“Campus Carry” and Academic Freedom

BY HANK REICHMAN

Last summer Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 11, also known as the “campus carry” law, at a shooting range. The law permits the concealed carry of guns in dorms, classrooms, and buildings at state universities and community colleges, while leaving individual schools some latitude to keep parts of their properties firearm-free, extending the reach of a previous law that allowed concealed handguns on university grounds. The law goes into effect August 1, 2016 for public colleges and universities (and a year later for community colleges).  On October 6, I decried the “insanity” of such laws on this blog and in November the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges issued a joint statement opposing such laws, which declared, “College campuses are marketplaces of ideas, and a rigorous academic exchange of ideas may be chilled by the presence of weapons. Students and faculty members will not be comfortable discussing controversial subjects if they think there might be a gun in the room.”  Twenty-eight disciplinary associations issued a similar statement.

Both administrators and faculty in Texas have been almost uniformly opposed to the new legislation and are working hard to limit its potential impact on education (see, for example, the statement by the AAUP’s Texas Conference).  At the University of Houston (UH) the Faculty Senate took the lead in scheduling a series of three faculty forums to discuss “campus carry, academic freedom, and the new world of higher education in Texas.”  The UH Senate has posted online the Power Point presentation prepared for the forums.  The presentation outlines the basic facts of the law and presents UH’s draft implementation policy.  It also outlines several “options” for faculty and proposes a number of recommendations.

The presentation offers three basic options:  minimalist (doing nothing); posting signs reminding people of the law; and a “more aggressive” approach, in which faculty members may adopt syllabus language quoting the senate’s resolution: “Guns have no place in the academic life of the University,” or offering some other statement.  But then the presentation offers some recommendations, which bring home the ominous character of the new law’s threat to academic freedom.  Here is the relevant slide:

Houstongun

In case you can’t read it, here is what it says:

You may want to

  • Be careful discussing sensitive topics
  • Drop certain topics from your curriculum
  • Not “go there” if you sense anger
  • Limit student access off hours
  • Go to appointment-only office hours
  • Only meet “that student” in controlled circumstances

 

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