigan colleagues are doing is making him angry. He maintains he’s innocent of any wrongdoing and also thinks that the requests are in some way a violation of his academic freedom. In an editorial on the subject, the Times even claimed that such inquires will hamper the ability of academics to conduct research.

Find the rest of the article here.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio News

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