Last week, the names of around 200 professors across the U.S. appeared on a watchlist that is meant to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom”.
The list was created by non-profit organization Turning Point USA, which was founded by right-wing supporter Charlie Kirk, claiming on its website that “students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls”.
Matt Lamb, who manages the website for the group, told The Chronicle that the watchlist was merely one of many resources available to prospective students to help them decide which university to attend.
Lamb compares the watchlist to sites such as the Campus Pride Index, “a national listing of LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities”, adding that the list would “make it easier for students to know what’s going on”.
What it’s like to be named to a watch list of “anti-American” professors: https://t.co/3qeN1JxLCN
— Chronicle (@chronicle) November 23, 2016
The group doesn’t think that the watchlist in any way threatens professors’ right to express themselves – on the site, it says it “will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish”.
Academics happen to disagree – especially after the sudden spike in racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic attacks following President-elect Donald Trump’s win.
Some, however, are finding humor in the situation. McGill University associate professor Nathan C. Hall came up with the hashtag #trollprofwatchlist, encouraging others to submit fake entries featuring fictional characters.
— C. Dodds Pennock (@carolinepennock) November 21, 2016
— Emer McHugh (@emeramchugh) November 21, 2016
— SarahRRunge (@TwoOneSix216) November 22, 2016
— Mark Konold (@markkonold) November 27, 2016
Speaking to Buzzfeed News, Hall said: “Starting a fun hashtag that allowed academics to showcase their creativity while also thwarting the site’s efforts seemed the most positive way to inform academics about how this site represents the increasingly uncomfortable influence of politics on academic freedom.”
But beyond the jokes, there is a sobering sense of concern.
The watchlist also includes a photo and profile of each professor on the list, many of whom were put there for speaking out about issues related to gun laws and racial discrimination.
Biology professor Greg Hampikian of Boise State University in Idaho told The Chronicle that he was added to the watchlist for penning a satirical op-ed for The New York Times about Idaho’s campus-carry law, in which he asked the state’s lawmakers when he could shoot his students.
“They are putting normal people on the list, that’s what’s frightening. That should wake people up,” he said.
— Rachael Krishna (@RachaelKrishna) November 23, 2016
Chenjerai Kumanyika, an assistant professor of communications at Clemson University in South Carolina, was put on the list for attending protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
He pointed out that people might use the list as their only resource and fail to conduct additional research about the professors it names.
3 SC professors on conservative group’s watchlist of ‘leftist’ teachers https://t.co/2I1gsvQQxq
— The State Newspaper (@thestate) November 29, 2016
Inabinet said professor listings “could result in threats or students choosing only professors who do not challenge their views”.
“It’s a terrible way to go about your education. Students should be exposed to new viewpoints.
“If lists like this are used to find professors that agree with a student’s viewpoints, it really defeats the purpose of what a university is about,” he added.