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Editorial: Shame on ProfessorWatchlist.org for list

There are a few things that can make a solid conservative at least toy with the idea of becoming a liberal.

The emergence of a "professor watch list" is one.

The new ProfessorWatchlist.org website is meant "to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom," the website reports. Nearly 200 college professors are listed, including Jack Russell Weinstein, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of philosophy at UND.

The website is insidious not just because it is inaccurate. And it is inaccurate. For example, it presents no evidence whatsoever that Weinstein either discriminates against conservative students or teaches "leftist propaganda" in his classrooms.

Instead, Weinstein's name appears because of some blog posts and a YouTube video in which he criticizes open-carry firearms laws. What on Earth that opinion has anything to do with how Weinstein teaches Philosophy 399: Adam Smith is beyond us.

For ProfessorWatchlist.org to suggest students or parents should be "made aware" of Weinstein's view is a crazy overreaction.

And if the website is that far off on our sample size of one—if it's neither exposing nor documenting anything the slightest bit untoward about North Dakota's only professor on the list—then the chances are very good that the list also misses the mark with a great many other professors.

But again, this carelessness is not the only reason why the list is insidious. The other and bigger reason because the list targets individuals, not their ideas.

Why is Weinstein wrong about open carry? ProfessorWatchlist.org doesn't say. All that the website does is put Weinstein's name on—well, on a watch list, presumably as someone whose classes right-minded students should avoid.

Now, Weinstein's a tenured Chester Fritz professor, so his job is pretty safe. But junior faculty at American universities advance in part based on the strength of their classroom enrollments. So, if attendance drops because a prof's name appears on a watch list, that could hurt the professor's career.

And that, of course, seems to be the website's intent.

Why would any conservative approve of such a thing? Why would any liberal, when it comes to such things as Hollywood's long-rumored blacklists of conservative actors and writers?

A huge reason why so many are sad about America's changing political climate is that the politics has gotten so personal. Now, it's not enough to disagree with someone on an issue. You have to hurt them, if not physically then with insults and boycotts and calls for them to be fired.

We've come a long way from the robust spirit of "I disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." And by naming names in a way that's surely meant to hinder or suppress—not defend—professors' right to "say it," ProfessorWatchlist.org is making things worse.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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