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At least 31 tenured Trinity University professors want their names added to a watchlist for leftist professors, and the number is growing.
Trinity Professor Kelly Lyons is leading the effort. While she sees ominous trends at work, she stated, her students are amazed that this could happen in America.
“I’ve shown that website to students and they are just completely baffled and shocked,” Lyons said.
Click here to download her statement.
According to its website, the Professor Watchlist’s mission is “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
There are currently more than 160 educators on the list.
The site claims to use aggregated literature from “credible sources” reported by students to the project. Stories must be pre-reported, meaning the project does not add professors to the list based on eyewitness tip-offs or hearsay. Professors are put on the list if students report to TPUSA that these educators openly represent a leftist viewpoint or discriminated against conservative students, as evidenced by a legitimate news story about them or, presumably, by something the professor themselves wrote. This appears to be an effort to keep the list from becoming a blacklist for vendettas and rumor mongering.
One of the most frequently cited “credible source” that landed professors from the University of California-Berkeley, Northwestern University, Kent State University, Metropolitan State University Denver, the University of Missouri, and Rutgers University, among others, on the watchlist is campusreform.org. Others include Fox News, The Chicago Tribune, Inside higher Ed, The Daily Caller, thecollegefix.com, and USA Today, among others.
Campus Reform is linked to The Leadership Institute, which has a page dedicated to helping students identify “Leftist Abuse and Bias on Campus.”
The website is not a threat to academic freedom, said TPUSA Director of Constitutional Enforcement and Transparency Matt Lamb.
“By requesting to be on the list, the professors are acknowledging what we know to be true,” Lamb said. “This website is not a threat to academic freedom, as many professor groups have implied. Instead, it is a wonderful resource for all students to know what is going on on their campuses.”
Lyons said that for now such resources are not intended to act as blacklists, but that such things can foreshadow trouble.
“I don’t feel worried about Turning Point, per se, right now,” Lyons said. “But there have been some trends toward targeting people for their beliefs.”
Echoes of McCarthy-era Red Scare tactics have inspired the educators to demonstrate solidarity with their colleagues who have been added to the list. They have worked with students to ensure, as far as they are able to, that there will not be a backlash against those putting professors on the list. As for the professors, they know the risk that they are taking.
“I’m not going to operate my classes in a way that is strong-armed by someone who is afraid of a belief system,” Lyons said.
As an ecologist, Lyons feels that subtle, McCarthyist rhetoric has been at play for decades, crescendoing to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, during which expertise was dismissed as agenda. When Trump’s transition team requested the names of the scientists within the U.S. Energy Department who had worked on climate change initiatives, that specter grew more solid. While the transition team has since backed away from the request, some feel it is the tenor of a new era.
Trinity itself has been a fairly apolitical place, said Manfred Wendt, president of Tigers for Liberty, a conservative student group. He feels that all viewpoints are discussed and respected. Even during the heated election season, there were no candidate student groups, and professors did not raise the discussion often. He was surprised by the professors’ actions.
“All of our professors do an amazing job of sidelining politics and just focusing on the subject in the class,” Wendt said.
As for the existence of the watchlist itself, Wendt says that the professors are making something of nothing.
“There’s a watchlist for everything,” said Wendt, who himself hopes to merit a spot on Right Wing Watch by the time he is 20 years old.
Jonah Wendt, president of the TPUSA chapter at Trinity University and twin brother of Manfred, said that the professors fears are misplaced, and that the statement is a cry for attention.
“I just think it’s laughable that we have people with PhDs looking for attention this way,” Jonah said.
He feels that if they are really concerned about lists, then they should worry about RateMyProfessor.com, which allows students to rate professors on many criteria that can be more damaging than a liberal point of view.
As Lyons sees it, those who think that professors’ fears are unfounded and that blacklists, registries, and thought policing are things of the past are only right insofar as the action that is taken.
“We’re lucky, in hindsight,” Lyons said. “We’ve seen these things happen in the past. We know the dangers.”
She wonders how different the Red Scare might have been if Hollywood, academia, and society in general had engaged in the sort of “I am Spartacus” moment happening at Trinity.
Turning Point USA is a nonprofit group that promotes conservative principles on college and high school campuses. The organization maintains that it promotes free speech for all professors, but created Professor Watchlist as a way to let students know which professors are using that free speech to “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”
“While the Trinity professors signing are surely good professors, those on our list currently are not,” Lamb said. “They include a professor that denies the Holocaust, a professor on probation for assault, and multiple professors that deteriorate the ability to debate political issues by labeling opponents as fascists, Nazis, etc. We hope that all the Trinity professors signing truly do uphold the hallmarks of free and civil debate, which are absent from so many classrooms.”
Turning Point itself is open in its use of original marketing materials to “re-brand free market values. With sound bites like ‘Big Government Sucks’ and the incorporation of pop culture, TPUSA is able to reach new demographics and continuously expand the base.
According to Jonah, the primary role of TPUSA at Trinity has been to provide these “tabling” materials. His goal is to set up a table in Coates University Center once per month and invite his peers to dialogue about conservative ideology.
From the Turning Point USA website:
“Through innovative messaging and strategic outreach techniques, TPUSA is able to identify over 150,000 conservative activists in a single school year, and engage in over 500,000 face-to-face conversations with college students each semester.
“To date, Turning Point USA has launched over 350 TPUSA chapters and provided over 750 like-minded student groups with resources such as activism supplies, leadership training, and field staff support.”
For Lyons, the idea of a radical agenda is a construct of such advertising.
“My agenda is logical, evidence-based thinking,” she said.
The Trinity professors who asked to be added to the Professor Watchlist made it clear that they still welcome input and dialogue with their conservative students. Lyons cited examples of challenging and helpful perspectives given by conservative students in her class. While she admits that, yes, she gets to pick the reading list, she hopes that students will engage with critical thinking that challenges assumptions and makes the data better.
She is open about her interpretation of the data, and hopes her students will be as well.
The following is a list of the Trinity University professors who, along with Lyons, have asked to be added to the Professor Watchlist:
Dr. Carolyn Becker, Professor, Psychology
Prof. Jennifer Browne, Associate Professor, English
Dr. Christine Drennon, Associate Professor, Anthropology/Sociology
Dr. Ruben Dupertuis, Associate Professor, Religion
Dr. Saber Elaydi, Professor, Mathematics
Dr. Paula Hertel, Professor, Psychology
Dr. Nicolle Hirschfeld, Associate Professor, Classical Studies
Dr. Robert Huesca, Professor, Communication
Dr. Michele Johnson, Associate Professor, Biology
Dr. Andrew Kania, Associate Professor, Philosophy
Dr. Nanette Le Coat, Associate Professor, Modern Languages
Dr. Arturo Madrid, Emeritus Professor, Modern Languages
Dr. Jennifer Mathews, Professor, Anthropology/Sociology
Dr. Brian Miceli, Associate Professor, Mathematics
Dr. Alfred Montoya, Assistant Professor, Anthropology/Sociology
Dr. Katsuo Nishikawa, Associate Professor, Political Science
Dr. Judith Norman, Professor, Philosophy
Dr. Corinne Pache, Associate Professor, Classical Studies
Dr. Richard Reed, Professor, Anthropology/Sociology
Dr. David Ribble, Professor, Biology
Dr. Sussan Siavoshi, Professor, Political Science
Prof. Patricia Simonite, Professor, Art/Art History
Dr. Diane Smith, Professor, Geosciences
Dr. Michael Soto, Associate Professor, English
Dr. David Spener, Professor, Anthropology/Sociology
Dr. Matthew Stroud, Emeritus Professor, Modern Languages
Dr. Benjamin Surpless, Associate Professor, Geosciences
Dr. Kathleen Surpless, Professor, Geosciences
Dr. Wilson Terrell, Associate Professor, Engineering Science