| by Toni Airaksinen |
Just in time for Christmas, the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA has created a Naughty List to “expose professors who have demonstrated liberal bias in the classroom.” According to the Professor Watchlist website, the mission of the project is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
The website encourages students to “submit tips” on professors who may belong on the registry. This isn’t the only ideology based registry for college professors. Canary Mission, a registry dedicated to documenting anti-Israel and anti-semitic sentiment, has been in operation since May 2015.
Considering that the majority of the American professoriate leans to the left — and at some schools, you might be hard-pressed to find a conservative professor at all — it seems like almost any professor is liable to end up on the watchlist. That being said, if they wanted a registry for liberal bias perpetuated in the classroom, they could perhaps log every social science professor for a start.
Remaining apolitical in the classroom is a difficult task. The choice of a professor’s language, their humorous quips, or the references they make can and often does betray (or at the very least, hint at) a professor’s political allegiance. This is true for professors on both sides of the political line. A non-politicized classroom environment shouldn’t be the goal — and is almost impossible to accomplish.
Unveiling professors for their ideological sympathy is fraught with uncertainty and potential ruin. Conservative professors have always known this. One errant remark on gay marriage or transgender pronouns can land a professor in academic purgatory, trigger a public shaming campaign, or result in financial despair. It doesn’t happen often, but it isn’t unheard of.
However, for left-leaning professors, sharing political viewpoints is de riguer. Here, the problem is not so much in the fact that these professors are being political in the classroom. The problem is, as many conservative commentators have noted, that the professoriate leans so overwhelmingly left that schools have become factories of marxist ideas and indoctrination.
The watchlist does nothing to resolve this (which I assume is one of the reasons why it was created in the first place). In fact, the watchlist may even make it worse for right-leaning professors— since it heightens the precedence for progressive bureaucrats to create a watchlist for conservative professors.
This would, in turn, make campuses even more hostile to conservative professors and the students they teach. In effect, to use a cliche´ that believers of individual liberties use far too frequently: the list is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
The Heterodox Academy, a group of professors committed to viewpoint diversity, has similar concerns. In a recent press release, their executive board argues:
“We expect it to have the same speech-chilling effects as do many of the ‘Bias Response Teams’ that are being implemented nationwide, which encourage students to report professors and fellow students for anything—including sincerely expressed opinions—that they interpret or misinterpret as offensive.”
“We call on everyone who is concerned about the state of higher education to stop devising ways that members of an academic community can report or punish each other for classroom speech.”
Indeed, this does seem like a pseudo-Bias Response Team for left-leaning professors.
It’s odd that conservatives are now using the left’s speech-policing and censorious tactics against them. In their creation of this watchlist, they probably didn’t see the potential for backlash; and they probably also didn’t think this through, either. American conservatives are now publicizing the creation of the very type of tool that could come back to haunt them.
Leftist professors most likely have very little to lose if reported, since most are operating within the dominant status quo of academia. Conservative professors, if reported (and who’s to say there’s not a watchlist for conservative professors in the works?) face to lose much more. The heightened precedence for a registry of conservative professors isn’t just difficult to ignore — it’s troubling for the state of open discourse and free speech on college campuses as well.