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.
At Inside Higher Ed, they include a screenshot of the submission page. I was struck by the bottom of the submission page:
“Upload Video/Photo Evidence (Optional)”
I remember seeing Alison Jaggar’s name on there the other day, but it appears to have been removed in the interim. I’m curious to hear about their criteria for removal of names, especially given that their criteria for inclusion are apparently quite weak and anecdotal already.Report
Yes, so anecdotal, in fact, that I propose we rename it, “What is it like to be a liberal in philosophy”Report
There is nothing McCarthyist about the Professor Watchlist, least because it has nothing to do with the government. It is no different than say, publishing a blogpost on academic philosophers who have endorsed Trump, and then publicly attempting to shame them into giving a defense of their support. Wouldn’t happen to know of any blogs that applies to, would you?
The main utility for this kind of website is to apprise students of a liberal bias they may observe in the classroom of a given professor. Often conservative leaning viewpoints are dismissed out of hand, or mocked, in classroom settings, so this is simply a tool to inform students of the road that lies ahead. Very often, these professors, having the benefit of a captive audience, like to ride around on a hobby horse or two. It would behoove the conscientious student to avoid these topics (or classroom landmines, as I conceive of them) lest he invoke the wrath of the teacher on his own head. You know, grades and stuff. Take as an example one of the professors you cited on the “watch list,” Peter Singer. Perhaps a student takes issue with the distinguished Dr. Singer on the latter’s insistence that babies should be able to be aborted weeks after having been born. In a pro-choice setting, of course, as most classrooms are, the dissenting student needs to pick her battles.
Perhaps you are unaware that conservative viewpoints are rare, vilified and often non-existent in academia. For instance Nick Kristof (no conservative he) tells us this in a column from earlier in the year, “Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent” (NY Times, May 7, 2016).
So to return to the point you attempted to make in your post, that the Professor Watchlist is decidedly hypocritical, that they are not “interested in a Millian marketplace of ideas,” I have something to say. Look around at your department, the comments (the ones you allow) on your blog, and the guest bloggers that you invite, and consider whether or not you are as open-minded as you profess. More importantly, I suppose, ask yourself if an impartial student in one of your classes could expect to find an even handed discussion of viewpoints. On the other hand, perhaps the same students would benefit from a tool such as the Professor Watchlist.Report
As far as I can tell, Singer’s on this list because he defends views that the site’s contributors disagree with. Even your example, Mos Volgi, is not one of Singer exhibiting bias against conservative students, but rather one of him presenting views that conservative students might feel unconfortable disagreeing with because they’re in a “pro-choice setting”.
Is the problem classroom bias, then, or is the problem that some people defend views you don’t like? If it’s the latter, then isn’t the only reasonable solution to present counter-arguments?Report
Thanks for the engagement. Yes, “if” it’s the latter.
What “grades and stuff,” is meant to imply is that there is a power disparity between a professor and student. Speaking against a fellow student is one thing, speaking out against a professor who gives no hint that he would countenance a conservative viewpoint, when that professor determines grades for assignments, the class as a whole, letters of recommendation, and more mundanely, day to day social comfort in the classroom, is imprudent to say the least. Whenever I would present liberal ideas in my classroom, for example, I would present them as strongly as I thought Noam Chomsky himself might, and I never mocked a point, and I would actively solicit objections to every point as I brought it up.Report
Is there any evidence that the philosophers on this list have mocked their students? Or, more generally, evidence that these professors diverge from the ideal that you claim to embody? The mere fact that these professors voice their own liberal views is not such evidence.Report
Mos Volgi writes ” Whenever I would present liberal ideas in my classroom, for example, I would present them as strongly as I thought Noam Chomsky himself might, and I never mocked a point, and I would actively solicit objections to every point as I brought it up.” This description suggests that if a list were to be put together of professors who stifle the speech of liberal students then Volgi wouldn’t belong on it, because of his or her scrupulous fairness to liberal ideas. Yet if the mirror image of this list did exist then Volgi would certainly be on it, because people are added based on their own views rather than the fairness with which they present other people’s ideas in the classroom.
If the real audience for this list was prospective students, then it would be entirely unnecessary. If you want to know what a professor thinks, Google his or her CV. If you want to know how your professor conducts classroom discussion or grades, look at RMP. I’m not sure who the audience for this list is, but I suspect that it may be those who have some time to kill and an anonymous email account.Report
Keep in mind that this list is not just for professors in a field which would be relevant to openly espousing left-leaning views, such as political science or sociology, say. It also concerns leftist chemistry teachers and physicist, for instance, whose rants are equally as annoying, but less forgivable than the zealous political scientist. Nothing about their CV would tell you this, nor do I think an average freshman would even know what one was. And if you don’t have a problem with RMP, I see little reason to object to this watchlist.Report
Whether we’re talking chemistry teachers or philosophers, the point remains that people are making the list not only or even primarily because of their classroom conduct but rather because of their own views. And while RMP has its faults, it’s a better way of warning students about poor classroom conduct by professors for at least five reasons. First, it’s organized in a way that facilitates students looking for faculty at their own university (as opposed to just seeing a list of names from across the nation). Second, it focuses on what happens in the classroom. Third, it contains claims about all aspects of a professor’s performance, not just her ideology. Fourth, it might also warn students about professors who unreasonably push a right-wing agenda in the classroom, and while that may be less common it happens. Finally, fifth, there’s a chance for other parties to rebut claims that are being made. This new list clearly seems to be designed to help people with a right-wing agenda locate faculty across the country with views that are to the left. People on the list will be fortunate if all that happens to them is harassing phone calls.Report
Mos Volgi, you observe that “conservative viewpoints are rare, vilified and often non-existent in academia.” If so, I would think that a list of liberal professors is going to quickly become unweildy. If a conservative student really wants the support of a like-minded mentor, he or she will probably need a list of conservative professors, not liberal ones.Report
All the more reason for a list of professors to avoid for such a mentorship. And as to a list of conservative professors, yes I am sure that tenure review committees would love to know they have a “real live” conservative that has escaped the loony bin.
From the Kristof piece I mentioned above, “The scarcity of conservatives seems driven in part by discrimination. One peer-reviewed study found that one-third of social psychologists admitted that if choosing between two equally qualified job candidates, they would be inclined to discriminate against the more conservative candidate.”Report
I guess the upshot of my comment, though, was that I don’t think the list was created to help marginalized conservative students. (A list of conservative professors–perhaps circulated surreptitiously to protect these professors from the wrath of their tenure review committees–would better serve that purpose.) I think the list is really there to intimidate liberal academics.Report
(And also, perhaps, to stoke conservative outrage.)Report
I will admit that that is probably true to some degree or for some people. If you admit that the same applies to your comments for the purpose of liberal virtue signaling. Yes Molly!Report
Amazingly in a country that has elected Trump, a majority of republican governors, senators, representatives, etc…that conservatives decry a bias in academe. That bias has, apparently, no influence at all ( apart from Hillary having 2 million more votes than THE DONALD). Once again, a theme I keep harping on as far as the media, there is no obligation on the part of newspapers, media, or professors to be neutral on everything. Take your media and professors for what they are — folks with viewpoints. If you can’t handle opposite views then you haven’t learned the art of debate and analysis. I had professors who opposed the Viet Nam war, and those who did not. But I listened to them all and made up my own mind. What is it with this generation that they cannot abide opposite views (and this is true of both right and left and everywhere in between). Grow up folks, it is not a world in which your view has to be supported or else it’s discrimination.
The extremists on both sides have a right to their views. You have the absolute right to respond. Neither you nor they have a right to respond with violence. Such is a democracy.Report
“If you can’t handle opposite views then you haven’t learned the art of debate and analysis.”
Responding to one form of speech (monopolized professorial speech) with another form of speech (a website pointing this out), is not a good example of not being able to “handle opposite views.” We are going to disagree on that one. Nor do I see what the electoral college has to do with bias in academia.
Your parting comment is at odds with what you say in the rest of your post, but I agree with it completely. “The extremists on both sides have a right to their views. You have the absolute right to respond.” This is exactly what the website, granted probably feebly, is trying to do.Report
I went ahead and submitted this:
To the Screening Committee:
Please consider me for your blacklist. Based on the reasons you have given for listing many other professors, I believe I would be an excellent fit with your other targets. Other successful candidates for your blacklist, such as Art Kaplan, have earned their place on it simply by criticizing president-elect Donald Trump. I really do appreciate blacklists with low barriers to entry, and I’m confident that soon your list will be overflowing with blackballed professors. You may have so many you don’t even know how to handle it!
In any case, let me state formally that I believe Donald Trump is a racist grifter. There, I believe I now belong on your blacklist.
J. Robert Loftis
Associate Professor of Philosophy,
Lorain County Community College.Report
You are the Man!!! Could not agree more!!Report
“However, Singer believes that all rights, including the right to life, should be granted to animals.”
I am laughing my ass off at the standards of accuracy here.
Also, the writing-level would make a lot of junior high students cringe:
“Caplan argued in 2015 that Trump’s tactics for gaining support was just like Hitler’s! “Report
I want to reiterate and emphasize the point in the pseudonymous comment above that the example of Peter Singer does not support Mos Volgi’s case. As “Not putting my name out” observes, it runs together the issue of a professor a controversial view, and how he or she handles alternative views from students. In the particular case of Singer, he also has a history of engaging alternative views respectfully. Last month for example he had a conversation at a bookstore with Conservative Princeton faculty member Robert P. George (see http://labyrinthbooks.com/events_detail.aspx?evtid=907&loc=). George is not a student, I know, but if Singer were really “wrathful” toward conservative views it is unclear why he would involve George in a promotional event for one of his books.
A deeper problem with the Singer example is that Singer actually agrees with the anti-abortion perspective on an important point: there are no principled grounds on which to distinguish the moral standing of newborn infants and fetuses. From Practical Ethics, Second Edition, pgs. 169-70:
“We have already seen that the strength of the conservative position lies in the difficulty liberals have in pointing to a morally significant line of demarcation between and embryo and a newborn baby. The standard liberal position needs to be able to point to some such line, because liberals usually hold that it is permissible to kill an embryo or fetus but not a baby. I have argued that the life of a fetus (and even more plainly, of an embryo) is of no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-awareness, capacity to feel and so on, and that because no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person. Now we have to face the fact that these arguments apply to the newborn baby as much as to the fetus.”
Note Singer’s reference to “the strength of the conservative position.” Also note how misleading it is to associate Singer with a standard pro-choice view. Pro-choice students exposed to Singer’s view, if anything, have a stronger claim to be scandalized by it than conservatives, as it challenges the notion that abortion is permissible but conditional parental infanticide in the case of severely disabled newborns is not.
Glancing at the entry on the Professor Watch List page I see it also gets his views badly wrong. “Singer believes that all rights, including the right to life, should be granted to animals,” for example, is a laughable summary of Singer’s theory of animal liberation, which eschews the idea of rights.
I agree that professors should not abuse their power over students by riding hobby horses. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is what the watch list is about. In its current form its main effect is to demonize academics like Singer, whose views the sponsors of the page cannot even bother to get right.Report
It isn’t normally my manner to gush, but—what an excellent reply!
I would be bludgeoning a dead horse by following your act with much more, but it deserves to be added that the structural contours of this watch list directly mirror everything about alleged “university PC culture” that conservatives routinely condemn. While it comes on with the trappings of guarding students from the excesses of rankly partisan faculty, in practice the guidelines are so flimsy and ad hoc (as you and numerous others have shown here) that the net result is to equate an admittedly predominant perspective among academics with classroom *enforcement* of that perspective. In so doing, they and their informants are ultimately attempting (poorly, it must be said) to place the expression of left-leaning views beyond the pale of serious consideration, which is precisely what they accuse faculty of doing with right-leaning views. The irony and self-serving myopia are palpable.Report
@Justin: Why would building a wall be incompatible with limited government? That thesis says that government should focus on core responsibilities and do them well. If you think border security is a core responsibility, you’re going to want government to pay attention to it even as you get it to draw back its other activities. (There’s an analogy to defense spending.)Report
There are at least two understandings of big government. One is when government takes on a lot of different responsibilities. Another is when it takes much-larger-than-necessary means to achieving what one takes to be “core” responsibilities. So even if you thought that preventing individuals from entering a territory without prior government approval is within the core responsibilities of a government, there is still the question about the means. Building Trump’s wall would be an enormous undertaking—it is a construction, land-acquisition, and employment project on a massive scale quite likely dwarfing the projects of the New Deal—and one that I understand many immigration experts doubt would achieve border security better than more modest approaches.
(All this is said in awareness of the relativity (size-wise, history-wise, etc) of “limited government” as well as the typically unacknowledged moralized deployment of this term by its advocates.)Report
When was border security what the USA was about? Think of the poem on the Statue of Liberty. The think of discrimination of the past, “No dogs or Indians allowed”, club restricted – no Jews, blacks need not apply, women need not apply…etc. The ask yourself, is that tradition what we want to continue, or is it the tradition expressed in the Statue of Liberty poem:
Give me…well, you can look it up.Report
This looks like an attempt to find “safe spaces” for delicate right-wingers. How dare ‘liberal’ professors challenge their conservative feelings!
But weren’t they supposed to be the “tough minded” ones?Report
Safe spaces, as far as I am aware, are meant to prevent the imposition of a view of a speaker onto an (overly) sensitive audience. This can be seen in attempts to block conservative speakers on campus, or by the use of trigger warnings. This is an abridgment of the speaker’s speech.
On the other hand, what often occurs in academia is that a captive audience is subjected to a set of views, explicitly or implicity, that cannot be challenged. This is an abridgment of the speech of the audience.
With that distinction drawn, if anyone is a special snowflake, perhaps it is not the student who is the unwilling object of a harangue. Or better yet, perhaps we should avoid using “special snowflake” as a kind of minimal effort caricature of the language of those with considered conservative beliefs.Report
This is a grave misunderstanding of safe spaces. The safe space idea– and by some of us it is still employed in this way– originated in two commitments. (1) The commitment to gay, lesbian, bi and transgender students that they could come into one’s office, be “out” and not risk be maligned on that account. I myself am in a department in which students would not be “safe” in this way in all of the faculty offices, and so gladly sport such a sticker on my office door. (2) The commitment to having on campus literal spaces in which members of socially subjugated groups can gather together and discuss common experiences.Report
“The safe space idea– and by some of us it is still employed in this way– originated in two commitments. ”
The origin of a idea does not determine it current usage, or even commonly held misuse. While interesting, I am not concerned with the definition of “safe space.” My point was concerned with Blain’s misunderstanding of the conservative mindset, although it is clear he was trying to be snarky, because he certainly was not advocating that those who are in need of a safe space should be mocked. At least by his lights, assuming he is a liberal, that is what he should be saying.Report
This site seems to have changed a bit in the past couple of days. When it first appeared, it laughably described itself as a way to check “if any of your professors have records of opposing freedom of speech on campus.” I guess it took a couple days for Turning Point to realize that they’d have to try a lot harder to get that propaganda to stick. One professor was listed as opposing freedom of speech because she publicly stated that she thought campuses would be safer if students weren’t permitted to carry guns.Report
Two professors from my state — Georgia — are on the list for merely expressing opposition to Georgia’s attempted campus carry law. Why does mere opposition to this proposed law reveal a liberal “bias”? Are *all* liberal views examples of liberal bias, regardless of the arguments that might be offered for them, or the reasons some individual might have for holding them? And what do these cases have to do with helping conservative students make judgments about what classrooms will be “safe spaces” for their views? I don’t expect answers. As far as I can tell, the “watchlist” is just a way of threatening professors who even *hold* liberal views.Report
FWIW, one of the professors I mentioned is no longer on the list. Her entry was nearly identical to the other entry, so I’m not sure why only the one was removed. Both are from the same school.Report
Moss Vogli– but the facts on the ground dispute that this list, and others like it, have anything to do with what conservative or right-wing students may reasonably expect in the classrooms of any of the named professors (a distinction between holding view x, and punitively treating students who do not hold view x or hold view not-x).
For instance, Peter Singer recently organized and ran a conference at Princeton in which, in a debate over reproductive choice, half the speakers were as vehemently anti-choice as any fan of Trump/Pence could possibly fantasize about. That seems to be pretty good evidence of respect towards alternative (radically alternative) to his own viewpoints.
Could we say the same of, for instance, the numerous vehemently anti-gay professors who have taken publicly anti-gay positions, some of them even running blogs spouting anti-gay ‘viewpoints’? Every single time a non-straight person worries even a little what the classrooms of these folks my be like for the gay students in them, conservatives scream discrimination, demand that we distinguish between positions advocated and classroom behavior.Report
You read my comment as closely as you read my name.Report
Well, that’s a new twist on the ad hominem, I’ll give you that Mos Volgi.Report
Let all sides be heard. Silencing anyone defeats the purpose of a university or college. But do keep it peaceful.Report
Yes, the watch list is foolish. I doubt that it will do much harm, though. A few closed-minded students won’t take classes with professors they probably wouldn’t have listened to anyway. I’m much more concerned by the very real problem we have in philosophy of some professors actually being politically partisan.Report
Here is parallel case which I am sure most of you already agree with.
There is a concerted effort to increase the participation and the hiring of women philosophers. Part of the rationale behind this effort is that the ratio of male
to female philosophers is too high. The male viewpoint and behavior, whatever they are, are over-represented. So to combat the injustice of the over-representation of male philosophers, there is a concerted effort to promote female philosophers. I take it that having a high ratio of male philosophers, as such, is unacceptably bad.
Now when it comes to conservative students, conservative professors, or even just conservative viewpoints on campus, we are not asking for special hires nor even that our viewpoints, as representative of much of the country, be better reflected in the faculty makeup. We often just want to be able to express our view. I can recall the times in class when I objected to every bad political example being a Republican, or advocating my belief in monotheism in an undergraduate paper. Needless to say, in these classes, my view was not engaged. It was an object of scorn, as the copious comments on my paper and the feigned deafness that my teacher treated my objection with showed. If you are asking, these are two different teachers in two different classes. And I have many more examples, in religion classes, sociology, multiple language departments, and of course, philosophy.
This watchlist website gives a voice to those who believe, based on their own experience, that conservative voices frequently find a way to be shut down. This watchlist website may or may not help to achieve a reversal. But to be quite honest, given the hostile reception to conservative ideas I myself have seen, I am not sure what else conservatives can do, other than, as the very word “watchlist” implies, get the information out there to current and prospective students.
If, within professional philosophy, women are excluded by the mere existence of a predominantly male status quo and are actively being supported to overcome this obstacle, then mutatis mutandis, within the academy conservatives are excluded by a predominantly liberal status quo. The only problem is, in the academy, conservative is the one minority status no one could give two bits about.Report
Mos Volgi, as others have pointed out upthread, the problem with your interpretation and defense of the watchlist is that inclusion on the list does not appear to be related at all to professors’ propensity to be dismissive towards conservative ideas. Many professors on the list—I’d guess the majority, based on the bit of random sampling I’ve done—are there simply for *expressing* liberal views, with no reference whatsoever to how they respond to students or colleagues who are conservatives.
Borrowing your analogy, this watchlist would be like if someone concerned about the underrepresentation of women in philosophy made a watchlist of ‘misogynist’ philosophers, where the fact that someone is a man is sufficient reason for being on the list.Report
Having liberal views, in my experience, and many others, is much more often than not accompanied by an inability to countenance an opposing view. I think this is unique to academia, and I doubt that these academics act this way outside of academia, unless of course they only hang with other academics.
Your analogy, however is somewhat flawed on this account. It concedes the point that just as misogynists seek to shut up women (f not, they are doing a poor job at misogyny!), so liberals seek to silence conservatives. Additionally, if there were a watchlist for real misogynists, this would immediately be grounds for termination, I think. In the case of a liberal watchlist, however, not only would there be no repercussions, but being on the list is actually a badge of honor within the academy. Just check Rob Loftis, a proud signatory of the list, in one of the comments above. Not only does his voluntary “outing” himself give the lie to the notion that anything bad can come of this list, it proves that being on the list can serve to virtue signal to other liberals in academia how brave it is to come out as a liberal in an institution that is overwhelmingly blue.Report
You’re not very good with analogies today, Mos.
In Jenkins analogy Liberal is analogous to simply being a man. The analogy to misogynist would be Liberal who treats conservatives horribly precisely because they are conservative, just as misogynists treat women horribly precisely because they are women.
I started to explain why the actions of folks like Rob are precisely in light of taking the threat posed by that list deadly seriously and then realized, with folks like you reading this, it’s probably best not to explain what we’re doing to counter the threat.Report
Yes, I am aware of the grave threat you as a liberal are facing in academia, because someone might slap your name on a website advertising your views. What will the administration, no doubt all Trump supporters, do when they find out?Report
Well, this is the sort of thing that’s already happening: https://twitter.com/chrislhayes/status/801220098283413505Report
It is your analogy, Mos Volgi, not mine. In SAT format, it goes like this:
LIBERAL : BIASED AGAINST CONSERVATIVES :: MEN : BIASED AGAINST WOMEN
You said that the under-representation of women in philosophy is in relevant respects similar to the under-representation of conservatives in academia. I’m granting that (only) for the purpose of argument.
You make this analogy in defence of a watchlist that purports to include professors who are biased against conservatives. So the analogy watchlist would be one that purports to include professors who are biased against women. That’s why I imagined a watchlist of ‘misogynist’ professors. In your analogy, that’s the parallel of being biased against conservatives.
But the watchlist we’re looking at does not directly reference bias against conservatives (analogy: misogyny). It references only the holding of liberal views (analogy: being male). Now from your last comment, it looks like you might think it’s reasonable to proceed in this way, because pretty much everybody who holds liberal views is biased against conservatives. But you’ve offered no evidence in favour of this assertion. (Anecdotes about individuals who are both liberals and biased against conservatives are not probative in this context, especially since—as you have emphasized—there are a great many people with liberal views in academia.) I note that the analogous assumption would be the assumption that pretty much all men are misogynists.
So I stand by my previous claim. Given your own analogy, the watchlist we are looking at is in relevant respects similar to a watchlist that says it’s for helping people look out for misogynist professors, but where people get placed on it just because they are men.Report
“I note that the analogous assumption would be the assumption that pretty much all men are misogynists.”
Most men are not misogynists, although I take it that many disagree with this assumption, especially in the current climate in philosophy, but that is a different post. To put it more clearly, there would be no problem with a man being a feminist, for example. Perhaps this would apply to you.
Liberals on the other hand are opposed to conservative ideas. This is part of the definition of a liberal. As opposed to the feminist male, you cannot be a liberal who is a conservative. Again, this would probably apply to you.
Unlike in the case of the “What’s It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy” Academic-Complex, (WILTBAWIPAC), however, you seem to be resistant to anecdotes. Or maybe you disapprove of that effort as well. At any rate, I think a difficulty you have is why conservatives feel it is difficult to share their opinions in academia. Do you not care, or do you dispute this fact? For instance, in Harvard’s Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service (28th edition, pg. 15), in response to the question, “I feel comfortable sharing my political opinions at my college without fear of censorship or negative repercussions,” while only 8% of Democrats disagreed with this statement, at a rate approaching 3x larger, 21% of Republicans disagreed. It’s probably just that Republican students haven’t gotten the memo, informing them how much the preposterously disproportionate liberal professors want to be contradicted in front of the class.Report
I engage with this slightly against my better judgement but:
Yes: insofar as believing X commits one to opposing not-X, then liberals are by definition opposed to conservative ideas. (Though even that works only if “liberals” are by definition committed to all and only liberal policy positions. I certainly define as “liberal” rather than “conservative” if you have to put me in one camp or the other, but I have fairly significant disagreements with some policies normally labelled “liberal”.)
But that’s not what’s relevant for your analogy. What’s relevant is: is it part of the *definition* of a liberal that they cannot treat conservative ideas, and conservative students, with appropriate intellectual fairness in class? And there the answer is fairly clearly no.
To run a non-political analogy: I frequently teach the interpretation of quantum mechanics, and I’m a strong advocate of a particular interpretation, and don’t particularly try to hide that. But it is still possible for me to (a) give an honest presentation of the objections that have been raised to that interpretation, and of other interpretations and their strengths and weaknesses; (b) avoid denigrating, intimidating or penalizing students who strongly disagree with my views. I’m reasonably confident that I actually *succeed* in (a) and (b), though you’d have to ask my students; in any case, whether or not I succeed, it’s possible.
It’s also possible (and, again, I hope actual) for me to teach the interpretation of quantum mechanics without (c) digressing into US politics at all, let alone in a way which creates a hostile environment for conservatives (or indeed, liberals or Marxists).
So: the problem that you’re concerned with in academia shouldn’t be liberal academics per se; it should be liberal academics who (a) fail to give a proper account and defense of relevant conservative positions when they’re teaching political topics; (b) fail to treat conservative students with respect and professionalism; (c) bring their political views into play in contexts where they’re not academically relevant.
For the record, I think these are genuine problems that could do with being more widely recognised, and that underrepresentation of conservatives in academia contributes to them. For exactly that reason, I regret this watchlist, which is counterproductive at best.Report
Mos Volgi, I am not disputing your claim that conservatives face discrimination and oppression in academia because, as I said above, I am granting it for the purpose of argument. The point I and many others have been making is very simple: there is a giant difference between (a) holding liberal views and (b) being hostile to conservatives. This watchlist, and your comments, do not seem to recognize this important distinction. Indeed, one would be forgiven for suspecting that either is in fact motivated in part by an attempt to undermine this important distinction. This is a harmful thing to do. If people don’t keep the distinction between (a) and (b) in mind, they may be tempted by the dangerous inference pattern: X holds liberal views; so X is biased against conservatives; so X is unfit to hold this position.Report
Also, Mos Volgi, a note about the analogy to the “What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?” blog. I think anecdotes are very useful for some purposes, and very unuseful for others. I think they are very useful for showing that discrimination and oppression and harassment and the like exist. I think they are not very useful for showing how widespread they are. The stories posted on that site make it clear that many women have had terrible sexist experiences in philosophy. They do not say much at all about how many people have behaved terribly towards women. For example, if (unlike the feminist philosophers I know) one wanted to make the case that almost all men in philosophy treat women terribly, pointing to that blog would not be probative. There would be lots of stories like those there even if only 10% or 1% of men behaved terribly towards women. One would need a different kind of measurement to establish this kind of statistical information.
Similarly, a long list of anecdotes about conservatives who have been discriminated against in academia would be good evidence that there is a problem with bias against conservatives. It would be very poor evidence for the assumption you need to make your argument make sense: namely, that almost all people who hold liberal views are hostile towards conservatives.Report
Surely one of the most important roles which philosophers can play in society is to challenge lazy platitudes and assumptions, including such distinctions as “liberal” and “conservative” or “left” and “right”. (I mean, does anyone seriously think that the seating arrangements of the 1789 National Assembly really provides a useful guide to moral and political philosophy?) So, while I’m no fan of Singer’s philosophical arguments, I think the fact that he manages to be both on this list AND very controversial among the disability rights community is much to his credit!Report
Hear, hear. It should be something like a badge of honor to get on one of these lists if you really feel passionate about the cause. At the same time, I suspect the passions people feel about these issues are misdirected by distinctions like ‘left’ and ‘right’ or ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ that include a whole bunch of presuppositions and implications that too often go ignored or unquestioned today. We should be paying attention to these things and questioning them.
When people who identify as one side or another are moving toward violence, or when identification with a political cause comes with an attitude of unquestioned condescension and condemnation upon the intellectual and moral character of those with whom one has a political disagreement, then it is well passed the time we philosophers start seriously revaluating the ideas and practices associated with our understanding of ‘the right’ and ‘the left’ today. And there is a common problem here that all educators face: that concerning how to respect private political disagreement in the academy while imposing on academics the proper professional responsibilities that come with being an educator. Again the kind of thing one might think philosophers would be especially suited to help sort out.Report
Eric Posner, Richard Posner and Ilya Somin were all on the “watchlist” when it first hit the news. All three are now absent. It’s quite interesting that three nominally conservative figures were edited out so quickly. That makes me think that this list has morphed into a list of liberal professors rather than the stated goal of being a list of professors who have hindered student free speech.
Btw…there’s already an organization for protecting student free speech, called FIRE, and they don’t have a watch list.Report
I do find it somewhat intriguing that many critics of this website here demand evidence of *explicit* bias against conservative students and ideas. I think they are quite right in demanding such evidence. The ecample of Peter Singer in particular is rather unhelpful to the “conservative” case, if we can call it that, as the man cannot be dismissed as biased against conservatives simply on the basis of his positive philosophical views.
But I wonder whether those advancing this critique here are similarly skeptical of “implicit bias” more generally. Couldn’t we say that the massive statistical over-representation of liberals in the academy makes implicit bias against conservative ideas very likely?
Mos Volgi importantly cites evidence from Haidt et al that many psychologists happily admit to explicitly engaging in anti-conservative discrimination in hiring. But plenty of research using IATs demonstrates strong evidence of implicit bias too along partisan lines.
Should those worried about implicit bias along other axes of “discrimination” be similarly worried about it in the case of partisan, anti-conservative bias?Report
I think the demand is for evidence of bias, not evidence of explicit bias. Evidence of implicit bias would satisfy me. What evidence is there that Peter Singer (or anyone else on the watch list) has from implicit bias against conservatives?
Here’s what is not such evidence: the fact you cite about psychologists *not* on the watch list admitting to bias. You also mention IAT research: Is there research demonstrating that a majority of liberals have biases against conservatives? And what types of biases in particular — associating conservatives with which concepts, for example?Report
Iyengar and Westwood (2014) is a place to start on the rise of bias across political identity (it of course runs both ways).
I’m not suggesting that there is evidence that any *particular* professor is implicitly biased against conservatives. Nor am I at all endorsing this particular website or initiative.
But of course, “implicit bias” arguments never work by identifying that particular individuals have particular biases. Rather, as they are typically marshaled, arguments from implicit bias demonstrate that a confluence of two factors should alarm us:
(1) Massive disparities in statistical representation within particular professions, institutions, etc.
(2) Psychological evidence (often drawn form IATs) which purport to document systematic biases across the groups
Together, the implication is often drawn from these two observations that there is likely to be implicit bias in the professions/institutions referred to in (1), and that boosting diversity would be desirable to overcome that implicit bias.
Point is simply that that sort of analysis could easily apply to the condition of conservatives in the academy.
I personally am not much of a fan of IATs or of implicit bias more generally. I find the limited predictive validity and replicability of such measures as documented by Tetlock and others to be alarming. But I find it somewhat curious that so many commentators at Daily Nous and elsewhere are so quick to take seriously the problem of implicit bias as applied to so many spheres, but for some reason think it unreasonable to apply it to the state of conservatives in the academy.Report
There may well be widespread impicit bias against conservatives, and it may well be worthwhile to fashion a remedy for it. But I sure as hell know what that remedy should not be — posting the names and pictures of individual professors up on a website as “indoctrinators” or “leftist propagandizers” or whatever their lingo is. How would you feel about being put up on some “racist professors” website because you *might* have demonstrated bias on the IAT?Report
“so many commentators at Daily Nous and elsewhere are so quick to take seriously the problem of implicit bias as applied to so many spheres, but for some reason think it unreasonable to apply it to the state of conservatives in the academy.”
Could you provide evidence for this claim?
We know that, as a profession, philosophers practice affirmative action for women and racial minorities whereas they have not done so for conservatives. (Or at least, not on the same scale. Perhaps Christian Universities’ seeming preference for Christians amounts to affirmative action for them.) But that’s different from thinking it unreasonable to seek diversity in political views. It may just be that many philosophers think gender and racial diversity in philosophy are much higher priorities because of the significance of gender and racial inequalities in society. They could be right or wrong about this, but if they’re wrong, it doesn’t make them hypocritical in the way you intimate. (Of course, I don’t mean to deny that many left wing professors are hypocrites. I suspect that they are in similar proportion as most other groups.)
Instead of claiming that liberal professors’ stances on affirmative action and diversity are “curious”, why not just argue directly, based on charitable interpretation, that they should be more concerned with political diversity?Report
I find this initiative very sinister or very stupid and cannot decide which it is. I suspect that the latter is the best explanation. The land of free speech doesn’t often seem to like it much. Anyone would think that the Conservatives and Liberals are subject to the tertium non datur rule.Report
Can someone please tell me what these views are that conservatives are shamed out of holding vocally in the academy? I have a hunch about this, but someone should correct me if I’m wrong: *genuinely* conservative views aren’t popular in the academy, but are tolerated. But many actually awful views are packaged up as being “conservative”, and then, when they’re called out as awful, the view-holders cry out in anger about the silencing of conservative voices.
Here’s an example: I know a lot of pro-life people in the academy. It’s not a popular position, but it’s a position most academics can learn to respect. On the other hand, there are those who go further and say women’s role is to stay in the home, and that women who leave the home are defective in some way. This isn’t conservative, it’s misogynist. I think the difference is clear. Perhaps I’m wrong about that.Report
My partial list (which I should stress is *not* a list of my own conservative views!) would include:
– biology-first definitions of race and gender (c.f. the Germaine Greer spat)
– the possibility of intrinsic racial and gender differences in various aptitudes
– the existence of gray areas in sexual assault, and scepticism about sexual-assault and false-accusation statistics
– restrictionist immigration policy (as distinct from racist attitudes to actual US citizens or immigrants)
– meliorist attitudes to climate change (i.e., climate change is happening, humans are the predominant cause, but liberal policy prescriptions to respond to it are too alarmist)
None of these are *impossible* to hold vocally in the academy, but they tend to generate hostility on a level substantially above mere academic disagreement. And (although most *could* be held by a liberal) they are inside the mainstream of conservative intellectual thought. (Writers like Ross Douthat, David Frum, Reihan Salam, George Will, Yuval Levin, Megan McArdle, between them, hold most of them.)Report
Regarding the existence of gray areas in sexual assault — there are a number of feminists who argue for just this, and on feminist grounds. I don’t think this is a particularly conservative position, unless you mean something more specific than what you wrote here.Report
This is undoubtedly true. Although since Feminism is often prominent in the academic work of philosophers, the liberal bona fides of a person expousing a view that grants gray areas in sexual assault is not alone sufficient to raise suspicions of that student’s conservative viewpoint. In your own case, I find it implausible that someone would start to raise her eyebrows at you were you to cast doubt on current campus platitudes about sex. They know you are no conservative.
I would say that such views are not verboten in themselves, but in that they are revelatory of a conservative viewpoint.Report
I don’t know what this means or if you think we are disagreeing (e.g., I can’t parse this: “…the liberal bona fides of a person expousing a view that grants gray areas in sexual assault is not alone sufficient to raise suspicions of that student’s conservative viewpoint.”)Report
I’m guessing the idea is that the reasons for which one takes the position affects whether one will encounter hostility. For most of the positions listed by David Wallace, I suspect the idea is that taking these positions for reasons that are inconsistent with leftist versions of identity politics will arouse hostility. From my perspective, that has happened to me in at least one comments thread on this website. (I should add that I don’t think the possibility of such hostility amounts to full-blown suppression of views, though it does inhibit rational discussion.)
As an example, I would cite the letter to the Society of Analytical Feminists from a few months ago that condemned Tommie Shelby for, among other things, taking a certain position on reproductive ethics. Based on the discussion about the event, I saw no indication that Shelby’s view was philosophically weak, and every indication that he was condemned for making moral claims, which don’t align with the condemner’s political view and that are about a group to which Shelby doesn’t belong. I realize that the letter also condemned his Q&A behavior for less partisan reasons. But the condemnation of his views on reproductive ethics is of a kind that’s pretty common, in my experience, amongst the identity politics left.Report
Thanks — that helps, but I’m less sure this is about liberals v. conservatives, at least with respect to some of these issues (not all). I think it’s true that, for the most part, most progressives who know me wouldn’t raise their eyebrows if I argued for nuance in sexual assault discussions — but I don’t think that’s because they know whether my political views tend to fall more towards the left than the right. I think it’s because they know I care about victims and gender equality. I — and I think most progressives I know — would respond really differently to someone like George Will talking about due process rights, and someone like Marco Rubio doing the same. George Will seems to care more about justice for some, whereas Rubio has seemed to demonstrate real care and concern for justice for all involved. Likewise, if, for example, Bill Maher were to propose limiting our intake of Syrian refugees, I’d certainly disagree with him on that in a manner that’s closer to hostile than the average academic disagreement — it’s not because he’s a conservative — he’s obviously a lefty — but I’d have reason to think his concern is rooted in prejudice towards Muslims.
Note: None of this is to say there isn’t inappropriate hostility towards conservatives, or that they aren’t marginalized in academia.Report
I agree that conservative vs. liberal doesn’t fully capture the causes of the hostility we’re talking about. In my experience, liberals don’t react to disagreement with the same kind of hostility as do leftist identity politics activists.
As for the point about the hostility being due to prejudice or lack of concern for an oppressed group: this might operate on some level, but I think in practice it often figures in the inference patter: he doesn’t seem to accept claim x (about the patriarchy, white fragility, or what have you), therefore, (a) he doesn’t care about group y (women, blacks, or what have you) or (b) he cares more about his feelings (white/male tears) than sexism/racism/etc. or (c)….
Academics will of course usually be more careful than this in their published work. But in conference Q&A sessions, in comments threads, and in other more daily interactions, I think you get a lot of the uncareful, ideology-based hostility. And *lots* of people are very aware of the potential for that hostility, and withhold their views accordingly.Report
I’m sure that’s right. Indeed, I think pretty much all views on my list – and indeed, taken individually, The bulk of views in mainstream conservative thought – can be held by liberals. “Liberal” and “conservative” are basically cluster concepts.Report
““Liberal” and “conservative” are basically cluster concepts.”
This seems the perfect phrase. They form a false dichotomy, a muddle of ideas that can be arranged in all sorts of different ways.
Human beings seem to have a natural tendency to apply the law of excluded middle inappropriately.in politics as in philosophy and it wreaks havoc. In the US there seems to be a tendency to want there to be just two sides only one of which is right or can win, all neat and tidy, whereas life is rarely so simple. It is extremism whichever side one is on. Perhaps extremism is always dependent on cluster concepts.
I wouldn’t go that far. Cluster concepts can still be useful.Report
I see; ok, so I was confused about by the hostility point. Is it that you think holding a sufficient number of these views will result in one being subject to inordinate hostility?Report
I think Johnny Thunder basically captures what I had in mind; I’m not sure I’ve much to add to his and your useful discussion above.Report
Meanwhile: When can we tackle the real enemy of extreme mathematical bias in physics?
Related: My professor said “Fahrenheit 451” was about censorship via book burning, but when I asked her why the author didn’t just change the title to “Fahrenheit 449” so that the pages wouldn’t combust, she totally shut me down and didn’t even give me class participation points. #AbuseOfPower #ElitistBias
Also: Everybody knows that melting icecaps are a problem, but when I pointed out that the equator is the hottest part of the globe and heat rises so we should therefore just turn our maps 90 degrees, my climate change professor asked me to stop interrupting class. #LiberalMedia #NoBamaReport
It’s almost as if a conservative viewpoint were being caricatured here. Perhaps I am unaware of other conservatives posting here, or perhaps I let the word “Obama” slip unawares into one of my sentences.
You are not hurting my feelings, but your own credibility.Report
I thought it was pretty clear Alex’s comment was a response to the descriptions given in the list, and was not, in fact, about you.Report
David Wallace still hasn’t explained whether he supports James II or William of Orange. Until he does, we simply cannot know if his views on Newton’s physics are biased. #NoApple #NoAbdicationReport
Well, it sure seems like this is a loss for liberals. The list is somewhat silly and probably mismanaged. But this comment thread has, I imagine, done nothing but reinforce Mos Volgi and their peers’ belief that liberal academics are quite nasty toward them when they try to share themselves.
And we wonder why we have such PR issues!Report
Having to explain yourself is a sign you’re losing.Report
Can you clarify?Report
A piece on this “watchlist” in the NYT (28-Nov-2016):
Friends overseas have started a campaign to denounce themselves and request that their names be added to the list.