Transcripts from “Sign Me Up?”

Editor’s Note

In the interest of transparency, we have chosen to publish the full transcripts of exclusive on-the-record interviews or statements that informed Brendan Kennedy’s article “Sign Me Up?”. We hope that such information can complement the article and provide greater context for our readers’ substantive debates. We have published the transcripts and the article simultaneously. Unless otherwise noted, Brendan’s questions appear in bold.

– Benjamin Collinger, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Contemporary

Transcripts
Ryan Hernandez

Political Science Major, Dec. 2016 Trinity University Graduate. Email exchange. 

Do you believe that Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist is a productive tool to address potential liberal bias among faculty?

I don’t believe that TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist is a productive tool whatsoever to address potential liberal bias. It seems like a ridiculous idea sought only to gain attention.

You are a politically active student who leans conservative. Do you believe that Tigers for Liberty accurately represents conservative ideology?

No. When looking at people who they’ve brought to campus whether it’s Milo, who just used slurs to upset people (as well as calling Trump, Daddy) rather than advance actual conservative principles, to writing ludicrous op-eds making fun of people upset at Clinton’s loss further dividing campus, it’s clear that my views are not represented. On the contrary, I will say that Luke Ayers’ piece “Dear fellow Republicans” was incredibly thoughtful and did represent my views.

What, in your opinion, can students do to uphold intellectual diversity on campus?

I’m not sure it is students’ obligation for uphold intellectual diversity in the classroom. However, on campus, students from differing groups can come together and provide forums. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the unlikely friendship between Cornell West and Robert George. Ideally, I’d love for students from opposing views come together and create an event between two people of very different ideologies.

How can students know when intellectual challenge ends and discrimination begin? Is it safe to leave that distinction up to students?

I’m not sure where that distinction begins. I think Trinity was and is super awesome in taking me outside of my comfort zone when in that learning environment. While the majority of professors had differing viewpoints than I did, I never felt like I was discriminated [against]. Again, I’m not sure about that distinction, and giving that distinction up to students would be a slippery slope. Saying that, I don’t think it would be the worst threat to academic freedom to have an outside group be a watchdog, just not have that outside group create such a negative, threatening list.

Dr. Benjamin Surpless

Associate professor of Geosciences, letter in response to Jonah and Manfred Wendt. Email exchange.

Thanks, Jonah and Manfred,

I completely understand. As I think you realize, this statement wasn’t about right vs. left but was about academic freedom. Compiling lists of people whose views don’t coincide with a given belief system is scary to those in the academic world, where we commonly challenge ourselves and others to think deeply about nearly every topic you can imagine. Sometimes, these conversations can be difficult, but the hope is that these dialogues continue to happen on college campuses. In the past, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, lists like these have destroyed people’s lives and livelihoods.

While I know that some of the professors on the Watchlist likely deserve censure, you’ll notice that the universities and colleges that employ them have commonly taken action against them, especially where those professors have clearly quashed the rights of students to speak openly and freely.

At the very least, I would encourage the Tiger chapter of Turning Point USA to review all of the entries of professors on the list, reading the news stories carefully, to make sure that there really is evidence, in context, that demonstrates that the professor in question has quashed student free speech. This said, I and others who signed the statement are philosophically opposed to any watchlist, right or left. Simply holding a point of view is not a valid reason for putting a person’s livelihood at risk or limiting the scope of academic conversation.

Freedom of thought must remain alive on college campuses; these campuses are one of the few places where intellectually rigorous and fruitful conversations can take place. Embrace what we have at Trinity. Have these challenging conversations. Critically evaluate why you think what you think. I have realized how special my 4 years at a similar liberal arts college were to my own intellectual maturation; since then, I have only rarely had the same types of dialogues that I experienced during that time of my life.

I will be happy to talk about anything I mentioned above with you or with others on campus.

I hope that all is well with you and your families. Enjoy your break!

Sincerely,

Ben Surpless

Savannah Seiler

Political Science and Economics of Law major, President of Pre-Law Society and paralegal with a local firm. Savannah considers herself conservative and libertarian in her views.

  1. Do you believe that Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist is a productive tool to address potential liberal bias among faculty?
    1. I believe it is a useful tool for conservative students who cannot handle the stress or focus on their education in spite of being attacked for their beliefs. Of course, conservatives believe that universities should not be a safe space and that beliefs should be challenged and contradicted, forcing us to reexamine why we believe what we do; however, there is a difference between challenging beliefs and berating them. There has been name calling and, on occasions, lengthy discussions about how certain conservative beliefs are dangerous, racist, sexist, etc.. Conservatives often feel threatened in strongly liberal classrooms and are usually on the defense. This watch list helps these students pick a class where they can focus more on the subject matter rather than defending their beliefs or being called names.
  2. What is your message to conservative students, especially those who feel that many professors at Trinity do not value their perspective?
    1. I encourage them to examine their beliefs and not to be close-minded to liberal ideologies, but also not to fall prey to the status quo. It takes a lot of confidence and, in some instances, bravery, to be openly conservative on college campuses. People can automatically assume that you are racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc. just because of who you vote for or what party you identify with. Examine your beliefs. Make sure they are based on a strong foundation and backed up with credible evidence. Remain open-minded to other ideologies and polite to those with whom you disagree. If a conservative student does these things, they still may be attacked but they can remain confident that they are taking the higher road.
  3. What, in your opinion, can students do to uphold intellectual diversity on campus?
    1. Everyone needs to stop judging other people based on their beliefs. Not all liberals are unemployed hippies. Not all conservatives are old, white racists. We all want what is best for this country and need to work together to help it thrive. We saw what happened when Congress couldn’t come together, they shut down the government. No progress can happen if we do not set aside our pride and work together. Both sides have valid points in certain areas, but no one is infallible. We all have invalid beliefs and need to accept it. Remaining open-minded and refraining from being condescending and from name-calling is the best hope we have for intellectual diversity.
  4. How can students know when intellectual challenge ends and discrimination begin? Is it safe to leave that distinction up to students?

I believe the easiest way to discern between intellectual challenge and discrimination is when attacks on ideologies move to personal attacks. Some policies, like “stop and frisks” have been historically racist in its execution; however, people who advocate for “stop and frisks” are not racists. They may just be misinformed on its effectiveness or are arguing for a different execution. I doubt students will always be able to distinguish between intellectual challenge and discrimination, because some people are overly sensitive or prideful. However, these personal flaws can be possessed by teachers as well as students. Some may feel personally attacked, when theirs is a challenge to their belief system. It is a fine line, but I believe as long as your beliefs are being challenged based on valid evidence, theory and effectiveness then it is an intellectual challenge.

Dr. David Crockett

Trinity University Political Science Department Chair. In-person interview. 

So the first one, and really what I wanted to tackle with the article, is the question of how can students know when intellectual challenge ends and when discrimination or hostility begins, or bias? And do you think it’s safe to leave that distinction up to students?

I would default in higher education to… What are the two terms you are juxtaposing?

I juxtaposed intellectual challenge with discrimination. Because the watchlist in question specifically speaks of discrimination, so that’s what we wanted to get at.

Yeah. I think intellectual challenge is what you should be getting in higher education, discrimination you should not. And I would distinguish between the two by- at least, I’m spitballing here- that intellectual challenge would be ideas, discourse, dialogue about things, whereas bias and discrimination would have to come in the form of actions. So if someone is being graded poorly because they disagree with an ideological stance of a professor, completely unconnected to the content or the quality of what they’re doing, that might be discrimination. Obviously, hiring issues, stuff like that… But I don’t really think that giving voice to philosophical positions and being able to argue them would constitute bias or discrimination. That’s what we should be seeing in higher education.

Ok, and then the second part of that is, do you trust students to make that distinction? Do you think that the students are- do you  think the students you interact with are pretty good at making that distinction?

No more so than normal people. I think we have a tendency to look with favor with people who agree with us and to be suspicious of people who don’t. It doesn’t have to be that way but in an increasingly polarized country and certainly in an increasingly polarized political class it manifests itself that way, so that if you come across someone who disagrees with you on some philosophical or intellectual or ideological position you suspect their motives. And so students are certainly capable of doing that, and they do it all the time, but so do adults. And I would include faculty members in that category as well. I mean I’m sure there are people who suspect my motives or what I think of things because of positions I might hold, and I am just as susceptible to that kidn of a weakness as anyone else. So it’s something we always have to fight, to think that the person we disagree with is an enemy as opposed to an opponent or something like that, someone like that.

Ok. So then, the follow-up…

And then, I say that in part based on student evaluations. I mean, I’ll get student evaluations that runs the gamut from “someone agrees with me! Yay!” to “he kept cracking on Democrats the whole time” to “I don’t know what he believes” to “he’s so fair minded”. Well they can’t all be right. But, obviously, I strike students different ways, depending on how much grace they are inclined to grant to someone as opposed to…

A lot of it’s projection, as opposed to…

Yeah.

Definitely. So you talked about how the political climate is increasingly polarized. In terms of how students sort of seeing bias in faculty or in academia, do you think that has gotten worse with the recent generation, or do you think that is kind of an issue that has always been there?

You mean a tendency to see this?

A tendency, yeah, a tendency to see bias in professors or in people who hold certain views. Do you think that’s gotten worse with our generation, or do you think that’s always been an issue?

It’s a good question. I’m very reluctant to answer that without knowing sociological data going back several generation to know whether what my parents experienced in the classroom is similar to what I experienced which is similar to what you experienced. I know when I was in college, and it was in the early 80s, I would be hard pressed in most cases to make an argument that the professor I had seemed biased in some way. I probably knew of a couple, but even the guys in my ROTC group who went to Father McSorley’s course on “War and Peace”, and he was an infamous pacifist who thought ROTC should not be on Georgetown’s campus, they still thought it was a very interesting course and he treated them fairly. So, that was my experience and that’s experience that is thirty years old now.

I think what’s happened is maybe social media, the internet, the ability of groups to organize and mobilize partisans on behalf of some project, obviously when you’re thinking of higher education, the typical stereotype is that higher education is part of the left-wing establishment. And so if there are right-wing groups out there who are trying to do battle with Hollywood, the mainstream media, academia, then they’re going to be looking for this kind of thing. And there are more groups like that now than there were… I don’t know if there were any doing that kind of stuff when I was in college. I wasn’t aware of them, but of course, there was no internet when I was in college! But nowadays it’s very easy just to kind of form your own group and mobilize people and look for demons everywhere. So that might make it worse than before.

Right, just in terms of the media culture and how people communicate and that sort of…

Mm-hmm!

Okay! And so, one of the responses to the professors protesting this watchlist was essentially calling it a pledge to discriminate, since the watchlist itself tries to identify professors who do discriminate against students. Regardless of that interpretation, just kinda leaving that to the side, do you believe bias among faculty exists and is commonplace, at this school in particular?

At Trinity?

Yeah, at Trinity. And obviously, in terms of different department’s it’s hard to make a judgment, but…

You know, I hear things from students that would indicate that there are… bias exists, but again, I think I’d want to distinguish between a faculty member who vocalizes personal opinions and someone who takes as their pedagogical purpose to attack a specific ideological view or to take young first years and tear down the values they were raised with. And I don’t know enough on what goes on in the classroom to speak on great authority on that, but I do think it’s one thing to say there may be a center-left bias in academia- now that’s not rocket science, it may not be true across the board, I suspect you might have more center-right people in the business administration department, perhaps in economics, I don’t know to what extent you’ll see this in the sciences, although people in the sciences are certainly on these lists.

But, I guess I would want to distinguish between the types of opinions that get vocalized by the faculty, especially if they’re teaching in the social sciences, and issues come up, and students ask their personal opinion, and they vocalize it, that might rub some students the wrong way. I get this in the reverse, some students ask my opinion and I’ll vocalize it and then in a student evaluation, “he’s such a right-wing nut” or something like that. I think for the most part when I teach content I’m not betraying too much ideological views. But that might be different from someone who approaches the discipline from a certain perspective that is kind of grounded in social justice theory, for example. Probably if you’re taking a course that is very much grounded in social justice, there’s going to be a center-left bias there just be the nature of what the subject matter is and the approaches to it.

Which is sort of the same as the center-right tendency in, as you said, in business or economics.

Probably so.

Just the nature of the discipline?

Well, or the nature of the course, for example I could see how someone teaching urban politics may focus on race and class. And that’s going to probably lead into a certain kind of narrative or a certain kind of reading list that may be different from someone teaching the Constitution. So it may be class contingent, it may be disciplinary, and probably sociology is a little more center-left than economics. I don’t know about psychology…

What would you say, if you had a conservative student coming to you saying they don’t feel that professors at Trinity value their perspective, what would be, kind of, your message to them if someone approached you with that?

Deal with it! (Laughs). I mean, if you’re a conservative student in higher education, you have to know what you’re getting into. And certainly higher education, with a couple of exceptions, you know, if you’re going to Hillsdale College, or University of Dallas, or maybe Claremont McKenna, they might be a little more center-right. But there aren’t really a whole lot of those out there, maybe a religious school might be that way. But for the most part, if you’re going to a state university, or a private school that is secular, and that’s what Trinity is, that’s going to be more left than right. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people center-right out there, but that’s just the nature, especially in the humanities and most of the social sciences. Again, it might be a little different in some other places. There are probably a lot of different majors- i have no idea if you majored in Kinesiology at UT Austin whether there would be any bias there or not. But certainly in the social sciences and humanities it tends to have a fairly strong center-left (lean). And we know this just by looking at data about who faculty members contribute to on campaigns and how people attribute themselves on party ID, we know that’s true. So, now that going in and you have to I guess understand I don’t really care for whiners very much. So if someone says their views aren’t appreciated very much. Well I want to know how are you articulating your views, are you respectful, does the professor seem to shut you down just because they don’t like your view or are you being obnoxious in the presentation of your views. There are all sorts of things that go into a strategy of how someone who might be a conservative student should deal with being an ideological minority in some of these classes, especially if it’s in social science or humanities classes.

So, you might not know enough about the specifics of this to be able to make a statement on this, but do you believe that Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist is a productive tool to address potential liberal bias among faculty?

You know, not really, I mean, what does it do? I guess the only thing you could say it might do is if you have parents out there who look at this, I guess they can decide “I don’t want my kid going to that school.” Well guess what. 95% of the schools in the country fall into that category. So I’m not really sure what there is to be gained. It’s not like we have a situation like the 1950’s where there’s some kind of New McCarthyism that’s going to drive these professors out. They are working in a sector of the economy that is dominated by center-left people. So it’s not like being on this watchlist endangers their job prospects, their hiring prospects or their tenure prospects or anything like that. It’s not some great act of courage to volunteer to be put on the list. So I don’t know what’s to be gained by that, especially since the methodology involved is somewhat suspicious. I’m not sure that someone complaining about someone… I’m not sure who’s verifying these claims. And I mean, the claims may be valid in many cases. I read the second article, and they were quoting Jensen from UT-Austin. Well Jensen’s been a long, long long time infamous far-leftie. So what a shock he might be on that list! And he approaches things from that kind of perspective. So if I throw a stone on this campus, am I going to hit someone who thinks America is the source of most of what’s wrong in the world because of colonialism and patriarchalism? Yeah, I probably will. So what’s to be gained from… I would much rather see engagement of ideas and arguments rather than watchlists that simply, in my view, are not going to convert anyone, they’re not going to persuade anyone. I’m not sure it’s much of a helpful institution int he ideological conflicts that we might have.

Especially with the procedural validity of how they go about dealing with all these specific claims.

Right, I don’t know who they are.

So then, kind of an extension of that, what do you think the steps should be for a student who feels that, with some validity, that a professor they have is moving beyond intellectual challenge and is actually targeting them, or exhibiting bias, or discriminating against them in some way? Especially with your perspective as a department chair, what would be the steps to address that from a student’s perspective?

Well I think the student should first just talk to the faculty member and just kind of respectfully talk about what their perception is and see if they’re open to a discussion. It’s possible that the faculty member may be articulating things in a certain way and they don’t realize that’s it’s coming across in a certain way. So it may very well be solved by a respectful conversation between a faculty member and a student. If not, then the student has a choice of perhaps just playing the game. I mean oddly enough I do run across articles sometimes about “how should conservative students act in higher education”, and this works both at the undergraduate and at the graduate school level. And one piece of advice that some conservative scholars give to conservative grad students if they’re going onto the job market is don’t advertise your point of view! Go underground for a while until you’re safe. I’ve seen this with students I have had who have gone on the PhD market to get jobs. And they are advised by people “don’t let people know what your political views are.”

Now, you’re not supposed to be asked that. I was, when I got hired here, there was one faculty member who asked my what my partisan preference was. It’s a completely inappropriate question! But I think for a center-left job prospect to  make known that they voted for Hillary Clinton would not be problematic at most job talks, but a center-right person who might confess that they voted for Donald Trump, it could be a kiss of death. So one piece of advice I sometimes give to students is, you play the game! Go underground, learn the tools, learn the theories, learn the stuff you want to learn, and then move on. Now some students can’t do that. They don’t want to lie, they don’t want to be deceitful, they want to engage in the arguments, and you can do that, and a conversation with a faculty member- most of us faculty members like to have people with divergent views in the class because it makes the class more interesting. But I can imagine a scenario where maybe someone is… You know, you hear stories about people who say “If x, then you’re not going to do well in my class, if you believe this” or something like that. And I don’t know who these people are, but you hear stories about that sometimes. And I imagine that’s a situation where a student- if a student believes they have been treated unfairly, they have been graded unfairly, there is a process on grade appeals and you want to do that respectfully as well.

Sounds like a lot of that ties into your idea about knowing the realities of higher education and academia, and how all of that operates.

Yeah.

And the last question is, what in your opinion can students themselves do to uphold intellectual and ideological diversity on campus?

I would say for undergraduates, this is the last time in your life that you’ll be able to feast at the intellectual banquet represented by a liberal arts education. Part of that should be exposure to a variety of ideas and arguments. Our temptation, I think, is to come here at age 18, and to already think we know if all, or to already be kind of set in our convictions, and not be open to arguments. And my hope would be that students should always be open to new data, new arguments, and be able to test what they believe in the light of intellectual discourse using standard arguments of philosophical discourse: data and empirical facts, the coherence and integrity of philosophical arguments and propositions, all that kind of stuff.

And be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to your interlocutor that they don’t have nefarious motives. I think a lot of the time what happens is we tend to shut people down and assume because they think differently than us that they must have bad motives, the other side must be badly motivated. And so if we assume goodwill on the part of the other person, and listen to what they have to say, and do battle with their arguments rather than their biography, I think that would be a first step to a healthier kind of dialogue.

Ok, perfect. That’ll do it, then! I appreciate you taking the time to talk.

Dr. Kelly Lyons

Trinity University Associate Professor of Biology. In-person interview. 

What message do you hope the faculty and students at Trinity will take away from your statement and the statement of other professors regarding Turning Point USA’s professor watch list? 

For students, we mostly want them to take home that all thoughts and perspectives will be  respected here and that people will not be silenced by the use of lists that are designed to scare people into tempering their speech or their thoughts on subjects.

Based on your motivations and intended message in writing it, the two students affiliated with TPUSA wrote in the blog Hypline that your statement was “a pledge to discriminate meant to satisfy their own personal quest to be on a watchlist.” You have said that this is not the case; where do you think the students went wrong in assessing your motives and what is your message to them so that they can understand your perspective? 

They portrayed us in two ways. In one way, they portrayed us as people who wanted to have a dialogue about the subject, which I think is exactly what we wanted and were looking for. Then they proceeded with the Hypeline article that misrepresented us by saying that we were attacking conservative students by asking to be put on the watch list. We didn’t actually think that we would be successful in being put on the watch list. It was a protest against the watch list (laughs). We don’t want to be on any list, that’s the point. It was twisted and turned in their prose as a tool to make us look bad.

So your statement was meant to criticize the legitimacy of the list…

Absolutely. We were intending to mock the list by asking to be put on the list. We were also saying that if you’re going to put these people on the list – our colleagues – and we uphold their freedom of speech in the classroom and university professors, then we’re asking as a way to show allegiance to them. It is mostly designed to mock the list.

Could you explain your main concerns with the watch list? Also, why do you feel that your statement with other Trinity professors was needed? 

We are very fortunate to live in a time where we have solid documentation of historical trends, of lists, and the making of lists. And in all of these cases, lists are used to identify people that are targets for one reason or another and usually, they are targets for silencing. The watch list was the first I heard of this sort of trend, but other trends emerged such as a watch list being made for people who were involved in climate change research, or who had been involved in the Paris accord. A second list was being made by the new administration in the state department for people who had been involved in gender equity programs. Actually, it wasn’t people involved in gender equity programs, it was positions that are dedicated to gender equity programs. It think it was also poverty equity.

So, anytime lists begin to be made, it means that certain voices, ideologies, or discussions are being targeted for silencing. They’re scare tactics – we see this as a scare tactic. We’re lucky at Trinity because we’re at a private university, and things operate very differently. But there have been cases where, for example, at the University of North Carolina, the legislature actually shut down a center for poverty studies because they didn’t like the data that was coming out of that center. That’s very well documented. Those kinds of trends are incredibly dangerous; that group was targeted because people didn’t like what they were saying.

What is your message to conservative students, especially to those who feel their perspectives are not valued by some Trinity professors? 

I’m sorry to hear that there are some students at Trinity who feel that their perspectives are not valued, and I would encourage them to speak up in class. I would encourage them to earn the confidence to speak up in class. Professors may not be comfortable with some of their perspectives, conservative or liberal, but we want to be challenged. We love a good dialogue; that’s the reason why we’re in this business. I hear from students who are substantially more liberal than I am. Let me first say that I am so fed up with the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ because I consider myself very conservative fiscally, I am a capitalist, and I also believe that we ought to take care of people. For me, the bottom line is: have a strong economy, be fiscally conservative, make good businesses that are morally sound, and let’s make a society that takes care of people. Those are kind of my principles.

I consider myself open minded; I’m not necessarily liberal-minded. I am challenged by students all the time on what I perceive to be liberal agendas such as gender equity and I am constantly taught there was LGBT then there was LGBTQ, and I am taught all of the time to think about different perspectives. Does that make me more conservative than my students? I guess so. Does it make me less open minded or ignorant? There’s a naivety and an ignorance that we all share. And we all have something to learn. I learn from my students all the time. I have a student, Brandon, he’s an NRA advocate and comes from a very conservative family. And I’ve taught him in four classes. We have a terrific understanding of where we both want to be in the world, and our thoughts, and we really value each other’s perspectives. I would encourage people to be like Brandon and speak up, and I have learned a lot from him.

How can students know when intellectual challenge ends and discrimination begins? 

I would say that if they sense that a discussion is biased or not opening up certain avenues of discussion, or certain avenues of discussion are ignored, or there’s a truncation of discussion, or a tone, they should be very sensitive to that. They have the right to speak up in class and say ‘hey wait, there’s another avenue that has not been discussed’ or ‘I have a thought’. It takes courage for any student to speak up in class, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings are.

In terms of that distinction, do you think that it is safe to leave that distinction up to students? Do you think that they are generally good at drawing that line, or that they error in their determination of what’s discrimination and what is not? 

I think it is hard for someone who is between 18 and 22 to know when to speak up. Because there’s still formulating their ideas, and learning about other people’s ideas. And they want to be respectful. What I see is that they’re overly respectful of other people’s ideas. My impression is that sometimes they stay silent on the subjects because they’re not sure how the ideals that they grew up with and the ideals they’re developing themselves, jive with what they’re being presented with in class. All of that is very complex. So, Trinity students are the most reverent people I’ve ever met and they’re trying to be cautious. Maybe they should be less cautious. There’ plenty of room to speak up, and we love it when students speak up. We love to be challenged ourselves, we do.

What do you value most about the political and intellectual discourse at Trinity, and what are your fears regarding that discourse moving forward? 

My biggest fear is all of the fear. There’s a lot of fear about having these discussions. What I would encourage students to do is to talk to each other respectfully and speak up. Respectfully is an important word, because I know that during the election night, I heard from many minority students that they were not comfortable. I don’t have evidence for this, but I did hear it from a lot of minority students that they weren’t comfortable that night, and that’s not right. Maybe that’s overblown, I really don’t know. But given the rhetoric of the campaign, they deserve to be comfortable here and we owe it to their parents to make sure they’re comfortable. I would say that having respectable discourse among each other would be more valued – and cut out the lying.

Do you believe that Trinity is a unique place in providing that discourse? 

I do. And I think that we’re very fortunate, because we’re not beholden to the legislature. I’m going to teach a climate change class at UTHSCSA in a couple of weeks, and we walk into class and we are just intolerant of climate deniers because there’s no evidence that there’s no change in the climate or that it’s not anthropogenic. We also, when we walk into a biology class, we don’t even think twice about evolution. But my colleagues are in a a different position in these big public schools because the legislature is watching. That gives us a lot of latitude.

It also means that when Trinity students leave, knowing that there’s a problem with the climate, knowing that we’ve got to get some solutions on the table, they are better equipped. Not only to problem solve generally, in their own lives, but they are going to be better business people. Because they are going to actually know what problems are. People outside of this university are clamoring for our students because they are multifaceted, they think in many ways, they are skilled in many ways. And the reason for that is because we have very very open discourse, and great relationships between faculty and students. We value your opinions, and when you leave, you know that your opinions are valuable outside of the university; I think that makes you very powerful people.

Nipuni Gomes

Communication and English Major Trinity University 2017. Email Exchange. 

What is your message to conservative students, especially those who feel that many professors at Trinity do not value their perspective?
From my experience, Trinity University professors are very open-minded to different political and cultural viewpoints. It is not so much what a student says as how a student says it. There is a world of difference between a student who rationally expresses their political opinions and engages in a healthy discussion with an individual who holds opposing views, and a student whose goal is to prove anyone who does not share their views wrong using strong language but weak arguments.
Do you believe that Tigers for Liberty, and the Wendt brothers’ work with Turning Points USA, protects free discourse on campus?
If there is one thing I would say about Tigers for Liberty, given my experience interacting with some of its members as a journalist for Trinity University affiliated news outlets, is that I feel as if different members of the group are in it for vastly different reasons, and they are not all on the same page as to what the group aims to accomplish. I believe that the Wendt brothers – the leaders of TFL – foster this ambiguity on purpose for the sake of increasing the number of members in the organization – a tactic to intimidate individuals who attempt to speak out against the group or to simply give a façade of legitimacy to the group’s activities.
I believe the Wendts show no respect for anybody who disagrees with their opinions, having on multiple occasions gone as far as to publicly demean and insult even Trinity University professors who have respectfully disagreed with them. I believe that what the Wendt brothers and some members of TFL are engaging in is not respectful debate but an abuse of their right to free speech and the politeness and tolerance that Trinity University and its faculty members show to students, while using intimidation to silence dissenters.
How can students know when intellectual challenge ends and discrimination begin? Is it safe to leave that distinction up to students?
The line between an intellectual challenge and discrimination is crossed when the line between polite conversation and blatant disrespect is. Both students and faculty should engage in a respectful and open-minded manner. Once either party closes themselves off to the other or uses any kind of authority they possess to silence the opposing party, discrimination begins. I have never seen a Trinity professor engage in an abuse of authority regarding political matters, even in the face of blatant disrespect by a student.