“I am dangerous not to America but to the people soon to be in charge of it.”
So says one of roughly 200 college professors recently named to a conservative website’s “Professor Watchlist“—a round-up of academics accused of “discriminat[ing] against conservative students and advanc[ing] leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The list is based on “pre-existing news stories,” though readers are encouraged to “submit a tip” if they become aware of “professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”
The list, which first appeared on November 21, is a project of right-wing non-profit Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a group whose stated mission “is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”
According to a blog post written by the organization’s founder and executive director Charlie Kirk: “Throughout the next 120 days, Turning Point USA will be running ads to make sure students, faculty, and administrators see that these professors made the Professor Watchlist…We believe these people need to be exposed.”
Earlier this month, in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential win, Kirk told Fox host Sean Hannity that the surprise victory was in part due to “the political correctness wave that swept across this country.”
“Donald Trump was so effective at being able to speak to middle Americans that are fed up with the safe space-spreading on college campuses, the microaggressions, the trigger warnings,” the young conservative said. “College has become a place where they want everyone to look different but think the same.”
But in the context of a Trump administration, Kirk’s watchlist has been decried as “irresponsible,” “frightening,” and “poised to inflame the tinder-dry, gasoline-soaked pitchforks of a mob that has just stepped boldly into the light.”
As longtime University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Robert Jensen wrote of his inclusion on the watchlist:
It would be easier to dismiss this rather silly project if the United States had not just elected a president who shouts over attempts at rational discourse and reactionary majorities in both houses of Congress. I’m a tenured full professor (and white, male, and a U.S. citizen by birth) and am not worried. But, even though the group behind the watchlist has no formal power over me or my university, the attempt at bullying professors—no matter how weakly supported—may well inhibit professors without my security and privilege.
“The president-elect’s clear lack of respect for the First Amendment and one of his surrogates calling internment camps a ‘precedent’ for a national Muslim registry makes the existence of such a list chilling and dangerous,” Ashley Dejean wrote for Fusion.
“It would’ve been humorous a few months ago,” Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology at Boise State University, told the Chronicle of Higher Education after finding himself on the list. “It’s not funny now.”
But while Kirk told Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman that the aim of the watchlist “is not to threaten or harm the professors,” Schuman wonders “whether the intentions of his watch list make a difference—and whether this is a bell that can be unrung.”
“It doesn’t matter if the site wasn’t meant as a No-Goodnik Intellectual Kill List one dayafter Richard Spencer and his Jungen screeched Heil Trump,” she wrote. “Intentionally or not, the Professor Watchlist, simply by being a self-styled watch list, has aligned itself with the ugly, frightening new political status quo.”
This is, indeed, a turning point in our country, a time of fear unprecedented on this continent since the Second World War. Fear of being placed on a list, targeted as undesirable, and subjected to whatever happens next. It’s a time to fight the impulse to create a watch list, no matter how mad you are that some angry feminist professor gave you a B-plus. If you’re a reasonable conservative living in this country two weeks after the election of Donald Trump and you really want to reach out to impressionable young people who loved The Fountainhead, there are plenty of ways to do this that do not involve placing targets on backs.
Still, other academics merely see the existence of the list—and their inclusion on it—as par for the course.
“Personally, I regard being included on such a list as a badge of honor—like being on Richard Nixon’s ‘list,’ which existed when I first came to Rutgers,” said history professor Norman Markowitz in an email to NJ.com, in which he also compared the watchlist to rolls created by the 1938-75 House Un-American Activities Committee in its attempts to investigate allegations of communist activity.
“The strategy was first defamation and second guilt by association,” Markowitz said.
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