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NEA president condemns efforts to stifle academic freedom

WASHINGTON - April 01, 2011 -

The National Education Association (NEA) strongly condemns efforts by the Wisconsin Republican Party and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan to intimidate professors in those states’ institutions of higher education.  The two groups submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to examine professors’ personal emails.

The following is attributed to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should not be used to intimidate or promote political agendas. These fishing expeditions create a climate that chills academic inquiry and threatens academic freedom. How is our society served by putting tape over the mouths of the very people who ensure an open dialogue?  Higher education faculty members have the First Amendment right to speak out on matters of public concern, and that includes voicing their opinions about political activities and pending legislation. Everyone benefits when scholars explore ideas, find facts and discuss different points of view.

“The preservation of free speech and academic freedom is also supported by the courts. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that the personal emails of school employees are not subject to disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.  Just last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in a similar FOIA case.

“FOIA undeniably plays a critical role in our system of checks, balances and accountability. With that in mind, the public must also hold politicians accountable for wasting valuable time that should be spent getting budgets back in the black, creating jobs and improving schools. It’s time to stop making politically motivated, burdensome requests and instead focus on the priorities that are important to working families.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Ramona Parks-Kirby  (202) 822-7823,