'Professor Watchlist' includes Eng-Beng Lim

by Carter Brace | 12/20/16 10:10am

Women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Eng-Beng Lim is one of 162 professors on Turning Point USA’s “Professor Watchlist.”

The site says the list, initially published on Nov. 21, names professors “who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda.” The list has attracted nationwide attention and criticism.

According to the site’s entry on Lim, he is included for blaming “conservatives, guns and Islamophobia" for the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, during which Omar Mateen killed 49 people.

The site says it uses news stories to identify professors who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” The Lim entry cites two July articles, one from The Dartmouth Review and the other from Dartmouth News announcing a faculty award for Lim.

Lim told Dartmouth News that he is currently teaching the “Orlando Syllabus,” which examines “'toxic masculinity,’ mass violence, racism and homophobia” in the context of the Orlando shooting.

The Dartmouth Review article republishes and critiques the syllabus for Lim’s class on the Orlando shooting. Lim initially posted the reading list on the Bully Bloggers website, which covers queer issues. The syllabus touches on issues such as gender, LGBT persecution, gun violence, masculinity, money in politics and the rise of Trump in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

The available course evaluations for Lim across the four classes he has taught at Dartmouth are positive and the overall ratings of his courses are excellent or very good.

Associate dean for international studies and interdisciplinary program Bruce Duthu, who oversees the women’s, gender and sexuality studies, called the efforts of organizations like Turning Point USA "pathetic" attempts to silence robust academic discourse on college campuses.

After learning of Lim's inclusion on the watch list, Duthu sent Lim an email expressing support and sympathy. In the email, Duthu noted that Lim might see his inclusion as tacit acknowledgment of his success in encouraging his students to think deeply on issues that matter to them and to the world.

Turning Point USA, co-founded and headed by conservative activist Charlie Kirk in June 2012, aims to educate and organize students to promote principles of free markets and limited government, according to the organization's website.

Matt Lamb, who currently manages the watch list, said that academics were included on the list if they expressed radical ideas "that will chill free speech." Lamb added that while the site has no consistent criteria for inclusion, “[he] know[s] it when [he] see[s] it.” Lamb said that Lim’s perspective on the Orlando massacre merited his inclusion.

“It’s a very twisted view on what caused the massacre," Lamb said. “[The massacre] was obviously caused by a deranged individual, probably an Islamic terrorist. It wasn’t the National Rifle Association’s fault.”

By contrast, art history professor Mary Coffey said that Lim’s perspective was not particularly controversial, noting that it was reasonable to look at gun laws or Mateen’s struggles with his sexuality, masculinity or religion as relevant to the massacre. Coffey noted that non-tenured faculty with less job security could be particularly concerned by the watch list.

Many academics see the watch list as a threat to academic freedom and free speech, with some participating in nationwide shows of solidarity. The American Association of University Professors has collected over 9,000 signatures for an open letter to Turning Point asking that signatories be placed on the watch list. In addition, an independent list called Professor Watchlist Redux has been created as a counterpoint to Professor Watchlist to celebrate radical thinkers in the past and present.

In response to criticisms that the list threatens academic freedom, Lamb said that Turning Point’s free speech rights entitle it to criticize those with whom the organization disagrees, in the same way that the listed academics are allowed to exercise their free speech rights.

“We’re not trying to get them fired or harassed or anything like that,” Lamb said.

The watch list, according to Lamb, was created to inform parents, students and alumni and to help prepare students for classes with academics who may have biases against groups like Christians or gun owners.

Art history professor Katie Hornstein wrote in an email that the watch list was a "McCarthy-esque" work trying to advance anti-democratic values.

Hornstein added that The Dartmouth Review article gave an inaccurate account of what Lim teaches and goes against the values of a liberal arts education, which she described as based on the willingness to grapple with challenging ideas.

Coffey said that the concerns relating to the watch list are connected to the climate of the recent election and worries about a new era of censorship, as well as concerns raised in the past few years about campus speech codes. 

Lim did not respond to requests for comment.