The Wendt brothers both hold offices in the TPUSA chapter at Trinity University, as well as in Tigers for Liberty, a conservative student group. According to Jonah Wendt, the primary activity of TPUSA on the Trinity campus has been “tabling” material – namely the fliers, pamphlets, and other paraphernalia the brothers and their fellow group members use to promote and explain their ideas.
In an interview with the Rivard Report, Jonah Wendt dismissed the professors’ actions as attention-seeking and inconsequential.
“I just think it’s laughable that we have people with Ph.D.s looking for attention this way,” he said.
The brothers took a similar posture in a co-signed, satirically-toned email to the faculty members. “We will be discontinuing the professor watchlist rush process with you,” the email states.
“One of the requirements to get on the prestigious professor watch list is to be documented by a legitimate news source as discriminating against conservative students or advancing left-wing propaganda in the class room. These in turn must be backed up via evidence from a legitimate news source. It has come to our attention that you do not meet either one or both of these requirements. Therefore we have made the decision to discontinue your rush.”
In the conversation with the Rivard Report, the Wendt brothers praised Trinity University and its professors for open-mindedness and facilitating thoughtful discussion.
Jonah, however, took a decidedly different tone in a campus report for Hypeline, the TPUSA news blog, entitled “Trinity University Professors Declare War on Conservative Students.“
“Therefore, as a result of this statement, thirty-one professors at Trinity University have publicly signed a statement pledging to discriminate against conservative students with the sole purpose of satisfying their own personal quest to be on an internet watchlist,” he wrote.
By contrast, Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas – Austin, did not receive a congratulatory email when he was added to the Professor Watchlist. Like other professors, his addition to the list came with no warning.
Jensen visited the site to find that an argument he made in an essay, that “rape is part of the larger, violent patriarchy,” landed him on the list. For a watchlist of those who are accused of stifling open discussion, there was surprisingly little effort to understand the professors’ viewpoints.
“There was no contact at all,” Jensen said.
The “legitimate news source” listed on Jensen’s profile is CampusReform.org, a watchdog site for leftist agendas on college campuses, the same source that condemns many other professors on the list. The essay cited is an “arcane” debate about how rape is discussed within feminist critique, Jensen said. It was academic in nature, and the pull quotes do not capture the essence of the argument at all, he added.
While CampusReform.org does not qualify as so-called “fake news,” it is heavily slanted in pursuit of the same agenda as the Professor Watchlist. It is this news environment, wherein a closed circuit of evidence and conviction can evade critique that hearsay, misunderstanding, and other pitfalls of witch hunting can proliferate.
“It’s a place where you’re going to see the danger of unsupported assumptions,” Jensen said.
While Jensen explained that it is his tenured privilege that keeps him from worrying about the immediate ramifications of being on such a list, he does fear that it will dampen the freedom of his untenured colleagues who may fear for their jobs.
For Jensen and others, the somewhat inconsistent gatekeeping on Professor Watchlist reveals the true nature of the project.
“(Watchlisting) is a time-honored conservative tactic for raising the visibility of a group that needs visibility,” Jensen said.
Some have criticized coverage of the watchlist for doing just that. However, there is a case to be made for drawing Professor Watchlist and others like it into the light to expose their holes. As recent events have shown, when fake or agenda-driven sites and stories go viral, it is because they were not subjected to rigorous analysis. Too often that comes after the fact and only fuels the frenzy.
“In an age where people accept assertions that show up on the internet – often without question – (that) certainly enhances the danger of that list,” Jensen said.
Because they encourage critical thinking, university professors often criticize the power structures in contemporary society. Tenure was designed to protect this action inside and outside the classroom. If this negatively affects students or breeds undue politicization in the classroom, Jensen advocates for dealing with it at an institutional level.
Contrary to the alarms raised by groups like TPUSA, Jensen sees a college campus with representation from a wide range of viewpoints. Most administrations and business departments, he points out, are more conservative. Most English and philosophy departments will host liberal points of view.
The student body also has a voice in the discussion. However, unlike Professor Watchlist, a single student cannot indict a professor through a tip and a link to an op-ed written outside the classroom.
“We take student eval(uation)s seriously. At the same time, no one student evaluation is definitive,” Jensen said.
Conservative students might feel as though the university is overwhelmingly liberal, primarily because they have rarely encountered those opinions before, at least not from authority figures.
“This society is disproportionally conservative compared to similarly situated countries,” Jensen said.
If students are uncomfortable, as many might be, Jensen, along with Kelly Lyons who led the “I am Spartacus” movement at Trinity, hope that their education will be enriched by engaging in conversation.
Jensen’s former students, some of whom are career conservatives, have testified that they were encouraged to think critically, even knowing his liberal perspective.
“He’s loud and opinionated and he’s not afraid of pissing people off,” wrote Sunny Sone, one of Jensen’s former students. “But he is a fair and kind man, and I respect him deeply.”