Photo via Robert Jensen

Texas professor Robert Jensen unfazed by Professor Watchlist crosshairs

'My response is kind of a hearty chuckle. These are not serious attempts to offer a meaningful critique.'

Feb 28, 2020, 7:33 pm*

Tech

 

Brianna Holt

Professor Watchlist spotlights professors from universities across the United States who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

In late November, the website debuted with a list of 200 educators. As the Guardian noted, the project elicited McCarthy-era fear—and its fair share of ridicule. Count journalism professor Robert Jensen, of the University of Texas at Austin, in the latter camp.

In the wake of the list, he put out a defiant statement:

Perhaps such a claim could be taken more seriously were it not coming from a project of conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, which has its own political agenda—namely educating students “about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.”

With the UT considered one of the most liberal schools in the state, it came as little surprise that four professors from the school were featured on the list. Associate professor of curriculum and instruction Jennifer Adair, religious studies professor John Traphagan, and history professor Joan Neuberger join Jensen in “advancing a radical agenda” and indicating “liberal bias in the classroom.”

Adair is listed on the site for allegedly pushing her opinions with required coursework assignments and projects. The push relates to her proposal in a 2014 Washington Post editorial that educators teach children racial tolerance at a younger age to prevent racial prejudice.

Traphagan is listed on the site for the pro-gun control column he wrote at the Dallas Morning News last year. Neuberger is listed for her anti-campus carry role as a leader of Gun-Free UT.

But Jensen was a lock to make any list of American professors with publicly liberal views.

The 58-year-old professor is noted for his criticism of the lax treatment of men in sexual assault cases in a 2014 essay. In the wake of 9/11, he drew national ire for a column taking the U.S. to task for its history of “killing civilians for political purposes.” He’s called Thanksgiving a “white supremacist holiday.” A recent column of his at the Houston Chronicle asks if football wins are more important than moral standing

This is the third such list Jensen has been added to in the last 15 years.

“When people ask how I feel about it, my response is kind of a hearty chuckle. These are not serious attempts to offer a meaningful critique. They are political interventions designed to either raise money on the visibility of this particular right-wing organization,” Jensen tells the Daily Dot.

Jensen read his critique on the website and critiqued it himself. 

“If they were concerned about evaluating the quality of university instruction and providing a resource for students, they would evaluate the quality of instruction—the problem for me, and many of the other professors, is there is no mention of teaching. It only mentions public statements or writing we’ve made. They imply that because we have strong opinions about controversial issues that they don’t agree with, that we must be teachers who try to indoctrinate students or inappropriately politicize the classroom,” Jensen says.

He says he’s capable of distinguishing between his public political work and his role in the classroom, which is to challenge students.

“My job is not to tell students what to think. it’s to help students understand the world in which they’ll have to make choices,” Jensen says. “In a healthy university there is a variety of opinions that students are exposed to over the course of four years—but that’s not what this list is about. This list is not about evaluating those questions, it’s about making a political point in a hyper-partisan political climate on the heels of the election of a president who has celebrated political invective over reason, discourse, and celebrated falsification of evidence and barely rational claims over intellectual work.”

Jensen, now in his 25th year at UT, stresses that he’s not remotely concerned about the list—from whether it’ll affect him professionally to his standing with his classroom. 

His UT colleagues were unavailable for comment.

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*First Published: Dec 4, 2016, 1:23 pm