Liberal Column

Following Donald Trump’s election, professors’ free speech is under siege

Diversity of opinion and civil debate are important components of any discussion.

Turning Point USA, a conservative advocacy group whose mission is to educate and organize students to promote fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government, has previously defended this idea, especially in its recent publication “5 Reasons Censorship Should Offend You!”

In the publication, the authors state: “By hearing the opinions of those that do not agree with us, we learn to question our own beliefs and expand our views on the world around us.”

This statement is why it is so surprising that in late November — two weeks after the election of Donald Trump — Turning Point published a Professor Watchlist. The watchlist is a published group of college professors it says “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The list is meant to inform students and their parents of professors who threaten students with their “radical agenda.”

“All posts are of professors who have radical views that would chill the free speech of students in the classroom and stifle debate,” said Matt Lamb, the director of constitutional enforcement and transparency for Turning Point, in an email.

One name on the watchlist is Dana Cloud, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University and a member of the International Socialist Organization. Cloud was included on the list because of comments she made following 9/11 and the United States’ role in sparking the terrorists’ actions.

“None of it is untrue,” said Cloud, who added that “it’s not the first time” she’s been included on similar lists.

“But my reaction this time is different because of the moment of the Trump election,” Cloud said. “It used to be that these kind of lists, all the ‘lefties’ are like ‘Why aren’t I on the list?’ and that it was cute or funny, right? But it’s not funny now.”

Cloud’s open admission to the supposed reasoning of her inclusion on the watchlist gets at the very heart of why such lists are threatening academic and personal freedom: It is not that the quotes provided are wrong or misleading, but rather that they shouldn’t matter.

These professors have the right as private citizens to take part in any activism and advocacy they want to — a cornerstone of free speech that a libertarian group such as Turning Point could hardly oppose.

“It also makes a weird assumption that these professors — whatever their activist lives are — that they bring that into the classroom,” said Cloud, who added that she doesn’t believe she crosses this line.

When college students, who often experience limited exposure to varying ideologies before entering college, are introduced to new ways of thinking by their professors, they are able to broaden their horizons like never before. Singling out these professors simply because they don’t share your ideas or conservative values is the very censorship the creators of this watchlist say they oppose.

“Anyone who teaches the full spectrum of history and thought in our society will teach critical thinking, and doing that is dangerous — in a good way,” Cloud said.

This type of critical thinking, and the divisive ideas that accompany it, must be fought for now more than ever.

Cole Jermyn is a sophomore environmental resource engineering major at SUNY-ESF. He can be reached at cdjermyn@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Cjermyn8.

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