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Professors Take A Different Approach In Responding To 'Leftist Propaganda' Claims


We're going to switch gears now and take a few minutes to talk about a story that's playing out across college campuses nationwide. There's a website called Professor Watchlist that popped up online a few weeks ago. It is the project of a conservative think tank, and its founders say they want to expose professors who, they claim, discriminate against conservative students and, quote, "advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."

A number of professors who have appeared on this list have described the website as an attempt to silence and smear them. Now, though, some professors at the University of Notre Dame are taking a different tack. They are asking to have their names added in solidarity. More than 100 professors have signed a letter saying that if their colleagues are on the list then they want to be on it also. John Duffy gathered those signatures. He is a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. I spoke with him earlier.

JOHN DUFFY: These lists have come and gone in American history, and their purpose is always the same. They attack individuals, and they try to label them as anti-American. And their purpose is to shame and intimidate people on the list. As a colleague of mine put it, fear is what makes all blacklists work.

MARTIN: So - what - how did you come up with the idea of asking to be added to the list?

DUFFY: Well, the people named are widely respected as thoughtful, fair-minded, independent thinkers. And many of the faculty at other institutions are people who've devoted their professional lives to examining complex moral and social questions. And we thought hey, we want to be on a list like that. That's the company we want to keep.

MARTIN: Have you had any reaction from the Professor Watchlist group?

DUFFY: No. No, I've not heard from them.

MARTIN: Do you expect to?

DUFFY: I don't know. I'd love to speak with them. In fact, I'd like to use this opportunity, if I might, to issue an invitation. Come to my classes. I think they'd find that everybody gets a chance to speak, all perspectives are welcome, no one is silenced. And I think they'd find there's nothing to be afraid of.

MARTIN: You know, I can imagine where some might say that rating of professors is - has become rather popular nowadays. I mean, many...

DUFFY: You're right.

MARTIN: ...You know, guidebooks do ratings of professors. They say whether they're good teachers or not, whether they think they're understandable, accessible, whatever.

DUFFY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, what do you find particularly noxious about this?

DUFFY: I think what's wrong is when you are attacking people based on pre-determined ideology and you are trying, in some ways, to damage them and hold them up as examples of something that is, you know, disreputable. And that's just contrary to everything that academics stands for.

MARTIN: That's Professor John Duffy. He's a professor at the University of Notre Dame. We reached him in South Bend. Professor Duffy, if the group takes you up on your invitation, I hope you'll let us know.

DUFFY: Well, I welcome them. I'm sure that we might learn from one another, and, yeah, they know where to reach me. I'm at Notre Dame.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for joining us.

DUFFY: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: And we want you to know that we also reached out to Professor Watchlist for comment, but we did not hear back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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