Danger Alert: Professor Watchlist!

I first heard about the Professor Watchlist this weekend when there was a flurry of emails on a faculty news group at Villanova.

If you have not heard of the Professor Watchlist (and I’m guessing you have not, as it only came into existence November 21), here is a description from its web site:

The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. This website is an aggregated list of pre-existing news stories that were published by a variety of news organizations throughout the past few years. While we accept tips for new additions on our website, we only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported somewhere else. Turning Point USA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.

The Professor Watchlist is a project of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization that says its mission is to educate students about “true free market values.” Charlie Kirk, its founder and executive director, wrote in a blog post that “it’s no secret that some of America’s college professors are totally out of line” and that it was time to expose them. Currently there are over 150 teachers listed.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sent an email out to its members stating, “this website (Professor Watchlist) poses a clear threat to academic freedom. Over the past century, such lists have been used to harass and intimidate faculty, and have a chilling effect on academic freedom and free speech. The AAUP opposes those who seek to curtail academic freedom and stands in solidarity with colleagues who have been singled out by this website.”

I spent some time today going through the list, and while there are probably some faculty listed whose views I might disagree with, I don’t think such a web site is appropriate.

Hans-Joerg Tiede of the AAUP notes that the site serves to intimidate individuals from speaking plainly in their classrooms or in their publications.

Julio C. Pino, an associate professor of history at Kent State University in Ohio who is among those named on the site, said in an interview, “What we are seeing with this site is a kind of normalizing of prosecuting professors, shaming professors, defaming professors.” Pino also notes that the site could have been created to capitalize on the political climate, particularly after the election of Donald J. Trump.

Some faculty have taken an innovative approach to protesting the site.

More than 100 faculty members at the University of Notre Dame say they want their names added to Professor Watchlist. Here is the letter they sent to Professor Watchlist:

Dear Professor Watchlist,

We, the undersigned faculty at the University of Notre Dame, write to request that you place our names, all of them, on Professor Watchlist.

We make this request because we note that you currently list on your site several of our colleagues, such as Professor Gary Gutting, whose work is distinguished by its commitment to reasoned, fact-based civil discourse examining questions of tolerance, equality, and justice. We further note that nearly all faculty colleagues at other institutions listed on your site, the philosophers, historians, theologians, ethicists, feminists, rhetoricians, and others, have similarly devoted their professional lives to the unyielding pursuit of truth, to the critical examination of assumptions that underlie social and political policy, and to honoring this country’s commitments to the premise that all people are created equal and deserving of respect.

This is the sort of company we wish to keep.

We surmise that the purpose of your list is to shame and silence faculty who espouse ideas you reject. But your list has had a different effect upon us. We are coming forward to stand with the professors you have called “dangerous,” reaffirming our values and recommitting ourselves to the work of teaching students to think clearly, independently, and fearlessly.

So please add our names, the undersigned faculty at the University of Notre Dame, to the Professor Watchlist. We wish to be counted among those you are watching.

Most sincerely,

It’s a clever response, sort of like a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, except in this case joining them is a way of beating them.

Part of the flurry of email at Villanova the past couple of days has been a call for Villanova faculty to do the same; currently there are no Villanova faculty on the list.

The New York Times notes that others took to Twitter to highlight parody submissions, such as Albus Dumbledore from “Harry Potter” and the Professor from the television series “Gilligan’s Island.” The submission for the latter character read in part: “Spent almost 30 minutes building a working radio out of coconuts but failed to maintain a working signal in the end.”

It’s always nice to see some humor.

My guess is that this site will fade into oblivion in a relatively short time period. In the meantime, I’ll be checking the site to see if the Notre Dame faculty get added to the list; I think that would be a victory for the faculty.

*image from snopes.com


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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