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The Miami Student cannot validate 'Watchlist'


College classrooms are often places of discomfort. They are places where ideas are meant to be interrogated. Places where our understandings of ourselves and our world are challenged.

As a young woman from a small town in Scioto County, my entire freshman year of college was one of intellectual upheaval and revelation -- largely due to the professors teaching my history, journalism, political science and other classes.

The work of a liberal arts institution is to create these sorts of intellectual environments.

I was pleased to see The Miami Student address the so-called "Professor Watchlist" created by Turning Point USA in an editorial Nov. 29 and then not so pleased as I read the piece.

While calling out the fact that a number of professors on the watchlist are "professors of color or of creeds other than Christianity," at the same time The Student suggests that the work of the Watchlist is somehow "valid."

The editorial states, "There are a handful of professors that belong on it." It then lists the actions of three professors in particular, suggesting they are "the types of professors that should be checked."

If the actions of professors need to be "checked," then it is by the institutions where they teach, not by a conservative organization such as Turning Point USA. Or, I would argue, any other partisan political group.

Particularly troubling is that The Miami Student editorial notes that several professors on the list "aren't actually liberal at all." The implication here that, perhaps, a watchlist of liberal radicals might actually be something they could support.

Such lists, no matter who they target, should never be considered "valid." They foment fear, suspicion and distrust -- which is exactly what happened during the Cold War era The Student editorial references toward the end of its piece.

Senator Joseph McCarthy is now infamous for his crusade against Communism, which had a chilling effect on political discourse in the United States. The term "McCarthyism" was named for the senator and one of its definitions is "the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism."

If The Miami Student, or anyone else, is truly supportive of free speech then it can in no way find the creation of any watchlist "valid" because such lists are often McCarthyist in their intent and can help produce a chilling effect on speech.

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One of my journalistic heroes, Edward R. Murrow, famously took on Joseph McCarthy on the CBS news program "See It Now." At the end of a long piece on the senator and his anti-Communist agenda, Murrow said, "We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

He went on to note that McCarthy did not create the political environment that produced the fear of Communism. "He merely exploited it," Murrow said.

We cannot allow any organization to exploit fear in pursuit of its political agenda, especially if we claim to value free speech. If we decide things such as the so-called "Professor Watchlist" are in any way valid, then we give in to fear and we help perpetuate a culture of mistrust and divisiveness that is chilling in many public spaces, but particularly in the university settings designed to challenge our thinking.

For, then, to quote Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (which Murrow also did in the close of his piece on McCarthy), "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Rosemary Pennington, Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Journalism & Film