Dissension at the Heterodox Academy?

UPDATED on 11/24/16, 11/29/16, and 12/02/16

A new site called Professor Watchlist has sprung up. Its mission

is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

Help us identify, and expose more professors who have demonstrated liberal bias in the classroom.

The Watchlist directory, as of now, lists about 150 professors who have been “turned in.”

Heterodox Academy bills itself as

a politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities.

We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy.

This post appeared briefly today (11/22/16) on the blog of Heterodox Academy:

To The Heterodox Academy Community,

Heterodox Academy exists to promote viewpoint diversity in higher education. We believe that viewpoint diversity is necessary to the pursuit of truth and that suppression of viewpoints based on the content of speech is counter to the mission of higher education. To that end, we are opposed to any efforts on either side of the political aisle to stifle debate through intimidation or public shaming.

Executive Team at Heterodox Academy recently became aware of “The Professor Watch List” by Turning Point, USA.

The Executive Team does not speak for our members as a collective, though we do feel obligated to resist the disapprobation of academics. The Professor Watch List exists only to suggest that liberals are dangerous classroom leaders, discourage certain viewpoints and place professors- who have no opportunity to counter the claim- in a list colored by ignominy.

We condemn The Professor Watch List and all attempts to limit academic discourse. We call upon Turning Point, USA to suspend this list and affirm its commitment to free speech, open inquiry, and the honest exchange of ideas.

In Heterodoxy,

The Executive Team

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
Jeremy Willinger, New York University

It disappeared soon after its publication.

Why? The statement disapproving Professor Watchlist seems reasonable enough, especially for noting that the listed professors (probably) had no opportunity to counter the claim that they discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all 150 professors do promote anti-American values (at least to the same extent as Barack Obama), and that they do advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. But what else is new? A list of professors at U.S. universities who do such things could easily number in the thousands. A much shorter list could be compiled of professors who don’t do such things, and most of them would be in STEM disciplines.

The most serious charge is that the listed professors discriminate against conservative students. In that respect, Heterodox Academy is right to condemn Professor Watchlist for engaging in “guilty until proven innocent” tactics. Not that I would expect formal hearings, but the inclusion of statements by students would do much to dispel the suggestion that the list is nothing more than a vendetta against leftist professors. [Edited on 12/02/16: I discovered belatedly that the entries for each of the professors on the list includes statements about them, with links to supporting sources. My fault for not looking closely enough at the entries. My discovery was due to an article by Rod Dreher that just came to my attention, and which I excerpt below.]

So what happened to Heterodox Academy‘s condemnation of Professor Watchlist? Inquiring, heterodox minds want to know why the Executive Team’s statement disappeared.

UPDATE 11/24/16

The Executive Team at Heterodox Academy has republished its condemnation of Professor Watchlist. The new statement is longer and more detailed than the original one. Here’s the heart of it:

Turning Point USA [the operation behind the watchlist] 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. [Underlining indicates emphasis in the original. — TEA]

The new statement is consistent with the stated aims of Heterodox Academy. It is, however, naive. Leftists, for the most part, won’t relent in their persecution and suppression of conservative ideas just because conservatives are nice to leftists. So, as usual, most of the academy will remain what it has become — an incubator of and echo chamber for sometimes silly but often socially and economically destructive left-wing ideas.

In short, the “marketplace” of ideas is a stupid concept to which conservatives should quit paying homage. (See “The ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas” and “Revisiting the ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas.“) What’s really needed, as I say in “Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty” is a thorough cleaning of the Augean Stables:

If there is a professional class that is almost solidly aligned against liberty it is the teachers and administrators who control the ideas that are pumped into the minds of students from kindergarten through graduate school. How are they aligned against liberty? Most of them are leftists, which means that they are statists who are dedicated to the suppression of liberty in favor of current left-wing orthodoxies. These almost always include the coddling of criminals, unrequited love for America’s enemies, redistribution of income and jobs toward less-productive (and non-productive) persons, restrictions on speech, and the destruction of civil society’s bulwarks: religion, marriage, and family….

So gulled are Americans by the education lobby that voters routinely approve bond issues and elect legislators who promise to spend more on brick-and-mortar, high-tech monuments to educators’ egos. As a result, per-student spending** by public-school systems (K-12) — in constant dollars — was 2.5 times higher in 2010 than in 1970; in public colleges and universities, it was 1.6 times higher. Has education improved that much in 40 years? To ask the question is to answer it….

And what do tax-paying Americans get for their money? A strong left-wing bias, which is inculcated at universities and spreads throughout public schools (and a lot of private schools). This has been going on, in earnest, since the end of World War II. And, yet, the populace is roughly divided between hard-headed conservatives and squishy-minded “liberals.” The persistence of the divide speaks well for the dominance of nature over nurture. But it does not change the fact that American taxpayers have been subsidizing the enemies of liberty who dominate the so-called education system in this country.

It’s time to cut the subsidy, drastically, from Kindergarten through graduate school. It’s time to stop sending stupid people to college, where most of them become the Democrat Party’s pod people. As I say in “How America Has Changed,” it’s an all-around waste:

[College used to be for] the brightest — those who were most likely to use it to advance science, technology, the world of commerce, and so on. It wasn’t for everyone. In fact, when I went to college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were already too many dumb students there.

The push to get more and more dumb people into college is rationalized, in large part, by the correlation between income and level of education. But level of education used to be a sign of drive and intelligence, which are the very things that strongly determine one’s income. Now, level of education is too often a sign that an unqualified person has been pushed into college.

Pushing more and more people into college, which necessarily means taxing productive persons to subsidize the educations of dumber and dumber people, accomplishes several things, all of them bad:

  • There are fewer workers who could be doing something remunerative but not demanding of high intelligence (e.g., plumbing), but who instead are qualified only to do nothing more than the kind of work they could have done without going to college (e.g., waiting on tables and flipping burgers).
  • Which means that they’ve ended up driving down the wages of people who didn’t go to college.
  • And which also means that the tax dollars wasted on subsidizing their useless college educations could have been spent instead on investments in business creation and expansion that would have created more jobs and higher incomes for all.

Cut the subsidy. Cut the waste. Eradicate a major source of the left-wing scourge.

UPDATE 11/29/16

As noted in a new post at Heterodox Academy, Robert Mather has opined about the matter in “Politics in the Professoriate and the Professor Watchlist” (Psychology Today, November 27, 2016). At one point he hits the nail on the head:

While there may be unpleasant implications of a Professor Watchlist for liberal professors who stifle viewpoint diversity, free speech is a double edged sword and conservative professors have felt the sharp edge of blacklisted ideology for many years. Shields and Dunn (2016) described this in detail in Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. Note that in their extensive study of conservative faculty, anonymity was the only way to get participants because of the ramifications of being a public conservative professor in academia.

Precisely. As I say above, leftists won’t relent in their persecution and suppression of conservative ideas just because conservatives are nice to leftists.

Mather ends with this:

[I]t is an uncomfortable time to be a conservative professor, given the recent U.S. political tensions and an ideological minority position within the academy.

The Professor Watchlist will be useful only to those conservative students who are interested in what professors they will avoid taking for their own personal reasons, and hopefully will not lead to targeted harassment. Unfortunately, it is a mild glimpse for progressive liberal professors into the day to day life of conservative professors in a close-minded academy that on most days does not value ideological diversity, on its best days does, and on its worst (all too common lately) days actively suppresses it.

Cutting through Mather’s tangled syntax: It’s a bad time to be an academic conservative. (No surprise there.) The watchlist will be helpful to conservative students who wish to avoid harassment by left-wing professors. (Though I must ask how one avoids left-wing professors, given their overwhelming presence, at least outside the STEM disciplines.) And he agrees that the academy (these days) actively suppresses conservative views. (What else is new?)

All of this too-ing and fro-ing is pointless. Academic niceties are for academics. It’s way past time to quit subsidizing the enemies of liberty. Just quit. Period.

UPDATE 12/02/16

Rod Dreher wrote about Professor Watchlist on November 28, though I just learned of his piece today. It’s “Watching the Professors” at The American Conservative. It’s a long and carefully written piece that begins with Dreher’s initial reservations about the list. It turns into something close to admiration when Dreher samples the material supporting the inclusion of names on the list and follows the links to hellish corners of the leftist derangement. Dreher comes around to this view:

Professor Watchlist clearly needs to be edited more professionally. For example, it ought to link to original sources when possible, not to other aggregators. But based on the entries I looked at, the problem left-wing critics have with the site is not that it makes things up, but that it holds left-wing professors publicly accountable for their words and deeds.

I would hold them accountable by eliminating their jobs.

True Confession, New Resolution


I spent 30 years at a defense think-tank. There were many things that I liked about it, and a few things that I didn’t like about it. The thing that I disliked most was the way in which some senior managers and many analysts offered criticism. They practiced a perverted version of the Socratic method. Instead of working with the author of an analysis to improve it, they would keep probing the weak points of he work — or more correctly, the analyst’s ability to explain and defend it — and leave the analyst melting in a puddle of mortification.

I resented that kind of criticism when it was aimed at me, and when I saw it being aimed at others. (I was involved in the creation of a mock “seal” for the  hazing sessions that were led by a former president of the think-tank. The seal displayed the motto “Nibbled to death by ducks.”) But I often resorted to the method when I was the critic. Human nature is like that.

I am here to confess (as I just did), to repent (as I hope I am doing), and to enter onto the path of righteousness (as I hope I will).

The most constructive way to offer criticism, in my experience, is to put yourself in the place of the person you are criticizing. Try to understand the issue at hand, as he sees it, and try to understand the way he comes at the issue. If you get “inside” that person’s mind, you can then talk to him about the problem in a way that he understands. From there, you can work with him to improve whatever it is he is seeking to improve — be it the Navy’s choice of a new weapon system or the opportunities available to low-income persons.

I know that a person’s political views are largely a matter of temperament, and for that reason not always susceptible to change by appealing to facts or logic. But political views are nevertheless changeable, in the way that a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will overcome his addiction — if he understands that he can do it, and will live a miserable life and die miserably if he doesn’t.

I am also aware that leftists — who are the usual targets of my criticism — do not often (or perhaps ever) respond constructively to conciliatory statements. As I say here,

leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Nevertheless, this blog is but a pinprick on the vast hide of leftism. Perhaps it will be more effective if I make a greater effort to understand what leftists want, and try to appeal to them on that basis, instead of preaching to the choir of libertarian-conservatives as I often do.

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Related reading and viewing:

Jonathan Haidt, “Why the Centre Cannot Hold in America, Europe, and Psychology” (Heterodox Academy, August 9, 2016). This is an introduction to Haidt’s recent speech at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Denver, where he addressed the causes and consequences of political polarization.

A video of the speech: https://youtu.be/vAE-gxKs6gM

PowerPoint slides: http://heterodoxacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/haidt.APA-2016-lecture-on-polarization.for-posting.compressed.pptx

PDF version of the slides: http://heterodoxacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/haidt.APA-2016-lecture-on-polarization.slides-for-printing.pdf

No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing

I just took the Freedom Scenarios Inventory at YourMorals.org, the producers of which include the estimable Jonathan Haidt. I was shocked by the result — not my result, but my result in comparison with the results obtained by other users.

Before you look at the result, you should read this description of the test:

The scale is a measure of the degree to which people consider different freedom issues to be morally relevant. As you may have noticed, this inventory does not include perennially contentious freedom-related issues like abortion or gun rights. These issues were deliberately excluded from this scale, because we are interested in what drives people to be concerned with freedom issues in general. On the other hand, people’s stances on well worn political issues like abortion and gun control are likely to be influenced more by their political beliefs rather than their freedom concerns.

The idea behind the scale is to determine how various individual difference variables relate to people’s moral freedom concerns. Throughout the world, calls for freedom and liberty are growing louder. We want to begin to investigate what is driving this heightened concern for freedom. Surprisingly little research has investigated the antecedents of freedom concerns. In the past, our group has investigated clusters of characteristics associated with groups of people who are more concerned with liberty (i.e., libertarians), but this type of investigation differs from the current investigation in that we are now interested more in individual differences in freedom concerns – not group differences…. It seems that many psychologists assume that many types of freedom concerns are driven by a lack of empathy for others, but we think the truth is more complicated than this.

The test-taker is asked to rate each of 14 scenarios on the following scale:

0 – Not at all morally bad
1 – Barely morally bad
2 – Slightly morally bad
3 – Somewhat morally bad
4 – Morally bad
5 – Very morally bad
6 – Extremely morally bad
7 – Extraordinarily morally bad
8 – Nothing could be more morally bad

Here are the 14 scenarios, which I’ve numbered for ease of reference:

1. You are no longer free to eat your favorite delicious but unhealthy meal due to the government’s dietary restrictions.

2. You are no longer free to always spend your money in the way you want.

3. You are not always free to wear whatever you want to wear. Some clothes are illegal.

4. Your favorite source of entertainment is made illegal.

5. Your favorite hobby is made illegal.

6.. You are not free to live where you want to live.

7. By law, you must sleep one hour less each day than you would like.

8. You are no longer free to eat your favorite dessert food (because the government has deemed it unhealthy).

9. You are no longer allowed to kill innocent people . [Obviously thrown in to see if you’re paying attention.]

10. You are no longer free to spend as much time as you want watching television/movies/video clips due to government restrictions.

11, You are no longer free to drink your favorite beverage, because the government considers it unhealthy.

12. You are no longer free to drive whenever you want for however long you want due to driving restrictions.

13. You are no longer free to go to your favorite internet site.

14. You are no longer free to go to any internet site you choose to go to.

I didn’t expect to be unusual in my views about freedom. But it seems that I am:

Moral profile-freedom concern

A lot of people — too many — are willing to let government push them around. Why? Because Big Brother knows best? Because freedom isn’t worth fighting for? Because of the illusion of security and prosperity created by the regulatory-welfare state? Whatever the reason, the evident willingness of test-takers to accede to infringements of their liberty is frightening.

The result confirms my view that democracy is an enemy of liberty.

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Related posts:
Something Controversial
More about Democracy and Liberty
Yet Another Look at Democracy
Democracy and the Irrational Voter
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
About Democracy