The Outrage Peddlers Are Here to StayHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, media, academic freedom, colleges and universities, Turning Point USA, Campus Reform
Sami Schalk has a protocol for when Campus Reform gets in touch. When a reporter from the conservative news site emails her to ask about a recent tweet, the associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison sets the plan in motion. It’s happened several times this year.
Campus Reform regularly publishes articles rehashing professors’ tweets and comments, presenting them as evidence of what it considers liberal bias on college campuses. Schalk has an active Twitter feed and is a frequent target.
“I am aware of being heavily monitored,” she said.
Schalk knows that after an article about her is published, she’ll hear from Campus Reform readers. If a more prominent site, like Breitbart or Fox News, picks up the story, she’ll be inundated with emails, messages on Twitter, and calls to her department and administrators.
The messages are vile. People label her with racist and sexist slurs. They compare her to animals and try to shame her for how she looks. Schalk has some filters set up to block certain emails. She asks a friend to scan the other emails in case they contain a threat to her safety.
“I don’t want to censor myself, so I’m not going to,” said Schalk. “I have to accept that this is what comes with it.”
Just a few years ago, professors didn’t have a protocol for dealing with
Campus Reform. It sent the scholars it targeted into retreat and administrators scrambling to respond. The site is now about 10 years old, and much of higher education is learning to live with it. Professors like Schalk have fortified themselves against the hate mail — and found allies elsewhere in academe.
Appearing in a Campus Reform article takes a toll. One scholar who has researched the news site has found that professors of color are disproportionately represented in its articles — and they often suffer the ugliest consequences.
Campus Reform’s breakthrough coincided with the dawn of the Trump era, a time when officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government began echoing the outlet’s central message: that radical, liberal professors are indoctrinating students, and many college administrators are cheering them on. Though President Trump has lost re-election, his enduring appeal signals that Trumpism — and its disdain for intellectuals — is here to stay. So is Campus Reform, an ever-present expression of that disdain in higher education.
Campus Reform’s managing editor did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
L.D. Burnett, a history professor at Collin College, in Texas, and a Chronicle contributor, was also included in the Campus Reform article about the vice-presidential debate. She tweeted that “the moderator needs to talk over Mike Pence until he shuts his little demon mouth up.” Collin College posted a statement saying it was aware of “the hateful, vile, and ill-considered Twitter posts by one of its faculty members” and called the comment “a setback to the hard work and dedication of our campus community.”
Burnett studies the culture wars and intellectual history. She decided to put up a fight. She posted emails she received from a Campus Reform reporter on Twitter. She wrote publicly about her administration’s response in The Chronicle Review. The organization FIRE, a free-speech group, has sent letters to Collin College on her behalf.
Burnett sees Campus Reform as part of a backlash that started in the 1970s when women and people of color made gains in the work force. It was at that time, she said, that conservative groups, like the Leadership Institute, founded in 1979, sprang up to limit the advances of a quickly diversifying academe.
“Campus Reform’s aim is not and cannot be to devalue a Stanford degree or topple Harvard University from its pedestal at the top of higher education,” Burnett said. Their agenda, she argued, is to “use ginned up outrage” to make people less willing to support public higher education with tax dollars.
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