Gov. Scott Walker, Univ. of Wisconsin & Prof. William Cronon

The Wisconsin GOP’s attack on UW history professor, William Cronon is consistent with the strategy Gov. Scott Walker implemented the day he was elected.

As I wrote last month, Walker will use his first two years to level his opposition.  The University of Wisconsin’s Madison Campus – in sight from the Capital knoll, six blocks away down State Street – is full of it:  liberal professors, students, unionized employees…. 
Upper Sandusky, Ohio: Former El Verso Cigar Factory 5/24/10

Attacking UW’s non-sports activities is a classic twofer: The Rs have few friends there and their base hates ‘elitists’, experts with whom they don’t agree.  (Take a look at my piece on Ohio State’s Prof. Lonnie Thompson.)

Last Sunday, Prof. Cronon published in the New York Times an essay, ‘A Radical Break’, criticizing today’s Wisconsin Republicans for rejecting their progressive history and yielding to their Joe McCarthyite tradition.  All in all, it’s pretty pallid.  It’s not something that would appear in his collected essays were it not for the reaction to it.

On March 17, five days before it appeared, the Wisconsin state GOP filed a freedom of information request of the University of Wisconsin which is a state school, remember:

 Under Wisconsin open records law, we are requesting copies of the following items:

Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.

 The names figure in the Wisconsin budget/union battles.

The purpose of the request was transparent.  On March 15, Prof. Cronon had published on a brand new personal blog (Scholar as Citizen) a lengthy post identifying the sources of the union-busting legislation and other bills in the hopper.  ‘Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here)’ is a model of a well-documented, precisely targeted web essay.

The FOIA-type request, which Prof. Cronon has not been shy about publicizing, has set off a huge reaction, including this morning’s NY Times editorial, ‘A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin.’

 But like an incautious August golfer with his clubs over his shoulder standing in the middle of a long, wide fairway, Prof. Cronon is the perfect the target for the lightening in the storm gathering around UW.

 As a scholar, he’s earned the admiration of his peers who elected him president of the American Historical Association.  Two of his fields, History and Environmental Studies, have little respect and less credibility on the Right.  One can only imagine the reaction were the Right to figure out what his third field, Geography, is about these days.

 The title of Prof. Cronon’s classic work seems to assert a position on climate: Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England (New York:  Hill &Wang, 1983).  Both it and his marvelous Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago & The Great West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991) examine humans in their physical and economic contexts.

 Making him an even better personification of Gov. Walker’s enemies, he is a UW graduate (and Rhodes Scholar) and not a member of any identifiable minority group – apart from historians, environmentalists and geographers.

 Using his state budget crisis as the excuse, Gov. Walker plans to split off the Madison Campus from the rest of the University of Wisconsin system.  More than one source has reported Walker will appoint a new board to oversee Madison.  Specifically, the Madison State-Journal reported on Feb. 24, ‘UW-Madison would be governed by a 21-member board of trustees — 11 appointed by Gov. Scott Walker….’  One can guess his influence on the other 10 appointments.

 Early this month, Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, commented to the LA Times on the Wisconsin budget battles, ‘What you’ve got is a governor who’s come in with a great appetite for achieving his ends.  This is far more about power than it is about money.’

 So it is.  And, Gov. Walker continues to follow his strategy.  Very successfully.


 H/T: Josh Marshall, the founder/proprietor of where I first read about the attack on Cronon.  Marshall’s grace note on Prof. Cronon’s scholarship and its importa­nce to him I share.  I check TPM twice each day.

Near Augusta, Wisconsin: Fall Plowing 11/15/10