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Right-Wing Inquisitors on Campus

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The American Interest

Donald Trump’s upset victory has been hailed by his supporters as an unprecedented repudiation of politically correct ideology on college campuses. For those of us who think that campus victim culture has gone off the rails, this is a good thing. But it also may have emboldened anti-PC forces in higher education to overreach and take illiberal steps of their own.

An example, from Inside Higher Education:

A new website is asking students and others to “expose and document” professors who “discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

The site, called Professor Watchlist, is not without precedent — predecessors include the now-defunct NoIndoctrination.org, which logged accounts of alleged bias in the classroom. There’s also David Horowitz’s 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. But such efforts arguably have new meaning in an era of talk about registering certain social groups and concerns about free speech.

Conservatives have understandably felt for decades that the higher education establishment is indifferent or hostile to their interests. The number of right-of-center faculty has dwindled to the point of disappearance; Republican speakers are regularly shouted down; campus speech codes and harassment policies seem designed to disfavor conservative points of view. Now that the cultural wind is at their backs as never before, some on the Right may be tempted to be vindictive, and to do to college liberals what college liberals have done to them. Ben Carson, currently being considered for a Trump Administration cabinet position, suggested during the primaries that the government should police colleges for liberal bias.

Needless to say, such efforts would be deeply destructive. If Orwellian left-wing speech codes are wrong, then McCarthyist speech codes are wrong as well. If the principle of academic freedom requires the protection of conservative scholarship, it requires the protection of liberal scholarship, too. The aim of genuine defenders of the liberal tradition must be to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, not to replace left-wing academic hegemony with a right-wing version.

The American Interest, 22 November 2016