May 26, 2019 | 78° F

VACCHIANO: Professor watchlist creates negative image for conservatives

Opinions Column: Tory Time

About a week ago, a conservative organization named Turning Point USA released a “professor watchlist,” which aggregates and lists the so-called most liberal professors in America. The general reactions ranged from people calling the list a threat to academic freedom to others laughing at the concept. It has always been known that academia leans left, but an attempt to quantify the most liberal professors in the country into a single list was rather novel. And there is a reason why it has barely been done before — because the results are extremely inaccurate. Five Rutgers professors were listed, and I can say from experience that one of them (William Field, a professor in the Department of Political Science) is not even close to the most liberal professor I have taken and never struck me as biased, even as a right-leaning student. In fact, most of the professors across the country were listed for doing rather mild things — criticizing the NRA or teaching their students the concept of privilege — which may be considered “radical” in other parts of the country, but certainly not in New Jersey.

Unsurprisingly, Turning Point USA’s reasons for listing the professors were nonsensical. The organization stated that they “will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish,” but that “students, parents and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” Yet creating a watchlist shames the professors for demonstrating free speech, which is problematic in itself. Secondly, very few of their professors advanced a “radical” agenda. For example, they list Andrew Little, a professor at Cornell University, because Little said that “hiring more Republican professors would increase diversity of thought, but would lower the quality of the professor (sic) on campus, calling Republicans ‘anti-intellectual.’ Yet this is not radical at all. I think all Republicans would agree that hiring anyone for the sake of diversity over merit has the potential to produce lower-quality workers. Even though the implication is that Republicans are less intelligent (which is certainly untrue), Little was essentially using an argument that conservatives utilize when criticizing affirmative action policies. And although not all Republicans are “anti-intellectual,” the ones who are embracing the concept of a “professor watchlist” certainly raise red flags. Turning Point USA also listed Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College, because “... Wade tweeted negatively about the conservative student group Turning Point USA, and even wrote an article for Jezebel trashing some of Turning Point USA's publications.” Yet I, as a conservative/libertarian, have the exact same opinion of the organization. The professor watchlist is an example of the garbage that Turning Point produces, not to mention how unethical it is for a publication to shame someone because they criticized that publication’s work.

This summer, I interned at a conservative women’s organization outside of Washington, D.C. It was a wonderful organization that taught me many things about what it means to be a conservative student leader, but I had noticed an alarming trend through networking with interns from different conservative organizations: Young conservatives tend to flock toward right-wing colleges instead of exposing themselves to different beliefs at liberal or secular schools. I also found that the conservatives who attend liberal schools are seen as “weaker” or “less conservative” simply because they’ve learned to tolerate leftist beliefs or might hold centrist positions themselves, even though these students tend to be stronger leaders. Not only that, but conservatives at liberal universities have a smaller support network because so many conservatives opt not to go there. At my organization, I was one of the two interns who went to a liberal school. Therefore, the Turning Point USA list has the potential to aggravate a problem the conservative movement has, which is isolating itself from the rest of the liberal world and becoming detached.

Turning Point USA’s professor watchlist is not only harmful to the conservative movement internally but externally as well — it just makes us look terrible. It is already optically bad to attack educated people with doctorates and expertise in their field, and it looks even worse when the attack does not appear to be justified. The conservative movement used to have a strong intellectual voice that has been largely drowned out in the past few decades. Now that Donald Trump is president-elect, it is especially crucial that conservatives establish themselves as reasonable and intellectual people. Turning Point USA and the people who support them have hindered that progress.

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double-majoring in history and political science. Her column, "Tory Time," runs on alternate Fridays.

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Andrea Vacchiano

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