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December 2016

 

Are you now or have you ever been?
Susan Rubenstein DeMasi

 

Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA tweeted his support of anti-labor Governor Scott Walker in July. Kirk runs a website designed to "out" professors for advancing what they see as a "radical agenda."

The phrase in this article’s title harkens back to the Red Scares of the 1930s, and the post-World War II Cold War era when “witch hunts” conducted by the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities (commonly known as HUAC) targeted people for their political stances.

When people think of HUAC, they usually rememer the attacks against members of the entertainment industry. The Hollywood Ten made big news during the late 1940s; writers Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner, Jr., were among the men who went to jail rather than cooperate with HUAC.

But teachers too felt the sting of unsubstantiated accusations, with college professors and public school teachers facing dismissal and blacklisting for supposed subversive activities. In The Age of McCarthyism: A Brief History with Documents, writer Ellen Schrecker describes a period when HUAC, having  “run out of more glamorous targets,” turned on the nation’s teachers. 

Well, hold on to your white boards and get ready for a trip back in time. Political repression against teachers, while always popular among one group or another, has gained more ground recently with the group Turning Point USA (TPUSA). This youth organization—with its mission to “identify, educate, train and organize students”—was founded by Charlie Kirk, who counts anti-labor politician Scott Walker among his heroes. And although the group’s website (badly written—no surprise there) claims to support long-held conservative fiscal viewpoints, it doesn’t take much digging to see that as mere pretext for its less innocuous intentions.

“If the Founders Had Twitter,” an article on the website, is typical of its leanings. It portrays Thomas Jefferson as tweeting, “The God who gave us life, gave us #Liberty at the same time.” That would be an unlikely tweet coming from a man who actually said, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." It’s enough to make historians cringe. English teachers, too, would be surprised to see Thomas Jefferson use a comma improperly. Another publication on the TPUSA website, “10 Ways Fossil Fuels Improve Our Daily Lives” equates the use of fossil fuels with “countless health benefits.” Sorry, Scott Mandia.

Most alarming, the group’s associated website www.professorwatchlist.org, names professors who “advance a radical agenda.” The site offers a “Submit a Tip” link for students to report on their professors. Contending that they support free speech but that “students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls,” the organization posts the names and supposed transgressions of these professors on their site.

One professor made the watch list by leading a discussion on sexual predators after the video of Donald Trump making lewd remarks surfaced. Nine student chapters of TPUSA have already been organized in New York, with two on Long Island.

Are you now or have you ever been on this list?  Perhaps it would be a mark of honor.