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College critics: ‘Professor Watchlist’ threatens academic freedom

Turning Point USA's website contains over 160 names from 119 higher ed institutions
University Business, February 2017

Remember Rate My Professor, the website that allows college students to rate faculty performance? While that site isn’t tied to any ideology, a new conservative website makes no attempt to disguise its motive.

The Professor Watchlist, launched last fall by the nonprofit Turning Point USA, challenges students: “Help us expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Critics claim the group promotes a dangerous McCarthyist agenda. In at least one reported case, a professor at Orange Coast College in California received death threats after landing on the list.

According to the Orange County Register, psychology instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox went into hiding after a secretly recorded video of her calling Donald Trump’s election “an act of terrorism” became public.

The Watchlist currently contains more than 160 names, most with photos, from 119 institutions across the country. Each name has an associated profile, listing their so-called “infractions,” documented with links to articles, often from conservative news outlets.

But professors are not taking the attacks on their integrity lying down and are fighting back with a novel tactic. In late December 2016, 200 Duke University professors signed a letter to Turning Point USA, asking to be included on the list, in a show of solidarity.

“We will not tolerate our colleagues being subject to policing of their work, their thoughts and their teaching,” the letter reads. “We will not repeat the passivity of the past, when intellectuals were blacklisted for disagreeing with a particular agenda. When you challenge them, you challenge us.”

By early January, more than 11,000 professors from across the country had also asked to join the list. The American Association of University Professors wants to raise that number to nearly 13,000.

“We are exceedingly concerned about the current climate for academic freedom and the implications for our society,” noted AAUP Executive Director Julie Schmid in a statement. “This watch list is an unwelcome attempt to intimidate and silence voices on campus.”

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