AAUP supports professor targeted on anonymous website over political views

Mitchell Felan

The Kent State branch of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP-KSU) showed support for Kent State professors targeted through anonymous websites that criticize them for their political views.

These websites, such as The Professor Watchlist and The Canary Mission, are known for creating profiles on university professors complete with quotes of “un-American” or “hateful” language, quotes and actions by the professors.

Bill Sledzik, the spokesperson for AAUP-KSU, said these websites promote harassment of professors — which is what prompted the union to make a public statement on the situation on Wednesday.

“A particular professor brought this to our attention,” he said. “He told us ‘there are people targeting me. There are people who are threatening what I do.”

The statement, written by AAUP-KSU President Jennifer Larson, expressed support for the Kent State professor and called out the websites for their actions.

“(The) AAUP has long been united in its commitment to defend academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas more broadly. Our commitment to this ideal must extend to everyone, whether or not we agree with the ideas expressed,” she wrote in the statement.

The statement also called out these websites for their controversial practice of releasing personal contact information for professors, including their email and phone numbers. This has led the Kent State professors, and many others around the country, to receive responses from the website’s visitors.

“We just thought a statement had to be made that we are not okay with this,” Sledzik said. “It’s affecting one of our members and it’s threatening our freedoms as academics and individuals.”

While Sledzik was not able to give the name of the professor in question, Kent State political science associate professor Joshua Stacher is sure that he was the subject of the statement.

Stacher is currently featured on The Canary Mission for his views connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He alerted AAUP-KSU of the situation last month, after finding out through a Twitter post that he was added to the website.

“The attacks they are making are personal and public. The attacks have done serious harm to people, and that seems to be their goal: to inflict personal harm through character assassination,” Stacher said about the response he’s gotten from the website’s visitors.

The Canary Mission has criticized his support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) — which calls on consumers to cease buying or selling products made in Israel — as well as multiple social media posts that either supported Palestinian efforts or criticized Israeli efforts.

“It doesn’t feel good to be called a racist just because I am engaged in an area of the world where people don’t want to see change happen,” he said.

Stacher said he has been targeted for his views on the subject since 2015 and has received multiple emails calling him a “racist” and a “terrorist,” some of which were sent to his department and even university President Beverly Warren. But he said the Canary Mission is different for a few key reasons.

“It’s a website and organization that claims to support Israel, but in reality, it’s a McCarthyist project that attacks mostly (professors and students) of color. They believe that anyone who stands up for Palestinian rights must be, by definition, an anti-semite,” he said.

Stacher said that the website has been targeting both students and professors of color, claiming that a majority of the people listed on the website fit the criteria.

Sledzik said that Stacher might be correct about the site’s motives.

“Some of them have political agendas that deal with countries and foreign nations. They disagree with what is said, so they want to make it difficult for that faculty member to continue to exercise his or her free speech,” Sledzik said.

But Sledzik and Stacher are not giving up anytime soon. Stacher said the responses he’s received — both before and after his inclusion on the Canary Mission — won’t change his mind or scare him.

“I think professors have the right to lead the discussion, I have the right to have a Twitter account under my name and I have the right to discuss my own political views,” Stacher said.

Sledzik adopts this idea as well, which he calls “academic freedom.”

“It’s simply the idea that free speech exists for the professor in his or her class. What (professors) do is express themselves like they would in any other environment,” he said. “The idea of academic freedom is to ward off censorship from officials or by outside pressure groups like we’re seeing here. When you influence what’s being talked about in the classroom, you limit that freedom of critical thinking and of learning.”

Mitch Felan is a senior reporter, contact him at [email protected]