John Horton

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.”

Just as professors ask students to fill out course surveys, the University of Texas Police Department is giving the UT community the opportunity to answer questions about the department’s performance.

Through April 13, UTPD is hosting an online survey asking for feedback regarding its performance as a unit. The survey, which can be found on the UTPD website, poses questions regarding how safe people feel on campus, if they have had any encounters with UTPD and whether those experiences were positive or negative.

Lt. Amber Calvert, UTPD Accreditation Manager, said this is the first survey the department has conducted since 2008, and that it is used to measure how effective the department is.

“We want to know if we’re doing okay, and if we’re not, we want to know where we need to tweak things,” Calvert said. “We can’t just go with what we think is right.”

Calvert said while the survey is meant to help UTPD, which has jurisdiction over all UT property, it also lets students know their opinion matters.

“They’re the ones who are out there that know what’s going on, and we want to be as transparent as we can,” Calvert said.

Officer Darrell Halstead, a member of UTPD’s crime prevention unit, said the survey is part of UTPD’s effort to reach out to the community and establish a positive relationship.

“Before, we used to be close-guarded and not let a lot of people outside of the department or friends get to know who we were,” Halstead said. “We kept that facade. Since 2005, we’ve been working to crack that facade so that people can see that we are real people — living, breathing human beings.”

Halstead said this strengthened relationship between the UT community and UTPD has lead to better communication.

“Basically, what we try to do is put the human element back into law enforcement,” he said. “What that does is bolster confidence from students in our department.”

John Horton, government junior and president of the University Future First Responders, said despite many negative perceptions, UTPD holds the utmost respect for students. Horton said the UTPD survey is proof of that.

“The major misconception is they’re just out there to get you,” Horton said. “In reality, that’s probably one of the least amount of things they do. The worst crime on campus is theft — it’s not underage drinking — and they have a number of programs that lessen the amount of theft on campus.”

Horton said many students’ views of UTPD were improved by how effectively they handled the 2010 death by suicide of Colton Tooley.

A lot of campus perceptions were changed when they saw how quick UTPD’s response was,” Horton said. “They had everything shut down quickly, cleared everyone out of the area and made sure everybody was safe.”

However, not all students share Horton’s opinion of the campus law enforcement.

Mechanical engineering junior Charles Andrew Dickson III said he had a negative experience with UTPD last year when they entered his dorm room and woke him up several hours after he arrived home from a party. After asking Dickson several questions, they wrote him a ticket for consuming alcohol as a minor, which he feels was an invasion of his privacy.

“That dorm room was my privacy and place of residence,” Dickson said. “I do not believe that they had the right to just come in and deliver me my only black mark on my record.”

Dickson said this experience diminished his trust in UTPD as a helpful organization.

“This sends a message that when trouble actually does arise, do not look to UTPD for help,” Dickson said. “They are more interested in delivering tickets than ensuring the safety of students and keeping the peace at UT.”

Dickson said he hopes the survey will change the way UTPD handles things.

“I hope it does so the police learn to protect the students instead of harass them,” Dickson said.

Printed on Monday, April 9, 2012 as: UTPD to use online survey to improve performance