A little more than a month since Donald Trump's electoral win, and some academics speaking out against the President-elect or his party's political ideology are already paying a price. This week, one California professor who criticized Trump went into hiding in fear of her safety.
According to the Orange County Register, Olga Perez Stable Cox, a psychology instructor at Orange Coast College, temporarily left the state after receiving numerous threats once a secretly recorded video of her calling Trump's election "an act of terrorism" became public. "The professor, the union that represents her and the college have received more than 1,000 emails, calls and Facebook comments – most of them critical of Cox, who a week after the election was recorded on video telling students in her human sexuality class that 'we're really back to being [in] a civil war,'" the Register reports. She also referred to Vice President-elect Mike Pence as "one of the most anti-gay humans in this country."
Rob Schneiderman, Cox's faculty union president, told the Register that someone had emailed her a picture of her house, and said they planned to share her address publicly. Another email threatened, "You want communism, go to Cuba … try to bring it to America and we'll put a [expletive] bullet in your face."
Cox is just one of the more than 120 professors listed on the website Professor Watchlist. According to its mission statement, the website's goal is "to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."
Professor Watchlist is a project of Turning Point USA, a youth activist organization for conservative students. Matt Lamb, the organization's director of constitutional enforcement and transparency, told the LA Times that the list's intention was not to target or harass educators but instead help students be prepared to debate.
Matthew Boedy is an English professor at the University of North Georgia and one of those listed on Professor Watchlist. He came to find himself on the watchlist after he spoke out against a bill that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. He tells Broadly that his students know he's not biased against them for writing in favor of the issue in assignments.
"I think this particular version of a professor watchlist is silly and inept. So it doesn't bother me all that much," he says. "But the historical idea they are reaching toward is scary. It is clear that the election of Trump has given license to many conservative causes, groups, and individuals to speak out more. Where will that lead? Who knows. But the move from advocacy to 'watchlist' is concerning."
Most people understand that this list is an example of propaganda and are responding appropriately
Sara Goldrick-Rab, a faculty member at Temple University, is another professor included on the list. The website appears to indict her because she allegedly "took to Twitter to compare Republican governor Scott Walker to Hitler." She says the claim isn't true; rather, she explains, she reported on someone else making that comparison. "This is a purely political claim without any merit related to my teaching, research, or service to the nation," she tells us, calling the list "nonsense."
"It's clear that some people do not believe in freedom of speech or the open discussion of ideas and seek to intimidate educators," Goldrick-Rab says. "I find that nothing but sad."
Michael Waltman, a communications professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says he's received "only positive support" from colleagues, administrators, and students since his name was added to the website. "Most people understand that this list is an example of propaganda and are responding appropriately," he says. "Interestingly, professors who were not included on the list have been self-reporting themselves to the list in a show of support for those people who were included on the original list."
According to Professor Watchlist, Waltman "teaches a course on hate speech that openly blames the political right for its use." His response? "It is not true," he says. "In fact, even a superficial review of my research would reveal that I have criticized both Republicans and Democrats for manipulating hate in order to accomplish a variety of social and political goals."
Waltman, who's a member of Scholars at Risk (a group that supports scholars around the world who have been persecuted by totalitarian regimes for their beliefs), admits he hasn't given the website much thought. "In the big picture, this list is really a small thing," he says. "However, it is the kind of thing that totalitarian regimes around the world do to people they perceive as their enemies."