Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Professor Watchlist: "A Sign of the Amazing stupidity of the Post-Truth Era"--Sophia A. McClennen

“…[M]aking America whiter ‘again’ is not the only thing we need to fear with a Trump administration. Only two days after the alt-right convention in D.C., Turning Point USA launched Professor Watchlist, a website designed to call out college professors who ‘discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.’

“…Trump’s inability to handle any sort of critique and his bullying of reporters and the media all suggest that we are about to enter an era of censorship, threats to free speech and other forms of suppressing dissent. When the ‘liberal’ media come under attack it generally isn’t long before the ‘tenured radicals’ come under fire, too.

“Turning Point’s founder and executive director Charlie Kirk wrote a blog to explain that the purpose of the list was to expose professors who are out of line: ‘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.’ The 22-year-old closes his post with the chilling phrase: ‘We believe these people need to be exposed.’

“Each listing on the site — 200 professors so far — includes a photo. Clearly the website is less about documenting issues and more about public shaming and potentially targeting. The watch list is a sign of the right’s new McCarthyism. But it’s also a sign of the amazing stupidity of the post-truth era.

“Today’s McCarthyism combines the red scare witch hunts of the 1950s with the 1980s attacks on multiculturalism of the culture wars and the post-9/11 loyalty tests. But Trump-era McCarthyism has further added the novelty of cyberbullying and a post-truth, fake news lack of connection to reality...

“The problem with the list — besides its more than obvious McCarthyist witch-hunt tactics — is that it’s really stupid. It makes claims that have no basis in reality. It exaggerates. It creates crisis where there is none. And worst of all, it promises to increase conflict rather than improve it.

“In fact, one of the greatest ironies of the list is that it proves that Kirk really should consider going to college. Apparently he has taken some college-level courses, but they clearly haven’t taught him some really basic critical reasoning skills. If he had studied history, logic, evidence and reasoning, his list might be less idiotic…

“Kirk’s list is based on flimsy information that simply doesn’t support his claims that there is a problem of left-wing professors discriminating against conservative students… Kirk apparently can ignore this history, probably because he hasn’t studied it in college. But he even forgets the precedent set by his own sources. Much of his site directly references a number of the already existing resources that police liberal faculty. For instance, many of the faculty on Kirk’s list also appear on David Horowitz’s Discover the Networks. Horowitz leveraged the post-9/11 culture of fear to launch his ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ and claim that college students were indoctrinated by left-leaning faculty. He later published ‘The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Professors,’ which argued that many U.S. professors were anti-American.

“Kirk doesn’t only forget history and his sources. He also doesn’t seem to understand that there is a difference between what a faculty member does in the classroom and his or her extramural speech, social media posts and research. As Jensen explained in his piece about the list, much of the ‘proof’ offered of faculty bias does not come from classroom encounters. In fact very little of it does. Instead Kirk’s list cites tweets, essays, books, blogs, published op-eds and other off-campus activity as evidence of faculty discriminating against students in the classroom.

“And Kirk fails to appreciate the fact that faculty are citizens, too. They can tweet and post articles on Facebook and write op-eds. They can express political beliefs, rant about racism and express dismay at the election of Donald Trump on their own time. As the University of Illinois had to learn after it rescinded a job offer to Steven Salaita in response to some of his tweets, extramural speech can’t be taken to stand in for classroom behavior.

“There is no necessary correlation between classroom conduct and the actions of a private citizen. Most of the list’s examples have nothing whatsoever to do with a faculty member in the classroom. This makes it a perfect example of McCarthyism in the post-truth era. But the stupidity doesn’t end there. Kirk joins a long line of hysterical conservatives who freak out that faculty members are indoctrinating students, but there is no evidence to back up any of their worries. In fact all the research on student political beliefs and college show that faculty do not influence their students at all. A 2008 article in The Guardian ran down a series of studies, all of which concluded that faculty members are not indoctrinating anyone.

“Matthew Woessner, a conservative faculty member who has conducted some of this research explained, ‘There is no evidence that a professor or lecturer’s views instigate political change among students.’ Instead, the research shows that when students engage with faculty, their views moderate. If students lean more left or right over the course of college it is typically a result of student activities and peer interaction.

In other research Woessner further found that Republicans and conservatives, while vastly outnumbered in academia, ‘were, for the most part, successful, happy, and prosperous. Fewer than two percent of faculty (Republican or Democratic) reported being the victims of unfair treatment based on their politics.’ While this data reflects faculty not student attitudes it does show that ideas of bias against conservatives in academia is also exaggerated.

“Other research shows that if there are political biases in the classroom, they come from students and are directed at professors. In a 2006 study by Woessner and his wife, they found ‘that when students perceive a gap between their political views and those of their instructor, students express less interest in the material, are inclined to look less favorably on the course, and tend to offer the instructor a lower course evaluation.’

“Of course it is a great irony that the right champions the classroom concerns of conservative students. Most of the time, the mantra of the right is to disparage the whiny, coddled college student. In yet another sign of Trump-era hypocrisy, when the whining is about attacks on conservatism, it is legitimate. If it is in relation to Black Lives Matter, students apparently need to get over it…

“…[A]ll campuses have protections for students who feel they are suffering bias or discrimination. As a Penn State spokeswoman interviewed about the watch list explained, ‘If students in a classroom believe that an instructor has acted beyond the limits of academic freedom, there are policies and procedures in place for seeking a faculty conference and mediation.’ The idea that students don’t have protections on campus is ludicrous as well.

“It is also clear that Kirk has never studied statistics because his list does not offer a statistically relevant sample.  In 2013 there were 1.5 million faculty members at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. Kirk’s list has found a whopping 200 folks that purportedly are a threat to conservative students. Assuming that the 2013 number of faculty has mostly held steady, Kirk’s database represents .013 percent of all the faculty in the nation. It is a textbook example of a data size that is irrelevant. It literally proves the point that this is a nonissue. But in the land of post-truth hysteria one example is all it takes to freak everyone out.

“So Kirk’s list is a sad, pathetic and seriously stupid sign of the sorts of concerns that occupy the minds of the rising new right. It is easy to joke about it — and many have.  Shortly after the watch list was launched and Kirk called on students to submit tips, a new hashtag emerged on Twitter — #TrollProfessorWatchlist — and it included submissions of Harry Potter characters, a Trump University lecturer and Jesus Christ.

“The hashtag is a great way to push back on the inanity of the list, but it is a mistake to miss its dark, chilling side, too. What Kirk and others like him do is perpetuate a myth about the ‘dangers’ of higher education that facilitates attacks on the value and meaning of college education. Make no mistake: Behind Kirk’s vendetta is a desire to destroy public higher education and replace it with a neoliberal privatized model that looks a lot like Trump U.

“State funding for higher education is down about $10 billion since the recession. Today more than half of all faculty members are adjuncts, who often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some professors make less than 50 cents an hour and far too many find themselves on food stamps. As public funding has gone down, student tuition bills have gone up, leaving students carrying a debt burden of more $1 trillion. Nearly 4 out of 5 college students are working part-time while studying for their degrees, averaging 19 hours a week.

“That is the real scandal of higher education, not the trumped-up charges that faculty members are harassing conservative students. Maybe now that Kirk’s list has been outed as a baseless witch hunt, he will consider going back to school and learning from the very same professors he supposedly finds so frightening.”

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics


  1. From George Yancy:

    “…I want them to lose sleep over the pain and suffering of so many lives that many of us deem disposable. I want them to become conceptually unhinged, to leave my classes discontented and maladjusted… So, in my classrooms, I refuse to remain silent in the face of racism, its subtle and systemic structure. I refuse to remain silent in the face of patriarchal and sexist hegemony and the denigration of women’s bodies, or about the ways in which women have internalized male assumptions of how they should look and what they should feel and desire.

    “I refuse to be silent about forms of militarism in which innocent civilians are murdered in the name of ‘democracy.’ I refuse to remain silent when it comes to acknowledging the existential and psychic dread and chaos experienced by those who are targets of xenophobia and homophobia. I refuse to remain silent when it comes to transgender women and men who are beaten to death by those who refuse to create conditions of hospitality.

    “I refuse to remain silent in a world where children become targets of sexual violence, and where unarmed black bodies are shot dead by the state and its proxies, where those with disabilities are mocked and still rendered ‘monstrous,’ and where the earth suffers because some of us refuse to hear its suffering, where my ideas are marked as ‘un-American,’ and apparently ‘dangerous.’

    “Well, if it is dangerous to teach my students to love their neighbors, to think and rethink constructively and ethically about who their neighbors are, and how they have been taught to see themselves as disconnected and neoliberal subjects, then, yes, I am dangerous, and what I teach is dangerous.”

    —George Yancy

  2. In my classroom, students learn that I am passionate about searching for truth; that there exists a vast chasm between knowledge and belief; and that any method of investigative research should take on continuous questioning, re-evaluation, and revision. During classroom discussions, I often posit controversial and contrary ideas to spur my students to inquiry and debate. In doing so, I hope to challenge and encourage each one of them to devote the time and energy necessary to think these matters through – without telling them what to think.

    In my classroom, my students’ experience is the direct result of my own incessant learning: Plato, Hume, Mill, Wittgenstein, Shakespeare, Joyce, Kafka, and Camus, among so many others, show us that truths are elusive and relative, that nearly all beliefs are fallible and provisional, and that both truth and belief require unrelenting proof or analysis.

    With a fundamental commitment to human rights, founded on philosophical principles and ideals, I challenge my students—through literature, philosophy, history, psychology, poetry and science, and through their own writing—to pursue a life based on reason, logic, critical thinking, compassion, empathy, humility, integrity, dignity, political and social justice, responsibility, mutual respect, and life-long learning.

    Works, both classic and modern, are presented to explore concepts such as determinism, freedom of choice, the nature of reality, knowledge, ethics, and our moral responsibility towards one another and the rest of the natural world. My favorite authors reveal that we are each responsible for who we are and what we will become, and that the human experience is, consequently, complex and varied with many meanings because each one of us can create his or her future.

    These are the values at the center of my core beliefs. What I have learned about the craft of teaching is that the teacher’s character and competency have a recurring impact on a student’s life and so, as I challenge my students, I must constantly challenge my own beliefs with rigorous inquiry, meta-cognition, and review.

    In my classroom, learning is a discovery process shaped by analysis, reflection, and application. We become aware that we are all teachers and learners. My goals as a teacher are to take a student’s potentiality and to make it an actuality; to teach my students to think and investigate critically, to question unremittingly, and to discover purpose through meaningful action.

    My students justify what they believe with evidence and describe how they arrived at their conclusions. They distinguish between facts and opinions and between relevant and irrelevant claims. They determine the factual accuracy of their statements and learn to detect bias and fallacious reasoning commonly found in argumentation. They ask themselves why some beliefs can be exempt from empirical confirmation while other beliefs undergo rigorous a posteriori proof.

    They examine their reasons for supporting their particular opinions and question the efficacy of their beliefs’ practices (for there are some dogmas that advocate violence, terrorism, subjugation, misogyny, ethnic cleansing, and racial hatred). I want my students to confront such thinking and impede those who hold such viewpoints. I want my students to be dynamic and to be appalled by hypocrisy and indifference, by arrogance and injustice, and the unreasonable certainty that they or someone else might believe that he or she possesses the absolute truth.

    -Glen Brown

  3. Once you tamper with the truth and instead turn to right-wing propaganda, the end is near. This would be true in a far-left movement as well--but that's not what we have right now--it's the alt-right and a man who is absolutely incapable of being president. Get rid of the media, get rid of thinking teachers, harass those who disagree with you, remove facts, replace them with fear and hate of others, and we're done--unless we all stand up and fight.

  4. This is beyond belief! Our society is crumbling!

  5. (Sarcasm alert, here, because, these days, it's difficult to separate satire & sarcasm from the serious.)
    I am surprised, Glen, that both you & Mike Klonsky are not on this list.
    Clearly, the list authors didn't do their homework.
    Both of you are a threat to decent society!!

  6. Professor Watchlist
    Turning Point USA

    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,

    The Faculty at the University of Notre Dame

  7. Most sincerely,

    Encarnación Juárez-Almendros, Spanish
    Ani Aprahamian, Physics
    Francisco Aragon, Institute for Latino Studies
    Doug Archer, Hesburgh Libraries
    Carolina Arroyo, Political Science
    Katrina Barron, Mathematics
    Kevin Barry, Kaneb Center
    Christine Becker, Film, Television, and Theatre
    Gail Bederman, History
    Patricia Blanchette, Philosophy
    Susan D. Blum, Anthropology
    Catherine E. Bolten, Anthropology and Peace Studies
    John G. Borkowski, Psychology
    Bruce Bunker, Physics
    Elizabeth Capdevielle, University Writing Program
    Matthew Capdevielle, University Writing Program
    Robert Randolf Coleman, Art, Art History & Design
    Brian Collier, Institute for Educational Initiatives
    Philippe Collon, Experimental Nuclear Physics
    Michael Coppedge, Political Science
    David Cortright, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
    Mary D’Angelo, Theology
    Antonio Delgado, Physics
    Denise M. Della Rossa, German
    Michael Detlefsen, Philosophy
    Tarek R. Dika, Program of Liberal Studies
    Jane Doering, Gender Studies
    Jean Dibble, Art, Art History & Design
    Margaret Anne Doody, English
    Kevin Dreyer, Film, Television, and Theatre
    John Duffy, English
    Amitava Krishna Dutt, Political Science
    Stephen M. Fallon, Program of Liberal Studies and English
    Stephen Fredman, English
    Christopher Fox, English
    Judith Fox, Law School
    Mary E. Frandsen, Music
    Jill Godmilow, Film Television & Theatre
    Karen Graubart, History
    Stuart Greene, English and Africana Studies
    David Hachen, Sociology
    Matthew E.K. Hall, Political Science
    Darlene Hampton, First Year of Studies
    Susan Harris, English
    Randy Harrison, Hesburgh Library
    Anne Hayner, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
    Peter Holland, Film, Television, and Theatre
    Romana Huk, English
    Charlice Hurst, Mendoza College of Business
    Lionel M. Jensen, East Asian Languages and Cultures
    Debra Javeline, Political Science
    Claire Taylor Jones, German and Russian
    Michael Kackman, Film, Television, and Theatre
    Asher Kaufman, History and Peace Studies
    Mary Celeste Kearney, Film, Television, and Theatre; Gender Studies
    Micha Kilburn, Physics
    Janet Kourany, Philosophy
    Thomas Kselman, History
    Greg Kucich, English
    Rev. Donald G. LaSalle, Jr., First Year of Studies

  8. Daniel Lapsley, Psychology
    Erin Moira Lemrow, Institute for Latino Studies
    Neil Lobo, Biological Sciences,
    George Lopez, Peace Studies
    Cecilia Lucero, First Year of Studies
    Collette Mak, Hesburgh Library
    Julia Marvin, Program of Liberal Studies
    Maria McKenna, Institute for Educational Initiatives and Africana Studies
    Sarah McKibben, Irish Language and Literature
    Erin McLaughlin, University Writing Program
    Joyelle McSweeney, English
    Stephen Miller, Music
    Ann Mische, Sociology and Peace Studies
    Leslie L. Morgan, Hesbuirgh Library
    Brian O’Conchubhair, Irish Language and Literature
    Lisa Oglesbee, Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures
    Kathleen Opel, Notre Dame International
    Jessica Payne, Psychology
    Catherine Perry, Romance Languages and Literatures
    Dianne Pinderhughes, Political Science
    Pierpaolo Polzonetti, Program in Liberal Studies and Sacred Music
    Margaret Porter, Hesburgh Library
    Clark Power, Program of Liberal Studies
    Ava Preacher, College of Arts and Letters
    William Purcell, Center for Social Concerns
    Benjamin Radcliff, Political Science
    Steve Reifenberg, Kellogg Institute for International Studies
    Karen Richman, Institute for Latino Studies
    Charles Rosenberg, Art, Art History & Design
    Deb Rotman, Anthropology
    David F. Ruccio, Arts and Letters
    Valerie Sayers, English
    Catherine Schlegel, Classics
    Roy Scranton, English
    Susan Sharpe, Center for Social Concerns
    Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Biological Sciences and Philosophy
    John Sitter, English
    Cheri Smith, Hesburgh Library
    Donald Sniegowski, English
    Thomas A. Stapleford, Program of Liberal Studies
    James Sterba, Philosophy
    Susan St. Ville, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
    Maria Tomasula, Art, Art History & Design
    Steve Tomasula, English
    Ernesto Verdeja, Political Science
    Henry Weinfield, Program of Liberal Studies and English
    John Welle, Italian
    Michael Wiescher, Physics
    Pamela Wojcik, Film, Television, and Theatre
    Christina Wolbrecht, Political Science
    Martin Wolfson, Professor of Economics Emeritus
    Danielle Wood, Center for Social Concerns