Professors who go off on left-leaning political rants in their classrooms may now end up on a national “watchlist”—and those professors aren’t happy about it.
The site, Professor Watchlist, is a project of the conservative college group Turning Point USA, and is designed to “identify and expose…professors who have demonstrated liberal bias.”
The site features truncated biographies for professors reported to “advance a radical agenda” through their work. Transgressions could include everything from discriminating against known conservative students, to browbeating their classrooms with political rhetoric, to participating in social justice campaigns on campus, like “Check Your Privilege.” Each profile has at least one link documenting each respective professor’s crimes against intellectual freedom.
The site, for example, includes Prof. Melissa Click, who threatened to call out “muscle” on a student journalist for filming an on-campus demonstration at the University of Missouri, and a Russian history professor in Texas who tried to derail an effort to let students with concealed carry permits bring weapons on campus.
Many of the professors on the list are happy to shout down conservative students, harass and bully students claiming to be Republican voters, and crack down on distressing-yet-temporary “chalkings” on campus property (at least one even considers her position on the list a badge of honor). But several claimed to the New York Times that the watchlist, even in its rudimentary form, is chilling their right to free speech.
One professor at Kent State University, Julio C. Pino, told the NYT that it was a play at Donald Trump totalitarianism. “What we are seeing with this site is a kind of normalizing of prosecuting professors, shaming professors, defaming professors…What kind of country is America going to become in the next four years?”
He also tells reporters that the bare bones nature of the site distinguishes it as a first step in capitalizing on the “political climate.”
Pino is one of the professors listed in TPUSA’s directory, for having called Israel the “spiritual heir to Nazism,” and for facing an FBI investigation into potential ties to ISIS. He claims that he has no ties to the terrorist organization.
Another listed professor, from the University of North Dakota, says he’s not as concerned about being on the list as he is that “crazy people” who read the list will consider his presence on it permission to attack him verbally and physically. “I worry about people who feel they can attack me, attack my family and do damage to my property to create mayhem to advance their bigotry.”
When asked whether the site promotes violence, TPUSA said “absolutely not.” “We find that question to be completely unsupported by evidence or any factual basis,” TPUSA’s President Charlie Kirk noted to local North Dakota media.
The American Association of University Professors was quick to label the site “concerning,” and linked it to a series of historical efforts aimed at silencing political speech on campus. “The AAUP has spoken out against organizations that conduct these kinds of activities going back to the 1920s, when it was the American Legion, through the 1980s, when it was an organization that called itself Accuracy in Academia,” its spokesperson told Inside Higher Ed.
For their part, however, Turning Point USA says that the site is the ultimate expression of free speech and consumer choice. “Professors can say whatever they want,” a spokesperson told NYT. “Other people can report it, and we can compile the reports.” Students can then search the site to determine whether being conservative in class will cost them their GPA.
Of course, if all a professor has to do is exhibit liberal bias to get on the list, the list is going to get very long very quickly.