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March 31, 2011

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Jack, if you read the same TPM webpage that I did, you might have come across an angry comment from an opponent of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It read something like, "Somebody should FOIA all of Governor Walker's email! And then, they should FOIA the email from these people who are FOIAing the professors!"

The comment was hysterical, for two reasons about which the author seemed clueless.

The first bit of cluelessness is that Governor Walker has been FOIA'ed. The Isthmus, an alt/liberal weekly tabloid in Madison (much like the Detroit Metro Times, which features columnist Jack Lessenberry, who is far less restrined than Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry) long ago did a FOIA seeking all of Governor Walker's emails concerning the Budget Repair Bill. And then, the Isthmus and the Wisconsin Press Association sued Governor Walker, to make that FOIA stick. So, yeah, the union-left knows a thing or two about FOIAs for e-mails.

The second bit of hilarity is the notion that anyone could or should FOIA private email. (Like, say, the suggestion for a FOIA of email at the Mackinac Center.) You can't FOIA private communications. Nobody should be able to FOIA non-public documents. And that is assuredly not what is happening in this case. There is a code of conduct for how professors and other university staff are supposed to use their .edu accounts. Politicking is not one of the permitted uses.

This is not a restraint on free speech. This is not a witch hunt. This is not any sort of unfairness. Universities do get FOIA requests. The University of Michigan has a very nice, very capable FOIA officer, whose job it is to respond to FOIA requests and to help University staff cooperate with those requests.

Even a liberal-minded newspaper like the Detroit Free Press is, on a more or less weekly basis, peppering the University of Michigan with FOIA requests. My last foray in this regard was checking on the FOIAs submitted by the Free Press with regard to its own witch hunt against former Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez and all of his staff. The breathtaking reach of those FOIAs make this request look like small potatoes by comparison. if you think that the Free Press wanted documents including emails, you'd be correct.

Now, if indeed there were University staff members using their .edu mail accounts to do personal politicking; well, they know (or they should know) that was wrong. But even though it was wrong, I don't think anybody supposes that the Mackinac Center wishes to get in the business of disciplining college faculties.

More likely, Mackinac wants to make a political point, about a very public, very important political debate. A point that is of concern to all citizens who may be interested in the Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio debate over public sector labor relations. (A debate that is so important, it will likely take place in California, New York and perhaps half of all the other states.) It is a debate in which many in academia have deliberately inserted themselves.

And if Jack Lessenberry will permit me a personal comment; I have in the past exchanged a few emails with him. Without exception as far as I know, I have used my private .aol email account, and I have always used his private .aol email account. And that is just as it should be. As Jack Lessenberry rightly notes it should be. Jack Lessenberry is correct that someon like him, who has by all accounts operated properly with respect to .edu email, has absolutely no concern with a request like this one.

As to any claim that the Mackinac Center is now engaging in any sort of illegal or unethical or threatening conduct with the current FOIA; that is baloney. Coming from the left wing that has made frequent use of FOIAs whenever it suited the left (see, Governor Walker's FOIA), it is especially hypocritical baloney.

It's telling that the first response -- a lengthy, personalized one -- would come in support of this speech-chilling fishing expedition by someone who chose to remain anonymous.

Eric, if you've got a specific issue with anything I've written, by all means let us know about it.

Or you can blog about it at your website, MichiganLiberal.com.

Personally, I'd sort of like to attach my name to this, because I stand by eevry word of it. But in the current climate, lots of people in the private sector have reason to fear the wrath of union intimidation.

Take, for instance, Jim Parrett, the "Field Rep." for Council 24 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in southeast Wisconsin. Who just sent a letter to scores of small regional businesses in that area, informing them that they'd be the target of union boycotts if they failed to put up workers' rights signs in their windows. Neutrality, it seems, was not enough. The AFSCME threat was going to business owners who hadn't even taken a public stand one way or another about the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill.

So, yeah. Maybe Jack was right after all. There might really be an issue of speech-chilling intimidation going on. Just not the sort of intimidation he was talking about.

And, for Jack Lessenberry; the thoughts of another Jack (Shafer) at Slate.com:

http://www.slate.com/id/2289891/

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