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A website targeting university professors for spreading “leftwing propaganda” is raising fears of McCarthy-era tactics while also drawing ridicule.
The Professor Watchlist was established by Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit whose stated goal is to “promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government”.
The website first appeared on 21 November and includes 200 professors from across American universities. Professors are added to the list for a range of perceived offenses, that are sourced from media articles.
The site also accepts tips from the public. Professor profiles include a picture of each academic and a description of why they have been added.
The website first appeared on 21 November and includes 200 professors from across American universities. Professors are added to the list for a range of perceived offenses, that are sourced from media articles. The site also accepts tips from the public. Professor profiles include a picture of each academic and a description of why they have been added.
In a blogpost describing the watchlist, Charlie Kirk, the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, said: “Some of America’s college professors are totally out of line,” and added that the list was dedicated to exposing professors who “promote anti-American, leftwing propaganda in the classroom”.
The site has sparked a mix of fear and ridicule from the academic community. Dr Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and occasional contributor to the Guardian, was added to the list for claims that she made a racial slur about former presidential candidate Ben Carson, which she denies.
Her profile also includes an op-ed she wrote on George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, in which she references the book Is God a White Racist?
Butler said she is familiar with Turning Point USA and that they often attempt to harass professors through associated outfits.
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“I’ve had a lot of abuse from these kind of people before,” Butler said. “It’s an intimidation tactic and I’m not fearful about doing what I do everyday in the classroom.”
In a statement, Matt Lamb, the director of constitutional enforcement and transparency at Turning Point USA who also manages the watchlist, said: “The list is a great resource for all students to be aware of what is going on in their classrooms and be prepared to debate important topics.”
The nonprofit rejects any associations with “alt-right” movements or the election, as they said the list was started before election day. “We are taking publicly available information and aggregating it in an easy to search format,” Lamb said. “Using freedom of speech to call out people who are abusing their power used to be called journalism, and we’re using our first amendment rights.”
Joe Kuilema, a professor of Social Work at Calvin College, was added to the list for an article he wrote in the student newspaper responding to an incident in which a swastika was drawn on the snow on a car. Kuilema’s piece discussed correlations between white privilege and white supremacy. The piece was picked up by conservative sites such as the Daily Caller and Info Wars.
He was surprised to learn he was on the list after receiving a flurry of emails from former students and colleagues informing him.
Students cram into an old lecture hall at the University of Mississippi Medical School in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. State elected officials and medical school officials hail the building of a new medical school teaching facility as a way to improve Mississippi's health during ground breaking ceremonies at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones joined the governor and others in breaking ground on a new $63 million building that would allow the school to add another 30 to 40 students per class. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) Rogelio V. Solis/AP
“I am an associate professor at a small Christian liberal arts school in the midwest United States, I don’t consider myself particularly dangerous,” he said. However, Kuilema said that this is not a new phenomena and there’s been a long history in the US of social workers who speak up being labeled as “dangerous”.
Dale Maharidge, a journalism professor at Columbia University, was also added to the list for an exchange he had with Project Veritas. After learning he was on the list he ridiculed the site on Twitter, saying he brainwashed his students with radical coffee using “beans grown by leftists in Guatemala”.
“I’m laughing at them while at the same time shaking my head and worrying,” Maharidge said. “These guys are buffoons [but] look at the buffoons in Europe in the 1930s and look at the McCarthy years.”
His fear is that the list may be used by others to target professors. “We have a list, we know who you are – then suddenly you’re marking people as targets. We look at history, we saw it happen in Italy, in Germany with this kind of thing, we saw it with McCarthy, known communists, that’s my fear, that these buffoons are taken seriously.”