Day: <span>December 1, 2016</span>

A cowardly attack on academic freedom


You may never have heard of Charlie Kirk, but he is a rising star of conservative politics in America who is still in his early 20s. On his Twitter page, he calls himself a “proud capitalist, best selling author, Eagle Scout, blessed.”

He also is a political coward promoting cowardice among his generation.

Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, a conservative, non-profit organization seeking to educate college students about the “importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

There certainly is nothing wrong with that. Free and open political discourse is part of what the First Amendment is all about, a First Amendment that, so far at least, hasn’t even been trumped by the new president-elect. (Keep your fingers crossed, though.)

But Kirk also is using his organization to promote a form of modern-day McCarthyism designed to scare many students and their parents away from college courses taught by professors who are deemed “too liberal” to be exposed to young, impressionable minds.

Turning Point USA has created a website, Professor Watchlist, to name professors or college instructors throughout the country who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” Kirk wrote in a blog post that “it’s no secret that some of America’s college professors are totally out of line” and should be exposed.

So far, about 200 professors and instructors have been listed, accused of promoting “leftist propaganda in the classroom,” on the basis of unverified, published material gleaned from various sources by Kirk and his colleagues, the self-styled arbiters of academic and political acceptability.

Finding the Second Amendment more important than the First, they even included on the watchlist one University of Texas at Austin professor for the alleged transgression of leading a petition drive to bar students from carrying concealed guns into classrooms. The watchlist falsely accuses the professor of violating the law. She didn’t. The extent of the campus carry law was still being debated when the petition drive was being conducted.

This, of course, is an attack on academic freedom. It also is a reminder of the Joe McCarthy era, when the demagogic late senator from Wisconsin claimed he saw a communist behind every tree and ruined the careers and lives of many writers and other prominent Americans whom he had blacklisted.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, this watchlist is an act of political cowardice. Kirk and his colleagues would love to keep their peers in a conservative echo chamber rather than let them be exposed to a variety of political viewpoints. Why?

Maybe they find it easier to discourage political debate than engage in it. Maybe they find it easier to stifle opposing viewpoints than defend their own.