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Academic Showdown in Texas By: Karin Brulliard
Washington Post | Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Austin Kinghorn, then a sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin, sat down in a journalism class and heard the professor pose the question "What is terrorism?"

The professor proceeded to "explain why America is a worse terrorist threat than the 9/11 terrorists," said Kinghorn, who calls himself a right-wing conservative. "There was no opposing view presented."

Kinghorn says he got an A in the course, but the experience soured him. "I didn't feel like it was worth listening to a litany of professors who believe the same views," he said. He dropped his intended major in journalism. Today, Kinghorn, 21, is a senior and chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas at UT, the nation's largest university. And the professor, Robert Jensen, tops the conservative group's "watch list."

The list, published on the group's website, www.yct.org, and distributed on campus, criticizes 10 professors -- nine of them liberals, in Kinghorn's view -- for using their classrooms to promote personal agendas and "indoctrinate" students. Kinghorn insists the list is a tool for students to make informed course choices. Critics call it a blacklist whose goal is to intimidate liberal professors and cramp academic freedom.

The list censures Jensen, for instance, for subjecting "the unsuspecting student to a crash course in socialism, white privilege, the 'truth' " and "using class time . . . to 'come out' and analogize gay rights with the civil rights movement."

In response, Jensen, who said he is bisexual, said the list could have an ominous effect on the faculty: "If professors are constantly worried about being branded liberal, and not just liberal but inappropriately executing their duties, then it's going to make people a little nervous and there's a self-censorship effect."

The list bashes government professor Jennifer Suchland and sociology professor Gretchen Webber for focusing on inequalities in American gender, race and class. Clement Henry, a government professor, is criticized for alleged pro-Palestinian views. Thomas Garza, a professor of Slavic languages, is named for criticizing American foreign policy and the Bush administration. Government professor David Edwards earned a place on the list for his "hatred of conservatism and capitalism." Edmund T. Gordon, a black professor of anthropology, is accused of overemphasizing white oppression of blacks. Economics professor Harry Cleaver is singled out for an anti-free-market, "postmodernist agenda." Penne Restad, a history professor, is accused of embracing a "far left interpretation of American history."

"Regardless of whether they want to or not, they have sent us a message," said Suchland, one of three professors on the list who do not have tenure. "I'm feeling like anything is possible. That at some point, someone can say, 'We think you're anti-American and we think you should shut up' -- that it's not appropriate to talk about these things."

Jensen denies that he ever equated the United States and al-Qaeda. But he has used a broad definition of terrorism -- the threat of force against civilians to achieve political goals -- to condemn U.S. actions in Vietnam, Nicaragua and the first Persian Gulf War.

Many professors see the list as manifesting an intolerance for criticism under the banner of post-Sept. 11 patriotism. They point to the USA Patriot Act and to legislation that has passed the House that could grant the federal government increased monitoring power over university international studies programs that receive federal funding.

"This is part of a trend of blacklisting us, of making sure that we know we're under surveillance," said Gordon, the anthropology professor, who teaches a course on African-American culture. "I do worry that what this is moving towards is some sort of censoring."

The publication of the list comes as conservatives are reasserting themselves on college campuses that they believe have been liberal bastions for at least three decades.

Since 1999, College Republican chapters have nearly tripled, according to the College Republican National Committee. In just two months this fall, the Campus Leadership Program, a Washington organization that helps right-leaning students organize on campuses, added 45 groups to its membership roster, which now totals 216. The Collegiate Network, which trains conservative student journalists, says there are now at least 80 conservative campus newspapers, more than double the number in 1995.

In 2001, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group, published a report accusing more than 100 college scholars, administrators and students of making anti-American statements.

But the UT list is apparently the first published by a student group. It has inspired at least one other chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, to start working on one.

Kinghorn said he was impelled to act by Jensen's class as well as complaints from other conservative students who felt railroaded by liberal professors. He said that on racial issues, for instance, liberals had harped on slavery, civil rights violations and ill treatment of blacks to the extent that "whites feel guilty for breathing air."

To compile the list, one or two members of his group visited classes and analyzed syllabuses of about 20 UT professors, keeping an eye out for professors who use the classroom as a one-sided "bully pulpit," Kinghorn said. He said he expects the list to grow as group members continue to visit classes.

Economics professor Steve Bronars, a free-market proponent, is the list's lone conservative. Bronars speculates that he was added so "it's not looking like they're picking on professors who have a more liberal approach." In addition to the list, the conservative group also posted an "honor roll," lauding three professors, one termed a liberal, for running "an intellectually honest classroom."

In response to studies that have shown that Democrats outnumber Republicans on university faculties, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-GA, last month introduced a resolution urging universities to adopt an "Academic Bill of Rights" under which professors would teach opposing views and grade students without regard to their political views.

The idea behind the proposal was pioneered by David Horowitz, a 1960s activist who once edited the leftist magazine Ramparts. Now a conservative, Horowitz in September formed a group called Students for Academic Freedom to combat what he calls the grip that liberals have exercised at universities since the '60s.

"When you go to the doctor, you don't expect to see political slogans on his wall," Horowitz said. "We all trust our doctors to be professional and to minister to us regardless of our religion or our politics. There's a large contingent of professors who no longer behave like professionals."

Most of the UT professors named on the list said it was unsettling. Some said they are open to dissenting voices. "People are free to speak during class," said Restad, the history professor. Others said that they were unfazed and that the list is unlikely to scare more than a few students away from some classes.

"I've been getting e-mails from all over the state, from people congratulating me for being on it," Edwards said.




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