Who Watches the Watchlist?

By: The Ithaca College Chronicle

In an interview with Matt Lamb, the manager of the “Professor Watchlist,” he mentioned two books — one written by Elizabeth Warren, progressive democratic senator, and the other by Dave Ramsey, a conservative Christian. They displayed surprising resemblances in their ideologies. His conclusion? Moral individuals agree on more subjects than their partisan political labels would lead them to suggest. If Warren and Ramsey had met as undergraduates at a university, they might have never engaged with each other on ideological terms.  

It is a shame Lamb did not use that humanistic insight and self-awareness to address a perceived intellectual bias in academia.

The fundamental problem with the watchlist is its lack of a moral center. Instead, it adopts a divisive mission. It accuses some professors of affiliating with ISIS and others of simply holding socialist beliefs, as though the two have any ethical comparability. To lump them both into the same category perpetuates the scapegoating mentality that divides Americans across partisan lines rather than reconciling any differences.  

Even if all the allegations featured on the watchlist are completely true, it succumbs to the same scapegoating mentality they accuse the professors of peddling. The watchlist is a bomb thrown into an enemy’s camp as an attempt toward peace. Most ironically, the watchlist continues the same disdain for “leftist” thought that it accuses the professors of having toward conservative thought.

With all this said, it is just as important that liberal professors take into account the ideological dynamics of their classroom as well as the racial, gender and class dynamics. There are certain moral predications in classes, even on our own campus, that alienate conservative students since it is simple to disregard conservative thought as bigoted.

A politics class may debate whether health care should be federally insured or federally owned. It may go without saying that privatized health care is inherently undesirable, a conceit usually found in “leftist” circles. It would then be very gouache for a conservative student to advocate for privatization of the health care industry, because it would undermine the moral assumptions upon which the entire debate is founded. Furthermore, the conservative student has a greater burden to argue on their own behalf since their viewpoint is not reflected in the discussion.

Due to fundamental, tribal tendencies within human nature, it is much easier for a college student in the classroom to condemn capitalism and any other broadly defined term that resembles conservative thought than to stand by a fellow student who advocates for any of its more reasonable claims. It is much safer to vocally support Bernie Sanders and any democratic- socialist policies, because there is little risk in those opinions being contested.

The result of this ideological dynamic from conservatively minded students is either of two responses. They may withdraw from class discussion, because they are not accustomed to this new frame of viewing the world. Perhaps values they had always held close — free markets, self-determinism, meritocracy, border enforcement and restrained governments — are understood as racist, sexist or otherwise bigoted. Some students may erode formations of their own opinions in favor of those of the classroom majority.

Imagine a student who grew up with a conservative understanding of society who now must contend with an academic hegemony that calls his or her beliefs bigoted. In many cases, these students swing to a more radical right and lock themselves in the echo chambers of online publications with the sole purpose of criticizing their leftist campuses.

Unthinking radicalism is not inherent in people; its causes can be found in their environment. Adherents to radicalism often lack of a sense of community and ideological isolation, which is exactly what radical groups purport to remedy.

As a campus community, we can save our fellow students from the depths of radicalism and despair by stepping out of the political prejudices that hold them as ready-made adversaries. Just like Lamb suggested, we might be surprised to discover how much we agree.

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