Several Michigan State University professors have been asked to submit months worth of e-mails to the Mackinac Center, a public policy think tank that claims to protect the best interests of Michigan residents. The professors say they're being treated unfairly. But the Mackinac Center says its just doing its job.
"They've requested all of our e-mails for the last three months that contain the words: Wisconsin, Madison, Scott Walker, Collective Bargaining or Rachel Maddow," said Michelle Kaminski, associate professor for Human Resources and Labor Relations at MSU.
Those words are seemingly harmless on the surface, but they have made a handful of MSU professors in the Labor Department the target of an investigation by the Mackinac Center.
"It feels a little like finding out your phone has been tapped," said Kaminski. "You've been going about doing your job and suddenly somebody wants to see everything you've done."
Ken Braun, managing editor for the Mackinac's online news site says, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were first sent to Wayne State University's Labor Department.
"The one we were primarily interested in was the Wayne State Labor Studies Center which has been running what looks like a political action committee out of their department rather than a teaching and research university or department," said Braun.
Braun said as recently as Monday, Wayne State's mission statement for its labor studies center included phrasing such as "designed to assist progressive organizations in their campaign needs, building coalitions, mobilizing for aggressive political action."
Braun: "These are not the sort of things that teaching and research professors normally are associated with."
Braun added that the Center wants to see if there are any e-mails between the universities that would suggest any kind of political activism agenda.
"A whole lot of tax dollars go to these public universities and when they're doing things outside their mandate, potentially not legally of their mandate or against the law itself, we have a right to ask questions," said Braun.
Many professors at MSU understand a need for boundaries when using university resources, but some say the Mackinac Center has gone too far.
"I certainly understand if I'm accused of any kind of wrongdoing that they think I've done some wrong, they've got the right to look at it," said Kaminski. But that's not what this is about. The Mackinac Center is on a fishing expedition to find out stuff they don't like or agree with."
"We don't care what their opinions are," said Braun. "We care about whether they are using their taxpayer resources properly and not entering improperly into political action committee-like material."
"I believe it's just an attempt to harrass and to silence people, to intimidate them, make them think twice before they speak out and express their opinions," said Kaminski.
To read more on the Mackinac Center's stance on its FOIA request, click the link below.