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Iowa professors on conservative ‘Watchlist’


Photo by Adam Burke
Photo by Adam Burke

The website professorwatchlist.org, created by the conservative non-profit Turning Point USA, appeared in November with the names of almost 200 professors. Two Iowa professors were included on the list: University of Iowa anthropology and women’s studies Professor Ellen Lewin and Des Moines Area Community College English Professor Darwin Pagnac.

According to its About Us page, the site aims to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” It has been criticized as an effort to intimidate faculty and muffle speech on campuses.

Lewin was added to the site due to comments made back in 2011 in response to a planned “Conservative Coming Out Week” put on by the university’s College Republicans. Upset by the use of the term “coming out,” Lewin emailed a response to the group — “Fuck you, Republicans” — which ignited controversy on campus. The site links to a Daily Iowan story about the incident.

Pagnac was included on the list based on an article from the website campusreform.org about a research paper in which Pagnac required students to, according to the watchlist site, “write about climate-change skepticism, citing the mythical 97% agreement number.” The “mythical 97% agreement number” references a number cited in multiple peer-reviewed scientific journals that showed 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are actively publishing agreed that climate-warming trends are likely due to human activities.

The list was built using pre-existing news stories, and campusreform.org is a source for articles cited on the pages of about 50 professors out of the 162 listed on the watchlist. Campusreform.org, which calls itself “America’s leading site for college news,” is a project of the Leadership Institute, which, according to the institute’s About Us page, “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media.”

Although the watchlist site states that Turning Point USA will “continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish,” it adds that, “students, parents and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

In response to questions from Little Village about his inclusion on the watchlist, Pagnac forwarded a copy of an open letter signed by more than 100 Notre Dame faculty members. In the letter, the faculty members request their names be added to the watchlist.

“We surmise that the purpose of your list is to shame and silence faculty who espouse ideas you reject,” the letter states. “But your list has had a different effect upon us. We are coming forward to stand with the professors you have called ‘dangerous,’ reaffirming our values and recommitting ourselves to the work of teaching students to think clearly, independently and fearlessly.”

“I cannot thank the faculty of Notre Dame enough for reminding all of us how important it is to remain true to our profession,” Pagnac wrote in an email. “Their sentiments are my sentiments exactly, and I welcome their inclusion and their company on ‘the list.'”

Although the site states that it accepts tips for new additions, the watchlist publishers don’t seem to have responded yet. As of Tuesday afternoon, only two Notre Dame professors were on the list.

Lewin has not responded to requests for comments.


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