Socrates, Einstein, and—your professors

Professor calls original Watchlist 'a new species of McCarthyism'

Last month, the conservative organization Turning Point USA created the website "Professor Watchlist," which aims to "expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."

In response, Emory University philosophy professor Noëlle McAfee and her colleagues created the "Professor Watchlist Redux," a site that aims to celebrate—not censor—radical professors.

The Redux frames radical professors in a positive light, encouraging those originally listed on the Watchlist to view their listing as a badge of honor.

The site's "about" page reads: "This site is dedicated to showcasing and championing courageous thinkers and teachers—and at the same time saying 'shame, shame, shame' to those who would insinuate that these people are dangerous."

The description also points out that although the original Watchlist calls professors "radical," it does not actually define what "radical" means. The Professor Watchlist Redux creates its own definition: "The word 'radical' means 'at the root,' so to be a radical intellectual is to be one who gets to the root of problems," the site reads, adding, "High time for more of that!"

The Redux names influential thinkers—both past and present—who have been called "radical." Among past thinkers, the site lists:

  • Socrates;
  • Aristotle;
  • Albert Einstein;
  • Rene Descartes; and
  • Thomas Jefferson.

"Some of these people were, in the past, seen at that time to be very radical and dangerous and, in retrospect, they were doing really important things," says McAfee.

Is free speech in danger on college campuses?

Many professors listed on the Redux see their grouping alongside the world's greatest thinkers as a compliment and have spoken out against the original Watchlist, calling it a form of censorship.

"[The Professor Watchlist is] essentially a new species of McCarthyism, especially in terms of its overtones of 'disloyalty' to the American republic," says Emory philosophy professor George Yancy. Yancy's name appears on the Watchlist on account of a piece he wrote last year titled "Dear White America," calling upon white people to recognize how they benefit from racism.

"[Teachers] are feeling as if their ability to be creative intellectually and to speak against oppression at this moment is under siege," Yancy says of the Professor Watchlist.

McAfee also questions the legitimacy of the original Watchlist site. She says it does not fact-check claims against professors—and is therefore similar to fake news (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 11/22; Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 12/6; Yancy, New York Times, 11/30).

When social media enters the academic freedom debate, things become complicated


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