Under the Dome

WCU professor’s email a hot commodity

A Western Carolina University faculty member has posted more than 100 pages of her own email on a blog, scooping the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, which had submitted a public records request for her correspondence.

In the past few days, links to Laura Wright’s blog – The Vegan Body Project – have circulated on Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday, she said, more than 6,000 people had read her normally obscure blog.

At issue was the controversy at WCU last year over the establishment of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise, which was to be funded with a proposed grant of $2 million from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation. Charles Koch and his brother David Koch are known for funding conservative, libertarian, pro-business and anti-regulation candidates and causes. The center was endorsed by WCU Chancellor David Belcher and approved by trustees late last year, despite a 21-3 vote in opposition by the university’s Faculty Senate. The faculty had expressed concerns about the proposed center’s cost, lack of peer review and potential threats to academic freedom.

The Pope Center’s Jay Schalin, as well as the Charles Koch Foundation and several area media outlets in the western part of the state, requested the emails of professors involved in the debate, including Wright, who is an associate professor and head of WCU’s English department.

Wright said she wanted readers to see her email in its entirety, rather than whatever the organizations might choose to publish. She redacted the names of people with whom she corresponded, unless they had given their permission for the emails to be published.

In her blog post, Wright joked about the Pope Center wanting her email, which largely consisted of Wright’s forwarding media coverage of the debate.

“And here I am, a really excellent target: a postcolonialist ecofeminist, whose latest book is about veganism,” she wrote. “I am the antithesis of everything that Schalin, the Pope Center, and the Charles Koch Foundation want to see in an educator. I’m also, apparently, scary.”

Joking aside, Wright said Thursday that the email requests had chilled an atmosphere of open debate on campus.

“People will talk, but no one’s going to put anything in writing because of these requests that were made,” Wright said. “I think this is what everybody was afraid of.”

Update: A spokeswoman for the Charles Koch Foundation said the foundation asked for the same public records that the Smoky Mountain News requested.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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