On the Watchlist

A conservative group put UM historian Tobin Miller Shearer on ‘Professor Watchlist.’ To Shearer, the threat sounds awfully familiar.

Shearer shares his story of being targeted:

So what do you do when a conservative group with white supremacy connections paints a target on your back? The first thing is to point out the target to as many people as possible. That way, if anyone takes aim, there are a lot of people paying attention and poised to intervene. The next morning I sent a note to my dean, the provost and the president alerting them that I and one other professor at UM had been put on the list. The administrators responded positively. In less than 48 hours President Engstrom sent out a message reiterating the university’s support of academic freedom. Oddly enough, between the time of the watchlist’s release and President Engstrom’s statement, the other professor’s name had been removed from the list. As that professor later noted, Turning Point’s ability to add or remove names at will emphasized the impunity of its actions.

This is exactly how prior attempts at watchlisting have unfolded. As historian Ellen Wolf Schrecker has pointed out, McCarthy-era professorial “blacklists”a racially problematic term from the Red Scare of the 1950shad two phases. In the first, an official organization identified the so-called subversive faculty. In the subsequent phase, the professors were fired or received economic sanction.

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