William Cronon is about as distinguished an academic as you will find in the United States. The Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he obtained a doctor of philosophy degree from Jesus College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. He’s also holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an M.A., MPhil and PhD from Yale.
Cronon has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and written books, such as Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (Hill and Wang), which have been broadly recognized as paradigm shifting studies of American history and ecosystems.
In the best “Wisconsin Idea” tradition, and old progressive principle that said University of Wisconsin professors should share their knowledge with the people of the state, Cronon has been a public intellectual of the highest order. He and I have shared many platforms and microphones over the years, and I have always been honored to be in the company of so serious, so thoughtful and so generous a scholar.
Because he in an engaged intellectual, rather than a distant and disconnected one, Cronon has observed the great debate over Governor Scott Walker’s assault on labor rights and related attempts to consolidate power with a sharp eye. And Cronon has contributed to that debate in the best tradition of the public intellectual, developing a “Scholar as Citizen” blog that, among other things, examines the role played by Washington-based think tanks and corporate-friendly advocacy groups in shaping Governor Walker’s policies and agenda.
“After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges—ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on—I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from,” Cronin wrote in his first blog entry.
The professor developed a study guide at the website that asked questions and provided answers about the activities of the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group organized almost forty years ago by movement conservatives to influence lawmaking in the states. “The most important group, I’m pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft “model bills’ that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)”