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Some Trinity Faculty Protest 'Professor Watchlist'

Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons

More than 30 Trinity University professors are inviting students to report them to a 'leftist watchlist' gaining attention online. The faculty hope a proactive approach to the database will minimize threats to academic freedom. 

Last month, national conservative student group Turning Point USA launched 'professorwatchlist.org' to, in its words, “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda.”

“I was alarmed,” says Trinity biology professor Kelly Lyons. “It’s upsetting, because I think any one of us could be on that list.”

There are no Trinity professors on the list, for now, but Lyons is among a group who put out a statement Wednesday raising concerns about the red scare-style database and vowing to fight classroom censorship.  

“We want to encourage all kinds of conversation, including ones about this,” says Lyons. “We don’t want to be silenced. That’s our biggest fear—is that if we take that list very seriously then we may alter the way we teach in the classroom and that may mean shying away from important issues that we need to talk about.”

Lyons stresses that the professors speak for themselves, not for Trinity as a whole.

Turning Point’s list flags professors based on media reports from conservative watchdog sites and others. 

There are more than 150 names on the list—including a Texas State University professor flagged for criticizing Republican presidential candidates in the classroom.

Four UT-Austin professors made the list, thanks to things they wrote about topics like gun rights and racial tolerance. One South Texas University professor is included for comparing the U.S. Tea Party movement to the Nazi Party. 

Here's the full statement from the Trinity professors:

“Efforts like those initiated by Turning Point USA reignite old concerns about McCarthyism and censorship and also highlight the importance of the tenure process, designed to protect the pursuit of all dimensions of thought. These Trinity faculty aim to send the message that they will not be scared into censoring classroom dialogue. More important, they will not be coerced into changing one of their primary charges: to challenge studentsto critically evaluate their sources of information, their biases, and their misconceptions.

These Trinity faculty recognize that this act may send the unintended message that they do not value the perspective of more conservative-minded students—this is not the case. As at most universities, Trinity professors rely on, encourage, and expect a diversity of views to maintain rich discussions in the classroom; they do not want classrooms full of students who all think and learn alike.  Faculty around the world devote their careers to the critical evaluation of assumptions that underlie all aspects of daily life. Most pertinent to this protest is a belief that independence of thought and freedom of expression are at the core of higher education and a free society.”