November 24, 2015
Turning Point USA has recently launched its “Professor Watchlist,” with the declared mission “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
Turning Point USA has a constitutionally protected right to publicize and criticize the words and actions of professors that it finds offensive. But we think that this project will only exacerbate a problem we are trying to address at Heterodox Academy: professors and students are increasingly afraid of voicing and debating opinions in the classroom. For this reason, we–the executive committee of Heterodox Academy–believe that Professor Watchlist is pernicious and misguided. We expect it to have the same speech-chilling effects as do many of the “Bias Response Teams” that are being implemented nationwide, which encourage students to report professors and fellow students for anything—including sincerely expressed opinions—that they interpret or misinterpret as offensive.
We call on everyone who is concerned about the state of higher education to stop devising ways that members of an academic community can report or punish each other for classroom speech.
Whether the reporting is done to a campus authority, setting in motion weeks of time-draining bureaucratic procedure that is often far removed from common sense, or whether the reporting is done to the Internet at large, triggering public shaming campaigns and a cascade of threatening tweets and emails, such reporting systems encourage everyone to walk on eggshells. This kind of fearful climate deprives everyone of the vigorous debate and disagreement that is essential for learning and scholarship.
Rather than seeking to discourage certain voices on campus, we think the better approach is to encourage a variety of voices—heterodox voices—so that bad arguments can be answered with good ones and scholarly ideas can be tested by the strongest minds on both sides.
Jonathan Haidt, New York University
April Kelly-Woessner, Elizabethtown College
Scott Lilienfeld, Emory University
Chris Martin, Emory University
Nicholas Rosenkranz, Georgetown University
Sean Stevens, New York University
Note that the executive committee does not speak for the entire membership of Heterodox Academy. We did not consult the membership in drafting this statement, and we have no mechanism for expressing the collective will of our politically diverse membership.