Screenshot of CSULB President Jane Close Conoley’s listing on Professor Watch.
A conservative nonprofit has named Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) President Jane Close Conoley to its “Professor Watch List,” released Monday, November 21.
The sole citation for Close Conoley’s inclusion on the watchlist comes from campusreform.org, a conservative college news website, which panned the university president’s 2014 message to students, titled “Privilege at The Beach.”
Professor Watch List includes Close Conoley on a list of over 140 professors from over 100 universities across the country as part of a self-described effort by Turning Point USA to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
The site has been the subject of numerous articles and op-eds in publications such as the New York Times and Slate, with the latter alluding to the post-election timing of the site’s creation as “grotesque.”
Turning Point USA was founded in 2012 by then-18-year-old Charlie Kirk, who decided to skip college himself. Kirk has been quick to denounce the neo-nazi celebrations that occurred in Washington D.C. in the immediate aftermath of the elections, and has distanced himself from such demonstrations, describing the group as a mild-mannered fiscal conservative nonprofit in an interview with Slate.
According to Kirk, the organization simply “believes that every young person can be enlightened to true free market values,” citing the watch list as a way for the group to utilize their own free speech. It includes a page for students to submit tips regarding alleged instances of discrimination and relies heavily on news outlets that appear to present information out of context, with sensationalized headlines and images.
In one such case, the website maintains that a professor at Washington State University (WSU) called a student a “white shitbag” and that the professor claimed that WSU stands for a “White Supremacist University,” again citing campusreform.org.
An original complaint filed in 2006 does refer to such an incident, but when described in full, offers a backdrop of a volatile on-campus demonstration by WSU College Republicans (WSUCR) advocating for the construction of a border fence. During the incident, which did not violate campus rules, the complainant and Associate Professor John Streams engaged in a heated discourse.
“The respondent called Complainant a ‘white shitbag,’ for which he immediately apologized to complainant, stating ‘I’m sorry I did that,’” reads the formal WSU Center for Human Rights (WSUCHR) complaint investigation. “Complainant’s conduct evidenced he took immediate offense when respondent directed the derogatory phrase at him, and that Complainant accepted respondent’s apology. The two continued to debate for a substantial period of time, making no reference to the phrase ‘white shitbag,’ and Complainant, in particular, not manifesting that he was intimidated or harassed by Respondent having used the phrase.”
“Whatever I said to one person is not equal to whatever that fence did to hundreds of people, attacking us personally and communally,” Streamas said in a message to the university. “WSU is a racist university. Many of our students say that WSU stands for White Supremacist University… Many, many people have been hurt.”
Streamas was scolded at the conclusion of the complaint investigation for his “immature” response, and was told to refrain from using “derogatory” language with students to maintain a safe space.
In another example, Professor Watch maintains that University of Texas Professor of Russian History Jane Neuberger allegedly led a petition to bar students who carry concealed weapons from entering classrooms “in violation of Texas law.”
Yet, “the law had not been finalized yet when we were petitioning,” Neuberger told the New York Times.
As the list relates to Close Conoley, the website’s source, the article from campusreform.org, presents excerpts from Close Conoley’s statement out of context, with misleading generalizations. The article is accompanied by a picture of Close Conoley, with the words “unearned privilege” photoshopped as to appear to be seared onto her forehead.
Screenshot of the source listed for Close Conoley’s selection.
“In an op-ed from 2014, Conoley stated that if you are ‘light-skinned’ you have ‘significant unearned privilege,” reads Close Conoley’s page on the watch list. “Moreover, these privileged individuals show distrust and ‘lower expectations of behavior’ of those with another skin color.”
However, a thorough reading of the original message negates many of the sentiments implied by the pull quotes.
In context, Close Conoley’s statement reads: “Light skin color and high-income levels may attract significant unearned privilege. This privilege can manifest itself in numerous ways that afford automatic trust, deference, and security. Those who are less affluent with darker skin or from other cultures can be targets of micro to macro aggressions, distrust, and low expectations for behavior.”
She goes on to contrast the discrepancy in expectations between those raised in privileged and raised without.
“Those with privilege are often unaware of this discrepancy, as people treat them with respect—as all individuals should be treated,” reads Close Conoley’s statement. “When they enter department stores they are greeted with smiles and offers of help. When they ask questions or request additional service, they are answered cordially. On approach, they are seen as benign,” as opposed to unprivileged individuals of the same age, who may be viewed with “suspicion or fear.”
At the close of her message to students, she stated a commitment to respect and diversity on campus.
“My hope is that The Beach can be a national model that counters prevailing understandings of privilege—that through hard work and selfless contributions to the community, each of us can be successful and help others thrive,” she stated. “If we, as a learning community, can embrace that approach, maybe we can teach our nation to do the same. That would be a very good thing.”
In response to the listing, CSULB officials pointed to the lack of credibility regarding the site’s sources, and said the president would not change her approach to academia or communicating with the campus.
“President Conoley gives the founders of the list a ‘D-’ grade at getting the facts right,” said CSULB SpokespersonTerri Carbaugh. “The list will have zero effect on how she conducts her business going forward.”
The list hearkens back to the McCarthy era, as well as impeached President Nixon’s documented disdain for the mainstream media and his famous 500-person “enemy” list. In 2006, even, professors maintainted their inclusion on conservative writer David Horowitz’s book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America as a point of pride.
Yet, such a list targeting the country’s educators, colleges and universities is perhaps all the more significant this year, given the dramatic increase in the propagation of fake news, the Oxford Dictionary’s choice of post-truth” as its word of the year, and the increased visibility of the so-called “alt-right” white nationalist movement.
Some tipsters on the site have taken to submitting their own ideas of “left-leaning” educators, such as Indiana Jones, Dumbledore and Jesus. One submission reported the professor on Gilligan’s Island for “[spending] almost 30 minutes building a working radio out of coconuts but [failing] to maintain a working signal in the end.”
The inclusion of photos and specific names of professors as hate crimes and incidents of harassment increase across the country is something that many have found especially troubling. However, other professors have decided to use their inclusion on the list as a platform for fighting for factual accuracy and truth.
A professor initially listed on the site, Boston College’s Heather Cox Richardson, published a column denouncing the list’s sources on her Facebook page the day after, and was removed from the list on November 23.
“It is ironic that this list would label me ‘leftist,’” wrote Richardson. “In fact, in my public life, I do not identify with a political party, and I work with politicians on both sides of the aisle. […]I believe that the nation needs both the Democratic and the Republican parties to be strong and healthy.”
Richardson continued, spotlighting the young man who created the list.
“I am dangerous not to America but to the people soon to be in charge of it, people like the youngster who wrote this list,” Richardson wrote. “[…]I have been touched and overwhelmed by all of the messages of concern and support I have received over my inclusion on the Professor Watchlist. And for those of you who worried: No, I will not shut up. America is still worth fighting for.”