There’s no question that America’s most famous white nationalist, Richard Spencer — the man who coined the term “alt-right” — is a subject worthy of academic study, be that by a sociologist or anyone else.
But should an academic sign a non-disclosure agreement with Spencer’s organisation as a condition of access?
Sources tell Cockburn that Serena Tarr, a sociology professor at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, has been seen with him at a number of events in the past year, including a 2017 National Policy Institute Conference, CPAC in Maryland in February, and Spencer’s speech at Michigan State about a week or so after that. She can be seen in this video posted to Twitter during his visit to Michigan:
(I’m talking to the young kid on the right in this) pic.twitter.com/Eh9qYYLn0R
— x (@xtranecol) March 6, 2018
Cockburn reached out to Tarr. “I am doing ongoing research on the alt-right and I have a non-disclosure agreement in place with NPI and Richard Spencer so I am afraid I am not able to publicly comment on my research at this point,” she said.
When asked later how this seems like strange research methodology — effectively giving veto power to your subject — Tarr stopped responding to inquiries, and a telephone number attached to her initial reply seems to have stopped working.
A request for comment was sent to the American Sociological Association about the ethics of such an arrangement, and we will update this piece if they reply.
Dr. Tarr’s CV does not seem to be available online, but her publishing record seems thin to nonexistent. Google Scholar and several academic databases returned no articles with her as an author.
RateMyProfessor gives her 4.0 out of 5, and a “spicy” rating. One review says her course was taught “completely from a socialist point of view,” and a cursory Twitter search suggests someone by that name is involved in Iowa Democratic politics.
“We don’t have any info on Serena. Sorry,” said a representative for NPI when asked about their relationship. They neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a non-disclosure agreement.
To say they don’t have any info on Tarr is a bit of a stretch, as the Twitter exchange below shows:
Just noticed these tweets. Emailed you just now. Thanks!
— Evan McLaren (@EvanMcLaren) October 22, 2017
It seems like there’s more to this story, though it would be irresponsible to speculate further at this point.
Got any tips for Cockburn? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.