Students compile professor watch list

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John Horton is the chairman of the UT chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas. The organization maintains a watchlist of professors who assert political opinions in class without allowing students to express dissenting opinions.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

UT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter is compiling a watch list to identify professors who it decides are inappropriately politicizing the classroom.

The organization is accepting suggestions from all students and will publish the list for students to consult in advance of Spring 2013 registration, government senior John Horton, Young Conservatives of Texas UT chapter chairman, said. Members of his organization will investigate every name submitted by auditing classes, interviewing students from the professors’ classes and evaluating the syllabus for reading materials selected, he said.

“We’ll get a lot of submissions, but most of them will probably not end up on the list,” Horton said. “You can have a devout, open communist or an open neo-conservative professor that tells you they are openly that way. If they allow for dissenting opinion, that’s perfectly fine with us.”

UT’s chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas has about 40 active members, Horton said. He said the members will be tabling for watch list submissions beginning Friday. Students can also submit suggestions anonymously on the website, Horton said. The organization began publishing a watch list in 2003, but has not produced one since 2007. Horton said it has been five years since a list has been compiled because of the effort needed to do the list correctly.

“It is only legitimate if we do it the right way and actually find the professors that have a legitimate bias and do not allow for dissenting opinion,” Horton said.

Horton would not give names of professors who had been submitted, but said students have named eight or nine so far. Journalism professor Robert Jensen’s name appeared on past versions of the list, but Horton said Jensen will not be on it this year, based on student interviews that indicate he does not unfairly push his views on others.

“As someone who comes from the political left, I have to be especially attentive to these kinds of things, because people like me tend to be the targets of concerns about inappropriately politicizing the classroom,” Jensen said.

He said proselytizing for specific candidates, positions or parties in the classroom is not appropriate. All teachers make political decisions when they select textbooks and plan lectures and assignments and the best practice is to be transparent about it, Jensen said.

“All teaching in the humanities and the social sciences has a politics to it,” he said. “But teaching is more than politics.”

Jensen said he is happy to see any group engage in a conversation about politics and education, whether or not they agree with him. Government lecturer Alan Sager, an active member of the Republican party, is another professor who is “Classrooms are supposed to be a place for the examination of critical thought,” Sager said. “If someone thinks that the classroom isn’t like that they should be able to say it.”

Sager encourages students to challenge his own politics and said that dissenting discourse in his class often improves students’ grades. He said if anyone has a problem with the list Young Conservatives of Texas is producing, they should make their own list.

“On most speech issues I am very libertarian,” Sager said. “I think the answer, if someone has a problem with speech, is to just create more speech.”