OAH Speaks Out on Academic Freedom and Defends University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor William Cronon

Historians in the News

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians, led by President Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History at Columbia University, issued a statement on March 30, 2011, supporting academic freedom and deploring the recent efforts of Wisconsin politicians to intimidate OAH member and professor William Cronon. Cronon, a professor of environmental and U.S. western history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been thrust into the spotlight for his March 15, 2011, blog post and for a subsequent op-ed piece in the New York Times critical of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker.


The Statement

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians deplores the efforts of Republican party operatives in the state of Wisconsin to intimidate Professor William Cronon, a distinguished and respected member of our organization and currently the president-elect of our sister association, the American Historical Association. As a professional historian, Professor Cronon has used his extensive knowledge of American history to provide a historical context for recent events in Wisconsin. Requiring him to provide his e-mail correspondence, as the Republican party of Wisconsin has now done, will inevitably have a chilling effect on the capacity of all academics to engage in wide public debate. The timing and character of the Freedom of Information Act request for Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence leave no doubt that the purpose of this request is to use the authority of the state to prevent William Cronon from freely exercising his rights as a citizen and as a public employee.

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Thomas Andrew Owings - 4/2/2011

Why hasn’t the Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians given the reader the necessary context needed to make informed judgments? William Cronon is a lifelong Democrat Activist and while the Executive Committee has gone on and on about the Republican’s political agenda, they fail to even mention Conon’s lifelong partisan activities.
If these types of political statements are going to be made by the Executive Committee they should at least make some attempt at objectivity and at least acknowledge that not all members share their political goals or Union self interest. Failing objectivity they should make known to the reader their political agenda. Maybe the the Executive Committee, Alice Kessler-Harris and R. Gordon Hoxie should review their notes on Historiography 101 and reread E.H. Carr’s What is history? This is about politics not academic freedom and the OHA should confine its efforts to scholarly endeavors not politics.