Philosophers on the Professor Watchlist (Updated)


The “Professor Watchlist” is a website listing professors who someone has thought “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The list was created by Turning Point, a student-oriented non-profit organization which takes as its mission “to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

That an organization which purports to promote limited government would produce a tool that would be of such help to politicians on McCarthyist benders—or that in this era will predictably encourage degrees of online harassment that foster further government interference in people’s behavior—are ironies apparently lost on its leaders.

What gets a professor on the list? It’s unclear what the standards of evidence are. There’s an accusation form anyone can fill out, but it is uncertain whether being named on such a form is necessary or sufficient for inclusion on the list.

Some philosophy professors are on the list. They include:

  • Arthur Caplan (NYU)
  • Gary Gutting (Notre Dame)
  • Amber Katherine (Santa Monica College)
  • Peter Singer (Princeton)
  • Lawrence Torcello (Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Jack Russell Weinstein (North Dakota)
  • George Yancy (Emory)

(If I missed any philosophers on the list, please let me know.)

The nature of the accusations against these professors suggest that Turning Point is not exactly what they say they are. While they describe themselves in rather libertarian terms, they hardly seem interested in a Millian marketplace of ideas. Rather, what seems to exercise them a fair amount are accusations of racism and sexism, along with criticism of Republican politicians. For example, Art Caplan is on the list for saying that Trump’s immigration plan “should be viewed in the repugnant tradition of Hitler.” I guess they think plans for massive deportations and wall-building are compatible with limited government.

Inside Higher Ed has an article on the list here, including discussions of reactions by individual professors and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

UPDATE: A message from Alison Jaggar (Colorado), whose name was on an earlier version of the list:

A few days ago, I was told that my name had been included on a new Campus Watchlist, whose advertised mission is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The entry under my name seemed to have been taken directly from David Horowitz’s 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, because it contained the same errors of fact and the same emphasis on a few sensationalized words pulled out of context from a 400 page book that I published in 1983. Today I cannot find my name, so I wonder if someone noticed that, in nearly fifty years of teaching, no student has complained of leftist propaganda or political discrimination in any of my classes.

Regardless of whether or not my name is listed, my response is the same. No one belongs on the Campus Watchlist because no such list should exist. The Watchlist’s claim “to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish,” while simultaneously aiming to chill any speech that it deems “un-American,” is a prime example of Orwellian newspeak. We remember how the term “un-American” was used for repression in the mid-twentieth century and must resolve never to return to practices of surveillance and witch-hunting that undermine our commitment to the core values of free thought and speech, not only in academia but everywhere in the United States.

 

 

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