Because going to college means only engaging in constructive dialogue with people who agree with you, the national conservative group Turning Point USA has come up with a handy guide called the “Professor Watchlist” to help conservative students avoid professors who have said something that could, in any way, be construed as anti-conservative.
Making waves across the country this week, the Professor Watchlist flags nearly 200 professors as having "radical agendas," including ten educators in Texas. The watchlist's mission is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
Before being placed on the list, the rules are that a trustworthy news organization such as Hypeline.org must have written a negative article about leftist comments the professor has made in the past — although context for the professor's comments doesn't appear to be necessary for inclusion on the list, nor does any other research, beyond this one article, into the professor's teaching performance or class criteria. At least as far as we can tell. (Turning Point USA did not return our interview request).
Professors who talked with the Houston Press, however, said their greatest concern is not whether conservative students will avoid their class, but that a list like this is only capitalizing on one of the most polarizing issues in today's political climate: fear of difference.
“We're in a post-truth society, where fake news reigns supreme — and this website fits very comfortably and neatly into that context, helping to generate anxiety and fear and reprehension about professors like myself — a black, left-wing professor,” said Dr. Gerald Horne, an African-American studies professor at the University of Houston who was placed on the list. “It's a threat to free speech in the classroom, but more than that, it's a threat to free thought generally.”
Even the conservative group Students for Concealed Carry called Turning Point’s project a “McCarthy-era style blacklist,” which is “not the answer for ideological diversity on campus.” Quite the statement coming from the group that has attacked three of the University of Texas professors on this very list for trying to block campus carry.
In Horne's case, he was put on the list after explaining to a reporter the racial implications tied to the history of the National Anthem (which includes a casual verse about slavery) and the Pledge of Allegiance. Horne had said the pledge was formally adopted during a time of acute racial tension amid World War II, when black men may not have felt allegiance to a country they were asked to die for.
Here is Turning Point USA's warning: “[Dr. Horne] believes that when we say the Pledge of Allegiance, or sing the National Anthem, we are ignoring America’s darkest points in history. The professor of history and African American studies says that the Pledge is the post-Civil War “glue” that binds together this “artificially-constructed former slaveholders’ republic.” (Hypeline.org, which is actually run by Turning Point USA, is the trusty, independent news source on that one.)
Apparently the Professor Watchlist’s mission also previously accused professors of promoting “anti-American” values before that little part was deleted, according to various reports.
By weird contrast, University of Texas journalism professor Dr. Robert Jensen was blacklisted for writing an essay in which he asserts that deep-seated patriarchal attributes such as aggression and control have contributed to rape culture. (Run for the hills, male conservative students!)
Jensen told the Press that the Watchlist creators were short-sighted in punishing professors for viewpoints they expressed outside of the classroom, which has nothing to do with the quality of their teaching. Although he added that he doesn't think Turning Point actually cares about “helping” students pick teachers.
“This is part of a larger agenda to try and restrict the parameters of critical thinking at universities, and this goes back to the attacks on media — they want to do the same to media,” Jensen said. “It’s not hard to figure out why: If you think about conservatives in this country today, they are dominant. They control, almost by definition, the business community. But what do they lack complete control over? The news media and universities — the few places where, for all their flaws, critical inquiry is still possible.”
Jensen tied Turning Point’s apparent desire to deter conservative students from liberal professors who may challenge their views to President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to convince millions of his Twitter followers that every negative thing they read about him in the press — or the “failing New York Times"—is false. And in a time when fake, sensationalist news wins the Internet, and social media manages to surround us with articles that affirm our views rather than challenge them, Jensen said this is what truly makes a "Professor Watchlist" all the more dangerous. As well as ridiculous.
Other professors were targeted for things like asking students to write an essay about why big business is skeptical about climate change and for traveling to Ferguson, Missouri, "multiple times" to protest the non-indictment of the white officer who shot Michael Brown. That Clemson University professor also signed a letter that called on his school to build a new multi-cultural center and provide more support for “underrepresented groups.”
Watch out for that nonsense, y'all.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.