Right-wing organization brands several NYU profs as radical leftists

A website run by Turning Point USA accuses professors of spreading leftist views and discriminating against conservative students.

Tori Morales, Staff Writer

Six NYU faculty members have been accused of spreading left-wing propaganda and discriminating against conservative students by Professor Watchlist, a project launched in 2016 by right-wing group Turning Point USA. 

The organization, co-founded and run by Charlie Kirk, aims to promote free speech, free-market capitalism and limited government to high school and college students to counteract what the organization characterizes as the dominance of leftist political beliefs within universities. 

TPUSA’s website states that its purpose is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” The NYU professors on the list are Ulrich Baer, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Amin Husain, Arthur Caplan, Mark Crispin Miller and Frank Leon Roberts.

Kirk, an outspoken right-wing advocate, started TPUSA with Bill Montgomery, who died in July 2020 due to COVID-19 complications. TPUSA has hosted high-profile conservative figures like Rudy Giuliani and has been sponsored by right-wing organizations including the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation. The organization has been accused of spreading misinformation, particularly in the context of its collaboration with right-wing organizations and Republican donors. 

Baer, a professor of comparative literature in the Faculty of Arts and Science, said he is skeptical about the organization’s mission.

A portrait photograph of NYU professor Ulrich Baer wearing a navy blue polo shirt standing in front of a lamppost and trees in Washington Square Park.
Ulrich Baer, a professor of comparative literature, German, and English at NYU’s College of Arts and Science. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

“I don’t think their interest at heart is to improve the university,” he said. “They’re interested in damaging people’s careers. That’s something that one has to take seriously.”

Baer was added to the watchlist after he published an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech.” TPUSA alleges that Baer supports the suppression of free speech on college campuses — especially of conservative voices.

“They don’t know what goes on in my classroom,” Baer said. “The fact that they imply that I discriminate against students I find outrageous. It’s an incredible accusation that I think nobody should be making in the way they do it by just publicizing on the internet. I take it very, very seriously.”

Baer said he is concerned about the implications of his name being posted on the site. He believes the organization’s goals impose a limit on professors’ ability to express their opinions in their classrooms.

“They want to tell you what can be discussed, right?” Baer asked. “I thought the whole point of free speech is that they want to say that anything can be discussed.”

Miller — a professor in the department of Media, Culture, and Communication at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — is not concerned that TPUSA’s list will impact his career. He said he does not take the website seriously.

Miller, however, agrees with TPUSA’s argument that universities have become too politically left-leaning. He previously created controversy in the NYU community after being accused of making comments doubting the effectiveness of masks and promoting conspiracy theories.

“Universities have become very intolerant places,” Miller said. “My notion of higher education now seems quaint. It’s supposed to be the place where you can discuss anything.”

A headshot of NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller wearing a gray sweater. He is sitting on a green couch, next to a bookcase and in front of a window, during the nighttime.
Mark Crispin Miller teaches in the Media, Culture, and Communication department at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at NYU. (Image courtesy of Mark Crispin Miller)

Several NYU students said they disagree with TPUSA’s reasoning for featuring professors on its website. CAS first-year Río Narval said they think students should be able to report professors who make them feel uncomfortable to TPUSA, but that the organization’s website handles the complaints in an unprofessional way.

“That group in particular is always arguing for freedom, yet their freedom is conditional on you complying with their vision,” Narval said.

CAS first-year Sam Husemann-Erickson said he is not convinced that professors are discriminating against conservative students at NYU. He said that students should report any incident to the university administration instead of turning to a third-party organization like TPUSA.

“Almost all the time a student thinks they’re being politically targeted, it’s not actually true,” Husemann-Erickson said. “The most likely explanation is that the professor was challenging them on their views — not to change their opinions, but to open their mind and better consider why they think the way they do. I’ve seen plenty of professors push back on students’ political beliefs on the left and the right, not because of bias, but to force them to critically think.”

Although Baer said he is concerned about the watchlist, he discourages students and professors who disagree with the site from directing their attention to TPUSA and its project. Instead, he urges those concerned about censorship and free speech to find different ways to respond.

“I’m not going to scrutinize what this organization does with my name on their website,” Baer said. “That’s what they want me to do. We have to keep on doing our work.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].