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.