4 Rutgers professors named on 'watchlist'
Two weeks ago, the conservative group “Turning Point USA,” launched the “Professor Watchlist,” a site that documents and provides profiles of University professors who allegedly express “liberal biases.”
Four of the estimated 200 professors on the vigilante site are faculty members at Rutgers.
The site enables users to search for professors either by name or by school affiliation. If the professor is documented, the page will show a photo of them alongside the alleged qualifications for their inclusion on the site.
According to website’s homepage, professors included on the list promote liberal privilege. The list includes professors accused of “advancing a radical agenda” or “discriminating against conservative students” in their classrooms.
Anyone using the site can “submit a tip” about a professor, but according to the site, they will typically only add a profile if the professor’s views and statements can be confirmed or if they have been discussed in news publications.
For Norman Markowitz, a professor in the Department of History, the “transgressions” that placed him on the list relate to his affiliation with the Communist Party.
He is described by the creators of the watchlist as a “longtime defender of the Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg” and an “active member of the Communist Party USA.”
“I have taught at Rutgers since 1971, developing courses in, among other things, the history of Socialism and Communism,” Markowitz said, “I tell my students at the beginning of every course that I teach from a Marxist perspective and I explain what that means in terms of seeing political economy as the foundation of societies.”
Markowitz said he also clarifies to each of his classes that he does not expect his students to share his viewpoints and that he does not “reward or punish with grades” any student who agrees or disagrees with him.
In response to the website’s launch, some publications, including the New York Times, Slate and BBC have mentioned growing public concern about the watchlist posing a threat to academic freedom.
In an email, Markowitz said a parallel exists between the professor watchlist and McCarthyism.
“One might remember that the first words, which catapulted Joe McCarthy into the national headlines in 1950 were, ‘I have here, in my hand, a list,” Markowitz said. “McCarthy’s stock in trade was to hurl accusation after accusation, and simply go on changing 'facts' to suit him.”
Markowitz said the threat the list poses to first amendment rights is real and direct. During the cold war, Markowitz said professors and students were afraid to speak out on public issues, participate in meetings or discuss controversial issues. The result— a culture of “self-censorship” and “repressive tolerance.”
The other Rutgers professors listed include Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies William Field, Assistant Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies Brittney Cooper and Associate Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies Jasbir Puar.
The three were not available for comment. The allegations that led to their inclusion on the list range from blaming Brexit on white nationalism and supporting the protest against Condoleezza Rice at 2014 commencement to a professor showing support towards Palestine during lectures.
Most media outlets have framed the website as an example of fear mongering and repression. But in an interview with the New York Times, Matthew Lamb, the director of Turning Point USA, said the watchlist is a direct expression of First Amendment rights.
“This site is a beautiful example of free speech. Professors can say whatever they want, other people can report it and we can compile the reports on whatever they say,” Lamb said in the article.
The organization behind the site focuses primarily on garnering youth involvement in conservative politics. Their stated mission is to “identify, educate, train and organize” students to promote principles of limited government and free markets.
Outreach towards young voters is vital to the Republican Party, which has faced a long term struggle in securing the millennial vote. A study by the Pew Research Center showed that just 3 percent of millennials identify themselves as consistently conservative.
Some students have responded to the website by submitting false tips and spreading the hashtag #trollprofwatchlist.” According to NJ Advance Media, administration at Rutgers responded to the list with a segment from University President Robert L. Barchi's press release on free speech from earlier in the semester.
As of now, no further actions or statements have been made.
“it is important to stand up against attacks like this emanating from groups who wish to create a climate of fear,” Markowitz said. “Large numbers of people, especially students are worried about (President-elect) Trump and afraid of what he is capable of doing, but they are not running and hiding.”
Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.