Some members of the University of Texas – Austin faculty aren’t happy about the change in state law that will allow concealed carry in the classroom next year. They just received the following call to action this afternoon from UT history prof Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra:
I am member of the History Department. For the last 2 weeks many colleagues in the humanities have begun to organize against the implementation of campus carry. As of 1 August, 2016, all state universities in Texas will allow staff, students (over 21), faculty and visitors to carry concealed guns in buildings (it is now legal to carry concealed guns into public, open spaces on campuses). We have initiated two campaigns that we hope you will consider joining (please see email by GunFree-UT), but particularly the statement by faculty refusing teaching in classrooms where guns are allowed (we have already 350 faculty who have signed) . . .
This law, which passed at the very last minute of the 2015 legislative session after the negotiation of some restrictions, allows for each university to designate some buildings as gun-free. So each university has set up commissions to contrive various formulas on how to carve out gun-free spaces. UT-Austin’s will come up with a plan in the next 30 days.
The rhetoric of the supporters of the law insists that gun-free zones need to be eliminated entirely because they are deliberately targeted by mass murderers. Last week’s shooting at Oregon gives the lie to this assumption. Oregon is a campus carry state. The problem is not that mass shootings occurred because we don’t have enough guns to defend ourselves. The problem is guns. All actuarial evidence and every epidemiological study show that guns, in and of themselves, increase significantly the statistics on deaths, assaults, and accidents. Supporters of the law argue that they want to feel safer from violence and criminals. The problem with this argument is that it contradicts all available evidence. The murder rate in Texas in the last two years, for example, was 5 times higher than the murder rate in Texas university campuses. Those who really are worried about safety on campuses should then fight to keep campuses gun-free zones, for they currently are SAFER zones from gun-related violence than the rest of the state. Supporters of the law maintain that if women were to have access to concealed guns rapists would think twice. Statistics contradict these NRA assertions. In Utah and Colorado universities, campus rapes went up by a whopping 36 % (Colorado) and 15 % (Utah) after the passing of campus carry (in public spaces, not buildings). This is not a reasonable dispute between two ideologies: gun-free and pro-gun. This is a dispute between FACTS and faith-based ideologues who have no one shred of evidence in their favor. And the world looks at us both in disbelief and with disgust that we allow kids and teens be sacrificed in orgies of violence to the gods of the gun manufacturing lobbies every day, in endless liturgies of blood.
The main cause of gun killing in the USA, including the state of Texas, is not crime, or gang related murders, is ARGUMENTS: people who are armed and engage in heat-of-the moment disputes. Based on this evidence gathered by the FBI, it is reasonable to assume that guns on campus statistically are a huge threat, regardless of the personal beliefs of law-abiding gun carriers. Since faculty are by and large folks who know the facts they will think twice before engaging in any public argumentation among students who might have arms. Reasoned argumentation is the core of university education. Sometimes people lose their tempers. What are we faculty to do when a student becomes visibly upset after getting a grade and comes to your office to dispute a grade? This law will lead to grade inflation, in addition to higher rates of gun related suicides, accidents, and sexual violence.
The consequences of bringing guns to classrooms and dorms are predictable: it will put a chill on public debate and it will increase the rate of suicides, accidents, and sexual violence on campuses. This law will impact the humanities most severely because it will intimidate faculty from tackling controversial issues in class. Most faculty will think twice before offering courses on controversial topics like race, gender, inequality, religion, slavery, empire, colonialism, etc. This law will force universities to spend millions in establishing gun-free spaces, money that should rather be used in salaries, equity, and tenure-track lines. The unintended consequences of the law will also affect universities across Texas: it will become a recruiting- and retaining-talent nightmare. Leading scholars will hesitate to relocate to campuses festooned with gun signs and gun lockers, which will be needed to carve out gun-free spaces. These were all points brought up by the Chancellor of the UT system and by our University President before the last state legislature, but it was all to no avail. The law was passed.
That we should be even discussing the virtue of having guns on campuses is itself a testament to our passivity. After every mass murder a radicalization of the second amendment discourse ensues. And every time there is a mass shooting, new laws are enacted to make guns even more available at every possible public setting. This is both paradoxical and obscene. Had we all collectively put pressure on our legislatures and on gun manufacturers (via our pensions funds), this ever expanding second-amendment laws would have never passed. Yet they did. It is time to act.
Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History University of Texas at Austin
To paraphrase an eloquent man, Prof. Cañizares-Esguerra has a right to his own opinion, but he doesn’t have the right to his own facts. How many bogus claims and statistics can you spot above?
We ran the perfesser’s call to action past TTAG contributor, distinguished barrister, and UT alum Louis Bonham for a reaction and he offered this:
Professors, like anyone else, are free to speak their mind on whatever subject they want. However, they do not have license to disregard or disobey laws they disagree with, especially when they are being paid by the public fisc.
While one would hope that the UT administration would insist that its faculty obey the law (and discipline or dismiss those who refuse to do so), history unfortunately shows that UT is unlikely to do so (unless, perhaps, when enforcing the law in question would support the preferred narrative of the faculty lounge).
There is, however, one essential aspect of academic life at a public institution that the professors and administrators cannot control: state funding.
Prof. Cañizares-Esguerra wants to play. I suggest that we play hardball. Accordingly, I submit the following modest proposal:
Our elected state legislators should be pressed (through the TSRA and similar groups) to pass a bill that cuts funding by 25% each year to any academic department at any public university that refuses to abide by state law (including but not limited to the campus carry bill) or tolerates a refusal of a member of its faculty to do so.
If he wants action — I say “game on.” And I daresay the gun owners of Texas have a lot more friends in the state legislature than humanities professors do.