The People Behind the Professor Watchlist

The funders behind the Professor Watchlist aren’t too keen on transparency. Many of the donors who support the $8 million budget of Turning Point USA  prefer to remain anonymous. That’s not surprising given that Turning Point’s work has sparked vicious campaigns of online harassment against faculty members, and, according to published reports, may also have violated federal rules prohibiting 501(c)(3) charities from engaging in political activity.

This week we’re drawing back the curtain on the right-wing organization whose Professor Watchlist purports “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

In reality, faculty are listed for a wide variety of reasons that have included criticizing capitalism or making feminist comments on Twitter, publishing a study finding that economics textbooks heavily feature male economists and suggesting that this may be a deterrence to women pursuing economics, and criticizing conservative politicians on social media. Being listed has resulted in campaigns of harassment that have included death threats and threats against professors’ children.

We’ve created three fact sheets to help prepare you in the event that you come into contact with Turning Point. On Friday, we’ll be discussing Turning Point, the Professor Watchlist, and mobilizing to protect academic freedom during a Facebook Live.

Visit our One Faculty, One Resistance site to read and share the fact sheets.

This Friday, March 16, we’ll host a Facebook Live with Monica Owens, AAUP political organizer, and Hans-Joerg Tiede, a senior program officer in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. They’ll discuss Turning Point and academic freedom in the age of Trump and talk through some organizing tips for faculty dealing with these issues.

RSVP to the Facebook Live here.

Gwendolyn Bradley
Director of External Relations, AAUP

Day of Action as Supreme Court Debates Our Future

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, an attack by wealthy, anti-union organizations on the voice of working people and their ability to negotiate collectively.

People from around the country rallied at the Court to let the world know that, regardless of the outcome of the Janus case, we will continue to organize for the public good and for our rights. This followed the Working People’s Day of Action over the weekend, which called attention to our rigged economy and the need to defend our rights at work. It marked the fifty-year anniversary of protests by Memphis sanitation workers and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. against discrimination, low pay, and inhumane conditions that led to worker deaths. Share the graphic below on Facebook and spread the word.

Photo of Supreme Court protests

The AAUP supports the right of working people, including faculty, to join together in unions as well as in traditional nonunionized AAUP chapters. Our collective voice is a powerful force to set standards and create better workplaces. Together, we fight for higher education and the critical role it plays in this country. Together, we defend academic freedom, shared governance, and due process protections. Standing together also makes it possible for us to negotiate affordable healthcare, a fair return on our work, and the ability to retire with dignity.

At issue in Janus is whether non-union members, who share in the wages, benefits, and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract, may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations. Learn more about the Janus case and the amicus brief we filed.

Yesterday’s oral argument went largely as expected. Many of the justices sharply questioned the attorneys. Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan generally asked questions and advanced arguments that were supportive of the constitutionality of fair-share fees, pointing to their benefits and to the fact that unions and others had relied on the prior decisions of the Court. Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Roberts took the opposite approach. Justice Kennedy seemed particularly hostile, asserting that unions compel nonmembers to subsidize their political speech.

Because none of the justices appeared to depart from their expected position, today’s oral argument reinforced the view that the Court will rule against us.

AAUP members are sticking together as One Faculty, One Resistance to fight for our collective voice, to promote safe and challenging learning environments, and to defend the important role our universities play in advancing the public good.

Thanks for standing with us.

In unity,
Rudy Fichtenbaum, President, AAUP

Paul Davis, Chair, AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress

I Was a Target

Last summer, the right-wing website Campus Reform misrepresented social media postings that I made, leading to a barrage of online and voicemail threats against me and others at my institution, Trinity College in Connecticut. Like other faculty who have been threatened and harassed this year, I was targeted over remarks I made that drew attention to racism. The threats were so severe that I feared for my safety and that of my family.

I expected administrators at my school to defend academic freedom against the right-wing outrage machine that is targeting faculty across the country. Instead, they placed me on involuntary leave and publicly criticized my comments, as if the threat was coming from me.

Fortunately, the AAUP was there. The AAUP chapter on my campus and a large group of other colleagues signed a statement noting that the decision to place me on leave was a clear violation of AAUP standards. Chapter leaders consulted with the national AAUP, which urged the Trinity administration to reinstate me. Ultimately, the administration acknowledged that my posts were protected by academic freedom, noting that “Our understanding of academic freedom in America today is rooted largely in a joint statement from 1940 by the American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges that asserted the fundamental importance of academic freedom for the common good and the advancement of truth.”

Now more than ever, we need an organization that exists to protect academic freedom, and that stands up against targeted harassment of faculty. Thank you for being there.


Johnny Williams
Professor of Sociology at Trinity College

“We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all”

Over the course of the last year, targeted online harassment of faculty has emerged as a significant threat to academic freedom. Fueled by websites such as Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform, and College Fix, campaigns of threats and harassment are directed against faculty members for what they are reported to have said in the classroom or posted on social media. At times, these reports are inaccurate or take quotes out of context. These campaigns clearly have an impact. Multiple faculty members have been placed on extended suspensions. Institutions of higher education had to close for a day over threats. Some especially vulnerable faculty–particularly those who work off the tenure track–have been summarily dismissed. Even the protections of tenure can mean very little when an administration caves into outside threats. As Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, who recently resigned from Drexel University because of an extended campaign of targeted harassment against him, observed: “We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all.”

Repercussions extend beyond the individual faculty members who are targeted. Online harassment campaigns have a chilling effect, causing some faculty members to self-censor for fear of being targeted–especially when these campaigns are seen to cause suspensions and dismissals. As a result, the AAUP has focused our work this past year on combating targeted online harassment of faculty.

In addition to the case of Professor Ciccariello-Maher at Drexel, we have written recently to administrations at five universities because of adverse actions taken against faculty members following campaigns of online harassment. In several of these cases the administration subsequently backed down or agreed to a settlement with the faculty member. One case, that of a graduate student and part-time lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln whose suspension following threats against her was extended through the end of her appointment, is currently subject to an AAUP investigation.

As Professor Johnny Williams, who was suspended from Trinity College in Connecticut following a campaign of targeted harassment, observed, “Like other faculty who have been threatened and harassed this year, I was targeted over remarks I made that drew attention to racism.” Efforts to silence faculty members who speak out on matters of race are not new, as the AAUP has found in investigations dating back to the 1950s. In 1957, a faculty member at Auburn University was summarily dismissed for publishing a letter in the student newspaper in support of desegregation.  The faculty member was subjected to threats of violence, which were cited by the administration as evidence that his letter was “dangerous.” As an AAUP investigative report observed: “it must be recognized that academic freedom cannot be measured or limited by vague threats to the welfare of an institution or a community which may or may not result from what a professor says or does.” The report went on: if faculty members may not speak because they may “cause an alumnus to withhold a gift, a legislator to vote against an appropriation, a student not to register, or a citizen’s feelings to be ruffled,” they will be free to talk only to themselves.

Read more about our work and find resources to assist in the fight against targeted harassment here.

Hans-Joerg Tiede
Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance

P.S. Want to support our work fighting targeted harassment? Donate to the AAUP Foundation today.

A Political Environment Ripe for Targeted Harassment

One year ago today, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president. During his administration, the political environment has become increasingly hostile to higher education and academics. We have seen a travel ban targeting people, including faculty and students, from Muslim countries; attacks on campuses that fought to protect their students as part of the sanctuary campus movement; and an expanded platform for radical right-wing groups that target faculty and academic freedom.

The AAUP has been fighting these attacks in the courts and in our daily work. As a result of the spike in cases of targeted harassment that has occurred in the last year, we’re working harder than ever to combat attacks on faculty. Last week we let you know that we’re going to be shining a spotlight on the subject during the week of January 22. Be sure to join us.

And here’s something you can do to fight targeted harassment right now. Sign a petition in support of Laurie Rubel, a professor of mathematics education at Brooklyn College, who has become the latest target of right-wing sites and faces a wave of deeply disturbing harassment.

Learn more and sign here.

Dr. Rubel’s case demonstrates why being informed and ready to act when it comes to targeted harassment has never been more important. Starting Monday, we’ll kick off with an overview of the work we’re doing and let you know how you can raise your voice in the fight. We’ll share some guidelines about targeted harassment and social media and get you the most up-to-date resources on the subject.

You’ll also hear from a faculty member who was the target of an attack that led to his suspension, and on Friday, January 26, we’ll hold a Facebook Live chat with Joan Wallach Scott and Hank Reichman, two leading voices in the fight for academic freedom.

We’ll send you information throughout next week. Want to do more?

Donate to the AAUP Foundation and support its continued work fighting for academic freedom in the courts and enabling us to investigate cases where faculty voices are being curtailed and targeted.

One year in, the fight continues.


P.S. To see all our resources for the week, check out our page on One Faculty, One Resistance.

Targeted Harassment: What to do

What do you do if you or a fellow faculty member on your campus is subject to targeted online harassment?

In the current political climate, this has become everyday reality in higher education, and the AAUP has developed some resources to help guide you and your colleagues when these situations do arise. All of the resources can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance site.

We’ve created a one-page guide to help you prepare to respond to cases of targeted harassment. By actively engaging with your administration to plan for cases of targeted harassment on campus and ensuring that institutional regulations or collective bargaining agreements reflect that academic freedom includes the freedom of faculty members to speak as citizens, you can help establish procedures for an institutional response when incidents occur.

We also developed a brief guide to social media policies. We believe that while institutional policies can provide guidance to faculty members who post in an official capacity, any such policies must recognize that social media can be used to address matters of public concern and thus that their use by faculty members speaking as citizens is subject to Association-supported principles of academic freedom.

Those guides along with a form to submit cases of targeted harassment and a look at some of work intervening on behalf of professors who have been targeted can be found on our One Faculty, One Resistance website.

Remember to share your thoughts and stories using the hashtag #FacultyUnderAttack

Mariah Quinn
Senior Program Officer, Digital Organizing

Fighting Targeted Harassment: Join Us January 22-26

Threats of violence. Vicious attacks from right-wing propaganda sites. Firings and forced leaves. The silencing of faculty.

In addition to harming individual faculty members, campaigns of targeted harassment pose a profound and ominous challenge to higher education’s most fundamental values. The right of faculty members to speak or write as citizens, free from institutional censorship or disciplinary action, is a core principle of academic freedom.

The AAUP is at the forefront of fighting targeted harassment. We work directly with affected faculty, campus administrations, and our chapters and state conferences to ensure that faculty members’ academic freedom and due process rights are protected. And our sister organization, the AAUP Foundation, provides direct support to faculty members whose careers are impacted by targeted harassment.

This month, we’re doubling down: starting January 22 we’ll devote a week to the topic of the insidious problem of targeted harassment.

We’ll kick off with an overview of the work we’re doing and let you know how you can raise your voice in the fight. We’ll share some guidelines about targeted harassment and social media and get you the most up-to-date resources on the subject.

You’ll hear from a faculty member who was the target of an attack that led to his suspension, and learn how the work of his AAUP chapter led the administration to step back and acknowledge the fundamental importance of academic freedom for the common good and the advancement of truth.

On Friday, January 26, we’ll hold a Facebook Live chat with Joan Wallach Scott and Henry Reichman, members of AAUP’s Committee A and two leading voices in the fight for academic freedom. You can RSVP here; we’ll send a reminder in advance.

We want to hear your voices! Tweet or post using the hashtag #FacultyUnderAttack and we’ll share your stories on our social media feeds.

The fight against the targeted harassment of faculty comes at a time when harassment has been increasing significantly. In these uncertain times, the more we stand together, the more we can accomplish.

Stay tuned.

Julie Schmid
Executive Director, AAUP