As a conservative student, I was honestly surprised that I didn’t completely disagree with your premise. You’re right about one thing for sure — the sensitivity of modern politics is a huge problem. It’s that same sensitivity which seems to have triggered the horrible, vitriolic rhetoric of this election. The idea appears to be that since any argument is a personal attack, the only valid recourse is to attack back… personally.
And I do appreciate that you note that you actually have very little to be afraid of. Your department is, as you note, supportive (how could a department that has a Feminist Criticism course be anything but?), and will certainly understand that you’re bound to have some students who disagree with you. I am curious how many conservative students actually sign up for your feminist criticism class? Is it required for certain majors?
That said, I don’t know if you understand where the ideas behind Professor Watchlist come from. I don’t know much about the site, so won’t try to defend its specifics, but I came away with the impression that you view the idea of liberal bias on campuses as a conspiracy theory with no basis in fact, and view the people who’d be interested in a website documenting that bias as if they were wearing tinfoil hats. The fact is that liberal bias in the classroom is a very real experience for conservative students, and as a result I think you’ll find that most of them (long-term, pre-Trump conservatives, anyway, not necessarily the new breed that’s been so vocal lately) have much thicker skins than their liberal counterparts.
After reading your article I came across this piece by Nicholas Kristof, an op-ed published in the New York Times. He voices effectively the concerns that we’ve had for decades:
Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent.
Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).
In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.
I don’t have his sources, and haven’t looked them up, but I’m going to trust that the New York Times would have issued a correction if these stats were groundless.
Many liberal professors, like yourself, do their best to keep politics out of the classroom. But you yourself note that your views and beliefs cannot be suppressed entirely, that you have an “unconscious presentation” as a liberal. Like it or not, that unconscious presentation, multiplied out for each of their professors, creates in conservative students a sense that they’re alone in a world where almost every authority figure disagrees with them. That’s a sensation that no liberal student has to deal with on your average campus.
Add to that the fact that there will always be professors who are not as scrupulous about not vocally advocating political positions, and students who aren’t shy about denouncing and shaming, and you’ll understand why a group that feels so besieged would feel the need to defend itself. The responses of Kristof’s friends to his idea regarding liberal bias are representative of what we’ve come to expect on campuses:
“Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false,” said Carmi.
“The truth has a liberal slant,” wrote Michelle.
“Why stop there?” asked Steven. “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”
You’re right that your subconscious attitudes shouldn’t result in students taking offense, and I believe that you really do keep an open mind and avoid politicizing. But the attitudes expressed above are typical of what conservative students come across, from both students and faculty. If they start seeing opposition where none was intended, who can blame them? Honestly, you should see it as a miracle that you haven’t felt defensiveness from them until now.