Dugan: Professor watch list: Badge of Honor


By Jack Dugan


The existence of a “professor watch list” has been making rounds recently, generating concerns of censorship on both sides of the political spectrum. The list has been compiled by an organization calling itself Turning Point USA, a conservative non-profit.

It claims that each of the nearly 200 professors who have made it onto the list are guilty of either suppressing conservative voices or explicitly pushing liberal agendas in the classroom.

The classroom, of course, is a place for discussion and debate. Any professor who has found the rare opportunity to be employed in the academic field would surely hold these values close at heart. To silence a political voice in the classroom is definitely a suspect action, and we must keep freedom of speech an omnipresent idea on the university campus. But the actions of some of these individuals could hardly be seen as censorship.

One such individual is our very own Professor Ellen Lewin, who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford in 1975 and whose research interests include “feminist anthropology; gender, sexuality, and reproduction; lesbian/gay anthropology; medical anthropology; U.S. cultures.”

Given the nature of the discipline of anthropology and Lewin’s specific research interests, it would be nearly impossible for her not to politicize the classroom. At this point, it would be safe to reserve a slot on the list for anthropology departments across the country.

The incident at hand which earned Lewin’s position on the list harks back to 2011, when she penned an email that read “[EXPLITIVE] YOU, REPUBLICANS” in response to a mass email by a University of Iowa organization that was organizing a “Conservative Coming Out Week.” Pretty mild stuff to warrant admission to the exclusive rebel professor’s club.

Lewin was also quick to apologize for the outburst of emotion. In an email she wrote to the DI shortly after the incident, Lewin said, “I’m afraid I lost my temper and did something very regrettable; I responded to an email from the UI College Republicans with a profanity. It was not appropriate, let alone professional, for me to use it.”

Watch lists have always been scary, and typically you do not want to find yourself on one. It turns you from someone relatively anonymous to a target for those whom deem you necessary to be watched.

The watch list is hauntingly reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s aggressive investigations and questioning of anyone accused of being a communist sympathizer, or worse, an actual godless red-to-the-bone communist. Thankfully, those times are over; we even had a self-admitted democratic socialist come delightfully close to securing the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

But of course, this watch list is created and maintained by an organization independent of any institution that possesses any actual power. There is no McCarthy-era system that will work to punish you, blacklist you, or strip you of your well-being if found among the ranks of the radical academics detailed on their website.

The professor watch list is just lackluster scare tactics to frighten academics into cheapening their syllabuses and to water down class discussion. Thankfully, professors are pretty smart. I would deem this more of an intellectual badge of honor rather than something to be upset about.  Well done, Professor Lewin. Enrollment in your classes is sure to spike in the coming semesters.

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