A newly launched website already has more than 1,500 names of professors and other faculty members at colleges and universities around the country and abroad who are all making an unusual request: They want their names added to the controversial “Professor Watchlist,” the work of a conservative group targeting academics it deems to be advancing “leftist propaganda” in classrooms.
Professor Watchlist is a project of the nonprofit organization Turning Point USA (I wrote about that here), which is, according to the group’s website, a national movement that seeks to “educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.”
The watch list names some 200 academics from dozens of colleges and universities. The watch list’s website claims that they “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Critics say the watch list is an assault on academic freedom.
Two of the names on the list come from the University of Notre Dame: philosophy professor Gary Gutting and Iris Outlaw, director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services at the Catholic university. Gutting is on the list, according to the watch list’s website, because he wrote that the country’s “permissive gun laws are a manifestation of racism,” which came from a 2015 analysis about gun laws that he wrote for the New York Times. Outlaw made the list, the website says, because she “taught a ‘white privilege’ seminar that pledged to help students acknowledge and understand their white privilege.”
After the watch list was made public, more than 200 Notre Dame faculty members signed a letter asking that their names be added, too, because the people on it are “the sort of company we wish to keep.” That letter said in part:
“We, the undersigned faculty at the University of Notre Dame, write to request that you place our names, all of them, on Professor Watchlist.
“We make this request because we note that you currently list on your site several of our colleagues, such as Professor Gary Gutting, whose work is distinguished by its commitment to reasoned, fact-based civil discourse examining questions of tolerance, equality, and justice. We further note that nearly all faculty colleagues at other institutions listed on your site, the philosophers, historians, theologians, ethicists, feminists, rhetoricians, and others, have similarly devoted their professional lives to the unyielding pursuit of truth, to the critical examination of assumptions that underlie social and political policy, and to honoring this country’s commitments to the premise that all people are created equal and deserving of respect.”
That prompted Leslie M. Kay, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, to start a new website called Free Academics, on which more than 1,500 academics have already signed asking that their names be added to the watch list. The new website has this Albert Einstein quote at the top: “By academic freedom I understand the right to search for truth and to publish and teach what one holds to be true.” It continues:
“Dear Professor Watchlist,
“We, the undersigned faculty at the Universities and other institutions of higher learning listed below, write to request that you place all of our names on Professor Watchlist.
“We support the faculty at University of Notre Dame and many of our colleagues listed on your site. These philosophers, scientists, historians, theologians, ethicists, feminists and many others have spent their careers in the pursuit of truth and critical thought. These individuals represent an educational system that relies on academic freedom, which is necessary to support the personal freedoms that lie at the core of our national ideals.
“We will not tolerate our colleagues being subject to policing of their work, their thoughts and their teaching. 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. Even when we may disagree with each other, we support and demand our right to continue to publish and discuss our work, to call attention to injustice and false information, to challenge our students to think critically, to commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth and independent thought that defines an educated and free society.
“Along with our colleagues at University of Notre Dame, please add our names, the undersigned faculty, to the Professor Watchlist. We wish to be counted among those you are watching.”
Professors from large and small public and private colleges and universities in the United States — including Stanford, Yale, Princeton and Brown universities — and abroad have signed. You can see the names here. You can also read about it on Twitter at #freeacademics.
— FreeAcademics (@FreeAcademics) December 14, 2016