The Sort of Company We Wish To Keep: Saying Shame, Shame, Shame
Incisively arguing that, "A life defined by who your enemies are isn't going to work," academics and free speech advocates are ingeniously fighting back against an Orwellian if laughably inept new Professor Watchlist aimed at exposing "radical" teachers with "socialist leanings." The list is a project of a 21-year-old conservative working with Turning Point USA, a "group of students for free markets and limited government." It currently names about 200 professors across the country who "discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Other crimes they've committed: talking about gun control, racism or white "privilege," calling Republicans "anti-intellectual," having students watch an anti-Koch documentary, being "an admitted Socialist."
Since the November launch of the list, students, teachers and anyone who ever read 1984 have been stepping up to say, in effect, wowza. First came the online trolls, who are having an inordinately gleeful time spoofing what in truth is sinister if amateurishly executed stuff - ie the Watchlist author evidently hasn't yet learned about the margin function. Using the Watchlist playbook, with its form asking contributors to “submit a tip,” students have offered their own suspects: Albus Dumbledore, Indiana Jones, Dr. Pepper, Professor Plum ("killed me in the conservatory with a lead pipe"), Mr. Spock of Starfleet Academy, who keeps suspiciously saying 'Live long and prosper!'
Other dubious types: Oscar Wilde, "always trying to teach students the importance of being earnest"; Jesus, who "teaches against advancing brutal social and economic inequalities," Doc, who "used plutonium to build a time machine instead of a bomb. Rude. Also his hair looks like Bernie Sanders. Socialism is bad," and many of the professors at Hogwarts. Our favorite: A student named Robert Zimmerman who fingered his prof Dr. Bob Dylan - "He pointed out major world problems and refused to offer solutions. He said the answer is blowin' in the wind."
Resistance grew more organized with the impressively comprehensive Professor Watchlist Blog, an alternate site created by an Emory philosophy professor and online colleagues that highlights the true meaning of "radical" as "one who gets to the root of problems." "This site is dedicated to showcasing and championing courageous thinkers and teachers (throughout) history dedicated to open inquiry, including those on another site-which-will-not-be-named," she writes. "This one will fight for the values that help prevent tyranny and small-mindedness. Plus, we have a much better sense of humor." The list is broken down into past and present intellectuals.
Past includes Socrates ("wandered around Athens questioning those in authority"), Aristotle (undocumented immigrant), Hypatia, mathematician and philosopher burnt to death by Christian zealots for "being a woman guilty of thinking," and Hannah Arendt, philosopher and refugee from Nazism who documented "the banality of evil." Among present "radicals" are those who "dares to point out that it’s morally wrong not to care for each other...shatters old ideas about who gets to do what...teaches students how to organize for social justice...sees through propaganda...teaches us a lot about what it is to be a human (and), when possible, to act to make the world a better place." Says George Yancy, another Emory professor who landed on both sides, "If it is dangerous to teach my students to love their neighbors, to think and rethink constructively and ethically about who their neighbors are, then, yes, I am dangerous."
This week's newest call to action came from Notre Dame - home to two subversives on the watchlist, for advocating gun control and teaching a white privilege seminar respectively - where over 100 faculty members wrote an open letter of solidarity requesting that their names be added to the list. Those named, they note, have devoted their lives "to the unyielding pursuit of truth, to the critical examination of assumptions that underlie social and political policy, and to honoring this country’s commitments to the premise that all people are created equal and deserving of respect" - all acts, they insists, worthy of not silence and shame, but deep respect. "This is the sort of company we wish to keep," they conclude. "We wish to be counted among those you are watching."