The 1st Amendment rights of Texas professors are being seriously undermined by the state’s new gun laws. Right-wing legislators have little use for that pesky ‘freedom of speech’ part of the constitution, but academics consider it vital to a good education.
State schools in Texas will have to allow concealed weapons to be carried onto campus as of August 1, 2016. They have no choice, and that has raised considerable fears about discussing subjects that could provoke a student’s anger.
The Faculty Senate at the University of Houston, a state college, recently presented a slideshow to its members that included warnings to instructors to limit their subject matter. One attendee captured an image of the warning and posted it on Twitter:
In addition to the advice to avoid “sensitive” topics and drop “certain topics,” the power point also suggested that faculty “Go to appointment-only office hours” and “Only meet ‘that student’ in controlled circumstances.” Wow! Is there a chill in the academic air, or what?
Only Private Property Rights Are More Important Than ‘Gun Rights’
Private schools can ban guns from their campuses because “private property rights” apparently trump “gun rights”. Public universities, however, cannot. They have to come up with rules about where guns can and cannot be carried. Last week, the University of Texas (UT) in Austin decided that the complexity of the new law made it impractical to ban guns from the classroom, regardless of the effect on the 1st Amendment.
UT is already racking up losses because of the policy. Faculty members aren’t the only ones who are concerned. Prospective graduate student Nora Dolliver, currently at the University of Chicago, wrote a rejection of her admission to UT in an email to staff. It was titled “Declining Offer of Admission Due to Campus Carry Guidelines.” She’ll take her valuable brains elsewhere. Dolliver told The Guardian:
“You can’t expect students who have other options like I do to come there, frankly … If I know a person could have a gun in class I’m not so interested in speaking openly.”
Lisa Moore, a professor at UT, explained how extensive — and devastating — the ramifications of the concealed carry law are:
“The impact of the campus carry law on UT’s reputation, recruitment and retention of both faculty and staff has already begun to be felt. I personally know of at least two cases of senior faculty hires in which a top candidate withdrew [one from Harvard, one from the University of Virginia], citing concern over these laws.”
It’s telling that all of the state’s private universities that have considered whether to allow concealed carry have so far decided not to. That includes ultra-conservative Baylor University in Waco — the largest Baptist school in the world. Jonathan Snow, president of the University of Houston’s faculty senate, told the school’s regents why that is true:
“Academics know the intrusion of gun culture into campus inevitably harms academic culture.”
What Did The Authors Of The 1st Amendment Say?
Professors at the campuses of state schools started registering their protests of the new law when it was passed last fall. Last December, the Faculty Senate at the University of Houston passed a resolution in opposition to concealed carry on campus. In it, they quoted the weapons-free policy of the University of Virginia, formulated in 1824 by the Board of Visitors — including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison:
“No student shall, within the precincts of the University … keep or use weapons or arms of any kind …”
There you have it, from the original authors of the 1st Amendment and the 2nd. Weapons are incompatible with an educational atmosphere.
A campus without guns shows concern for public safety. A campus without the 1st Amendment is precisely what the Republican legislators in Texas intended it to be — an intellectual wasteland.