Professor Watch Lists Are Dumb, but Don’t Ignore Academia’s Hostility to Right-of-Center Thinking

Jack Russell Weinstein, a UND philosophy professor of 16 years, was recently included on ProfessorWatchList.org which seeks to collect "specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls."

In an editorial today the Grand Forks Herald rightly denounces ProfessorWatchlist.org, a database which seeks to collect “specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

What occasioned the Herald’s reaction was the inclusion of a professor of philosophy from the University of North Dakota on the list. “A huge reason why so many are sad about America’s changing political climate is that the politics has gotten so personal,” the Herald writes. “Now, it’s not enough to disagree with someone on an issue. You have to hurt them, if not physically then with insults and boycotts and calls for them to be fired.”

What better way to elevate some obnoxiously political academic than to elevate them to martyr status?

I am routinely threatened and insulted for the right-of-center viewpoints I share in my writing, and since joining Forum Communications Company (which owns the Herald among other media properties) all sorts of people have demanded that I be fired. So I get it. This sort of thing is unhelpful at best, and downright chilling at worst.

And counterproductive too, I’d add. What better way to elevate some obnoxiously political academic than to elevate them to martyr status?

Still, I don’t think we can ignore the political atmosphere on America’s campuses which prompts this sort of effort. America’s campuses are, in the aggregate, unwelcoming places for right-of-center political thinking. Not all campuses, of course, and not UND specifically. But diversity of political thought, overall, is a big problem in the American academy.

When conservative/libertarian speakers and thinkers are routinely harassed at campus speaking engagements, when their commence addresses are canceled amid protest and outcry, when their very presence on campus is treated as a trauma for which students need therapy, something needs to be done.

But ProfessorWatchlist.org isn’t that thing. We can’t cure left-wing intolerance for diverse political thinking with right-wing intolerance.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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