The Professor Watch List Controversy | Students and Faculty Weigh In

In high school, my friends discovered a website called Rate My Teacher. Serving as a kind of database where students could leave reviews for their teachers, some classmates used it to give genuine feedback. Most of them, however, used it primarily to reinforce the alleged James Bond type backstory of our Spanish teacher. While these occurrences provided a good deal of entertainment and raised a few questions, recent events have brought about a new website regarding online identification within the educational community. The website Professor Watchlist, created in the last month, has generated much more controversy than the mysterious origin story of the man who taught me rudimentary Spanish.

Hoping to identify professors allegedly biased by far left viewpoints, the site functions as a kind of database where users can look up anyone listed. Claiming to be based on submitted tips cross referenced with news stories, the site compiles a list of professors for public viewing. Some have praised it for raising awareness about the inner workings of certain classrooms and allowing students to freely access this information. Opponents of the site have stated that it unfairly targets professors, infringing on their teaching styles in a kind of modern day educational witch hunt. With such sharply contrasting perspectives on the website, the ensuing controversy has caused varying responses on campuses across the nation.

Over a hundred professors at Notre Dame adopted a somewhat unique approach in actually requesting their addition to the list. Two educators at the university ended up on Professor Watchlist, causing fellow professors to write an open letter to the site. Regarding their colleagues’ inclusion, “We wish to be counted among those you are watching,” reads the letter.

While none of UMKC’s staff has appeared on the list, the issue still strikes close to home in the case of Melissa Click. A professor previously employed by the University of Missouri, Click ended up on the site’s list on November 4th of this year. Her profile on the website references an occurrence from 2015 where she attempted to prevent a student journalist from covering a protest on the campus.

When asked about what exactly resulted in the site’s creation, UMKC’s Dr. Jennifer Frangos weighed in on the issue.

Source: www.professorwatchlist.org/

Source: www.professorwatchlist.org

“I think it is part of a conservative backlash against the perceived liberal bias in academia, which is in turn related to a widespread attack on public higher education.”

Logically linking the website, created in November, to current events, Dr. Frangos added that “the recent election and campaign do seem to be encouraging this outcry.”

Not believing that the site addresses a prevalent issue in the classroom, she also said that it treats a possible occurrence like something that is actually happening. This dangerously blurs the line between actual issues and hypotheticals, resulting in misinformation and ill-informed responses to perceived situations. To those who take issue with the climate on their campus, she said that an “emphasis on critical thinking and historical context” would serve as a better option than utilizing a tool like Professor Watchlist.

Students naturally hold opinions on these topics as well, something made evident from thoughts expressed by Rose Adams, an English major at UMKC. With an awareness of Professor Watchlist, Rose asserted how despite having the best intentions, sometimes actions will inevitably upset others. She stated the importance of, “Having grace and discussions instead of shutting down and burning people at the proverbial stake for saying one wrong thing.”

In the face of those who disagree, instead of playing into the conflict mentality and creating situations that aren’t there, we should seek to understand opposing views. As we isolate and pit ourselves against others, Adams believes we miss out on the opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for other perspectives and gradually work towards solving issues together. While many strong feelings arise at something as divisive as Professor Watchlist, the importance of knowing our similarities ultimately proves stronger than that of highlighting our differences.

 

jfash@unews.com

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