Professor Peter Dreier, targeted by Professor Watchlist, says it gets an F for accuracy

Historians in the News
tags: Peter Drier, Professor Watchlist



Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

I'm one of the roughly 200 professors listed on the Professor Watchlist, which claims to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students.” It was launched on November 21, two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president. It is sponsored by a right-wing group called Turning Point USA and run by a 22-year-old conservative named Charlie Kirk. The website is getting a lot of attention in both the mainstream and right-wing media. None of the stories about it so far have sought to identify where its funding comes from or who is really behind it. Mainstream news outlets, like The New York Times, have reported about it as a controversial group that might threaten free speech. Fox News, the Daily Caller, and other parts of the right-wing echo chamber celebrate it as a useful tool for exposing the allegedly “liberal” atmosphere on college campuses.

If the Professor Watchlist were a research paper, I'd give it an F. Much of the information about me on the Watchlist is simply untrue. The entry about me links to a right-wing website called Discover the Networks that repeats lies about me that have been published in several books and websites by right-wing propagandists and apparent lunatics. For example, it claims, incorrectly, that I once worked for the Industrial Areas Foundation, the community organizing network founded by Saul Alinsky. And it repeats a story, published in several other places, that as a young student at Columbia University, Barack Obama heard me speak on a panel at a Socialist Scholars Conference in New York. Also wrong. Some right-wing books, articles and websites take this fabricated story even further, and claim that it was this event that inspired Obama to become a community organizer. This is all complete fantasy.

The Watchlist does get some things right in its profile of me. I have criticized the National Rifle Association. I am a member of Democratic Socialists of America, which means I agree with many of Bernie Sanders’s ideas and would like the United States to be a more humane society, like the ones in Canada or Denmark. I do assign Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States in my course on “movements for social justice.” What it doesn’t mention is that in that course and others, I also require readings from the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and Business Week, and from the works of conservative writers.

The Professor Watchlist is a good example of our increasingly “post-truth” culture, which is primarily the consequence of several decades of persistent right-wing propaganda, such as attacks on the reality of global warming or Donald Trump’s statements that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because there were “millions” of people who voted illegally, something that the Times called a “baseless claim,” and which in everyday language we would call a “lie.” It is also, to a lesser extent, partly the result of left-wing postmodernism, which posits that there are no facts, just points-of-view—something I wrote about earlier this year in an article titled “Academic Drivel Report,” for The American Prospect.

I was even a bit disappointed that the Watchlist entry about me didn't include some of the things I'm most proud of, including my work with labor unions, my activism around the minimum wage, my books, my mentoring of students, and my five minutes of fame being interviewed on TV by Bill O'Reilly!

The Watchlist offers no evidence that I discriminate against conservative students, and that’s because there isn’t any. In fact, one of the things that students routinely mention on their anonymous course evaluations is that they appreciate my insistence that they be able to understand and defend ideas from different political perspectives. Being “politically correct” in my classroom means being able to clearly and convincingly articulate your own ideas as well as those you disagree with. At the beginning of each semester, I tell students up front that even though I’m a progressive, “I prefer smart conservatives to stupid liberals.” ...




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