• December 9th, 2021
  • Thursday, 08:04:51 AM

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Educators Look to Mobilize Against ‘Professor Watchlist’


What does it mean to ask college students to think critically? To question assumptions or debate ideas? Apparently, it means you should be on a public “watch list” of dangerous faculty.

Recently, hundreds of U.S. faculty, including National Education Association (NEA) Higher Ed members, have found themselves reported to Professor Watchlist, a website launched shortly after the election by the right-wing, well-funded political organization Turning Point USA.

Turning Point says it aims to identify professors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls,” but faculty believe the more likely target is academic freedom, or the idea that faculty’s unfettered ability to teach or do research in search of the truth serves the common good.

By calling out faculty, partisans may hope to silence them, or promote one single political ideology in classrooms, but NEA’s National Council for Higher Education President DeWayne Sheaffer has a different idea: “Let’s render the list null and void,” he says.

Exercising the freedom to express and contact your representatives, this makes me a danger to society?        ~ Frank Barajas ~

His strategy? Report yourself, NEA educators.

By reporting yourself to Professor Watchlist for common classroom actions that might include encouraging students to exchange ideas, question evidence, or reflect on their thinking, Sheaffer points out that faculty will unveil the “madness” that underlies the list.

Sheaffer is not the only educator to conclude that this is the appropriate action. In December of last year, more than 100 faculty members from the private University of Notre Dame signed an open letter, asking to be added to the list, which already includes two of their colleagues, including Notre Dame’s director of multicultural student programs.

This is “the sort of company we wish to keep,” Notre Dame faculty wrote.

“I cannot thank the faculty of Notre Dame enough for reminding all of us how important it is to remain true to our profession,” responds Darwin Pagnac, a NEA Higher Ed member from Des Moines Area Community College, who was reported to the list after asking students to research climate-change deniers. “Their sentiments are my sentiments exactly, and I welcome their inclusion and their company on ‘the list’.”

These kinds of political watch lists, or blacklists, aren’t entirely new. A little more than a decade ago, conservative author David Horowitz published a book about the “101 most dangerous academics in America,” which was called “an apologia for the tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy,” the U.S. Senator who used public attacks on patriotism and other witch-hunt style tactics to damage his political opponents.

But faculty worry that politically motivated attacks on academic freedom are growing. In Wisconsin in 2015, a proposed budget from Gov. Scott Walker would have amended the state university’s mission statement, called the “Wisconsin Idea,” so that the key goal — “basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth” — would be deleted and replaced with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker called it an editing error, but more recently Wisconsin removed faculty tenure from state law and weakened job protections for faculty, who are fighting back. Tenure is the backbone of academic freedom—without the first, faculty are less likely to test the second by engaging in valuable, but potentially provocative, research on, for example, the efficacy of gun-control laws, or whether expensive prescription drugs are worth the cost.

California State University Channel Islands professor Frank Barajas, a NEA Higher Ed member, found out he had been named to the list when his phone started ringing. While many of his colleagues were calling to say, “good job! you must have done something right!” he says, Barajas remains concerned. “What is this watch list really about, and what is its potential?”

Barajas was reported for encouraging his U.S. History students—but not mandating them—to write to California state legislators about the impact of rising student tuition on their lives. “Exercising the freedom to express and contact your representatives, this makes me a danger to society?” he asks. Barajas also points out that he did not tell students what they should write. “If they wanted higher tuition, so be it.”

As a tenured, full professor in his 24th year of teaching, Barajas is not concerned for himself. But for his colleagues, especially the adjunct or contingent professors who work with very little job security, and now account for more than three-quarters of all U.S. faculty, he worries that the threat of public censure may alter their approach to students. Keeping their jobs may mean not asking hard questions, or challenging their students’ assumptions. “They may be more gun shy in terms of exercises and assignments they want to adopt,” he suggests.

“We need to take this seriously,” he says.

Federal agency still accepting applications providing deportation relief for some DREAMers

by Esther Yu Hsi Lee

“I’m unable to plan as far as a week in advance because I’m uncertain of my status in this country.”

For the time being, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is continuing to allow young undocumented immigrants to apply for an Obama-era executive action that provides temporary deportation relief and work authorization, according to Politico and CQ Roll Call.

President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative is unconstitutional and would be subject to immediate repeal after he took office. But the DACA initiative, which was authorized by former President Barack Obama in 2012, was not on the cutting block when Trump signed executive actions on Friday and Monday.

“We are still accepting/processing DACA requests under existing policy,” Steve E. Blando, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services public affairs officer, wrote. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency responsible for processing immigration applications.

Trump’s own senior staff made it clear that the administration would not remove the program as quickly as the president had indicated on the campaign trail.

“We don’t have anything in front of us right now to sign,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed during the first official White House press conference on Monday.

“President Trump has no immediate plans to use his executive powers to undo the Obama administration’s order that protects some young illegal immigrants known as ‘DREAMers,’” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Fox News Sunday, pointing out that the president would work with Congress to come up with a “long-term solution.”

Spicer did not provide a timeline for when the president would terminate DACA. Instead, he said that the federal immigration agency would prioritize “those in the country illegally and [those that] have a criminal record or pose a threat to the American people,” he said at the press conference.

Although the government’s decision to proceed with applications comes as a welcome breath of relief for the population of 752,154 current DACA beneficiaries, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what the Trump administration will authorize. He could seek to immediately terminate the ability to work for DACA recipients, or prohibit the renewal of their work authorization cards after they expire.

“The uncertainty of not knowing whether DACA will be taken away today, tomorrow, next week or next year is affecting me physically and emotionally,” Nancy Palacios, a DACA recipient and organizer with Faith in Florida, a member of the faith-based PICO National Network, said in a prepared statement. “I’m experiencing daily migraines, sleepless nights and anxiety attacks…I’m unable to plan as far as a week in advance because I’m uncertain of my status in this country. Not having DACA means I will be forced back into a low-paying job; one that might profit from exploiting undocumented immigrants like me.”

Juan Escalante, another DACA recipient and Digital Campaigns Manager for America’s Voice, said he hopes for permanent congressional action because he feels “deep uncertainty about what the future holds for us.”

Congress may have a backup plan for immigrants if Trump removes the DACA initiative as an executive action. Both the House and the Senate have introduced similar bipartisan proposals that provides deportation protection for DACA recipients in for three years.

A Center for American Progress (CAP) study found that ending the DACA initiative “would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, cumulatively over a decade.”

ThinkProgress is an editorially-independent news website housed within the Center for American Progress.