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The Watchlist

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I wrote a piece for The Nation about what it’s like to be on the Professor Watchlist:

 We have been down this road before. During the widespread crackdown on civil liberties during and immediately after World War I, with the Espionage Act and the Red Scare that followed, professors were fired for opposing the war or for espousing positions that angered politicians. Similar affronts to academic freedom took place during the 1950s, when Joseph McCarthy led a fight against alleged communist infiltration of leading American institutions. In each of these periods, professors suffered and the United States lost necessary voices of dissent in times of conformity and fear—times when they were needed most.

I do not know what the future holds—for the country, for myself, or for my colleagues. But it is absolutely critical that professors play a central role in the struggle to come. There are few places in American society where individuals have the job security and the freedom to develop and articulate critiques based upon a lifetime of study. We need to marshal everything we have learned about capitalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

My own work seeks to tame the corporate outsourcing of jobs and pollution to the global South by creating new labor and environmental standards enforceable wherever corporations move. The goal of websites like the Professor Watchlist are to make sure that I do not have the wherewithal or the financial and institutional support to do my work. The academy is the last place in the United States where the marketplace of ideas flows freely, including ideas that directly challenge those in power. Silencing us—allowing ourselves to be silenced—would devastate the opposition to Trump’s radical agenda. Conservatives know that. That’s why the list exists.

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  • aturner339

    Have you been seeing any signs of solidarity from the academic profession as a whole against this sort of intimidation?

    • Charlie S

      A number of professors at Notre Dame have asked to be added. Try as I might, I’ve not yet been added. (I’ve asked a couple of times.) It doesn’t seem like a very competently kept blacklist at this point. I mean Christ, they can’t even alphabetize properly. I should add that I’m fortunate enough to teach at a small Catholic liberal arts university that would do nothing more than mock this list. I understand others may not be so lucky.

      • This is because the list is more about spreading fear than in being accurate.

  • Paul Campos

    That is a seriously creepy photo.

    • Scott Lemieux

      “And that little boy nobody liked grew up to be…Roy Cohn.”

      • Warren Terra

        And then Cohn mentored another overgrown little boy nobody could like to become his revenge.

    • Hogan

      Say what you like about McCarthy, he knew enough not to let Cohn near a hot mike.

      • And small children, too.

        • postmodulator

          Possibly too far. Gay men, even self-loathing closeted monsters, are not pedophiles.

          (Why the fuck am I defending Roy Cohn?)

          • (Why the fuck am I defending Roy Cohn?)

            Exactly. I’m refering to the man, not the fact that he was a closeted gay who also, you know, personally did a lot to hurt the gay community.

    • William Berry

      Never realized before how much McCarthy looks like Tony Soprano.

      • John Revolta

        Young Roy has got a definite Peter Lorre thing going on

    • AB

      That’s not Whittaker Chambers in the background, alas.

  • Peterr

    I went to take a look at the site, and it’s rather bizarre that they alphabetize their listing of faculty on FIRST names.

    Strunk and White would have their heads on sticks for that.

    • N__B

      Strunk and White

      Liberal elitist grammarians.

      • tsam

        Pallin around with Thespians.

        • N__B

          You take that back! Sarah Lou is 100 percent red-blood heterosexual!

    • Lost Left Coaster

      I bet Strunk and White are on the list. I’d look them up, but I can’t remember their first names.

      • N__B

        William and E.B.

  • pianomover

    Your participation with a subversive publication has been duly noted.

    • Warren Terra

      Yeah, but The Nation‘s publisher Katrina Van Den Heuvel and her husband the Russia scholar Stephen F Cohen are just about Putin’s biggest fans and dictate the magazine’s editorial policy and commission its articles accordingly, so it’s right in line with the current white house.

      • Marek

        We’re through the looking glass, people!

        (I should say that if I ever cancel my gift subscription to The Nation, it will be because of Stephen Cohen.)

        • Warren Terra

          I’ve been a subscriber for the best part of two decades, but will not be renewing again. I can put up with a lot I disagree with or even despise, so long as I consider it an aberration or think it’s misguided (even stupid) but is of the farther-than-me left and so is part of having a magazine of the left – but when the publisher is so clearly in thrall to a fascist and performs her duties accordingly, and said fascist’s influence and ideology has gotten worse over time and is now threatening my own country – it’s no longer a joke, and it’s no longer acceptable.

  • Warren Terra

    Also in McCarthyism, a week or two go in the supermarket checkout I saw the cover of The National Enquirer: “Muslim Spies In Obama’s CIA” or some very similar text, with an inset saying they had a list of a specific number (55?). It was straight out of McCarthy’s original bid for glory, with Muslims substituting for Commies, but somehow worse because of the way it particularly named and smeared the President.

    • JMP

      Not to mention that, while Communism was a political ideology that people had to purposefully adopt, Muslim is a religion that people are raised in; and while people can convert or leave religion all together, most don’t, and anyway you know the bigots won’t accept that anyway, that makes it even worse as they’re accusing people of basically being traitors based on inherent characteristics.

      • Cassiodorus

        I spend a lot of time on right-wing message boards in the mid-aughts (as a mild troll). One reoccuring theme was that Muslims had a religious duty to lie about their beliefs/motives to advance a worldwide caliphate. I spend a fair amount of time worrying about that these days, because one of my partner’s parents is an immigrant from the Middle East and my partner definitely looks the part (she was raised by the lily-white other parent and is actually a mainline Christian, but see above about the duty to lie).

        • MAJeff

          One reoccuring theme was that Muslims had a religious duty to lie about their beliefs/motives to advance a worldwide caliphate.

          And, here I thought it was Mormons doing it to get welfare.

      • DrDick

        Actually, Islam is a religion. Muslim is a person who follows Islam. Personal peeve of mine.

    • runsinbackground

      Yeah, that made me double-take too. No celebrities gaining or losing weight, no heartbreaking six-months-to-live stories, no drugs, no Bat Boy, not even any further developments in the JonBenet Ramsey case, just unadulterated political terror. Hell, even In Touch Weekly managed to still find some new revelations in the ongoing saga of Jolie and Pitt. And then I remembered “oh yeah, it’s Trump’s America now, I should get used to seeing things like this.”

      • SatanicPanic

        Don’t get used to it! Complain!

  • kped

    This is scary shit. I really hope the Universities don’t cave. I know that the letter writing will be relentless, these people play for keeps. And you worry that there will be some administrator somewhere who caves just to be rid of the trouble.

  • Linnaeus

    The real problem on college campuses, though, is political correctness.

    • And those safe zones.

      • DrDick

        If you are a conservative, you know that the whole world is supposed to be your safe space.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Don’t forget trigger warnings. And uses of the term “gaslighting” and “hegemony.”

    • Cassiodorus

      Yeah, interesting how we never hear groups like FIRE and other “free speech” advocates complaining about this.

  • First they come for the intellectuals. Seriously.

  • Peterr

    They say this about why they do what they do:

    The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

    If this is the mission, then why do they include Arthur Butz of Northwestern University on their list? Is holocaust denial “leftist propaganda” now?

    [Butz teaches engineering, not history or political science, and the only reason NU has not tossed him to the academic curb despite his tenure status is that he has kept his holocaust denial efforts out of his classes.]

    • Warren Terra

      If you were assembling a list of people you don’t like, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to smear them by falsely associating them with some Nazi or other?

    • Hogan

      Of the entries I’ve looked at, very few cite any classroom behavior. Apparently writing an article in The Nation counts.

    • dl

      yes, this jumped out at me too. James Tracy, Sandy Hook denialist too.

  • Colin Day

    Similar affronts to academic freedom took place during the 1950s, when Joseph McCarthy led a fight against alleged anti-communist infiltration of leading American institutions.

    Anti-communist?

    • Fixed now

      • Colin Day

        You fixed it in The Nation, but not in the part quoted above (at least not on my browser).

  • Consider the source, of course, but this is the first sentence under the “Intellectuals” in Wikipedia’s Themes in Nazi propaganda:

    The Nazi movement was overtly anti-rationalist, favoring appeals to emotion and cultural myths. It preferred such “non-intellectual” virtues as loyalty, patriotism, duty, purity, and blood, and allegedly produced a pervasive contempt for intellectuals.

    Same playbook, folks, from people who have studied their mentors very well.

    • Colin Day

      So the actual Nazis weren’t grammar Nazis?

  • gratuitous

    Figure out now what you’re going to do later, because when later comes, there may not be the luxury of time to think and reflect. How far are you willing to go in the name of academic freedom? Are you willing to call repression and intimidation for what they are? What are the smokescreens you’re likely to see (“You liberals like to talk tolerance, but you’re intolerant of my prejudice!”), and how do you plan to clear the air?

    It’s coming, that much is clear. What are your plans to protect academic integrity and freedom of inquiry (provided you think they’re worth defending)?

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