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Watchlist challenges free speech, definition of "radical"

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

Last Monday, Nov. 21, Turning Point USA [TPUSA], a self-proclaimed "student movement for free markets and limited governments," published a website:

The site, the aim of which is to target college professors who "advance a radical agenda in lecture halls," was published in the wake of the election and a rapidly changing political climate. Its "About Us" page consists of four sentences:

"The Professor Watchlist is a project of Turning Point USA. The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. Help us identify, and expose more professors who have demonstrated liberal bias in the classroom. Donate today!"

No Miami professor is on the list, which so far has collected 200 faces. And to be fair to Turning Point USA, professors at Miami and at many other schools are required by policy to not disclose their political leanings and affiliations in the classroom.

In many ways, this list and the efforts of the list are valid. There are a handful of professors that belong on it. Sharon Sweet, for example, "required students to sign a pledge in favor of Barack Obama" in 2012 according to TPUSA's much-referenced The Blaze, which is entirely inappropriate.

But other professors on the list aren't actually liberal at all. James Tracy, for example, denies the legitimacy of the Sandy Hook shootings, saying that it is possible they didn't happen. Melissa Click forcibly removed a student journalist from a campus protest site. Keith Kostecka commented on a picture of Paul Ryan and his family, saying, "Ryan go kill yourself!" Arthur Butz is an actual Holocaust denier. These are the types of professors that should be checked.

But as TPUSA themselves put it, "TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish."

The reality is that majority of the "radical" speech in this list is coming from professors of color or of creeds other than Christianity. Most of the comments made by these professors highlight concepts surrounding white privilege, concepts which come from both professors of color and white professors. Some professors confirmed that climate change is real and were put on the list for voicing that opinion (which is a widely confirmed fact). Others were blacklisted for being harsh on Christianity and Catholicism, challenging the actions of American police and being feminist. One professor, Peter Dreier, teaches a class called "Movements in Social Justice" and was blacklisted because he requires his students to read "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn, a Marxist. But if you took the class hoping to examine different movements in social justice, why would you complain about having to read one perspective in a movement?

In a college environment, students need to be forced to think and rethink about how they fit into society. That's what higher education does -- it encourages critical thinking. Good higher education should ask its students to challenge their opinions and to feel uncomfortable in the norms that they've accepted to be true.

But if anything, the basic idea here is that professors aren't the bad guys.

According to The New York Times, "Julio C. Pino, an associate professor of history at Kent State University in Ohio who is among those named on the site, said in an interview, 'What we are seeing with this site is a kind of normalizing of prosecuting professors, shaming professors, defaming professors.'"

Professors offer knowledge. They only suggest ways of thinking. They present their students with schools of thought. And while students should be encouraged to think about their professors' perspectives (because that's what critical thinkers do), they should also understand that concepts like "white privilege" and "climate change" and "feminism" aren't radical. They're social realities.

Just as TPUSA says, everyone has the right to free speech. This fear of free and "radical" speech touted by the Professor Watchlist sort of sounds like an anti-Communist agenda from the Cold War years. It's antiquated.

The reality is that introducing "new" concepts to students doesn't even fall under free speech. It falls under teaching. Students come to college to learn. There is no point in being here if you're not willing to open your mind.