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Don't teach "sensitive topics" or anger students, Houston professors are warned after "campus carry" gun law passed

University faculty are concerned Texas' new concealed carry gun law threatens academic freedom — and their safety


Ben Norton
February 24, 2016 1:30AM (UTC)

"Be careful discussing sensitive topics," professors at the University of Houston were warned in a faculty meeting about the new "campus carry" gun policy.

An unofficial forum of professors suggested that teachers may want to "drop certain topics from your curriculum," and "not 'go there' if you sense anger," the Houston Chronicle reports.

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A new Texas law will allow people to carry concealed handguns on university campuses.

Jeffrey Villines, a Ph.D. student in the university's English department, shared a photo of what he said is a slide from a "recent campus carry dialogue at UH, in response to faculty concerns about dangers from armed students."

Reflecting on the presentation, Villines says "teachers cannot forbid firearms in class, or even ask who is carrying one." He claims the school would be "fined $10k for violations."

A spokesperson at the University of Houston stressed in a message to Salon that this slide was not created by the university's Campus Carry Workgroup and "is not official policy." The spokesperson also indicated that the university's draft policy is expected to be released in the next week.

"The University of Houston takes issues surrounding campus safety and guns on campus very seriously and will strive to create policies that comply with the new Campus Carry law, protect the rights of citizens, and address the safety and security of the entire campus," the spokesperson said.

The Houston Chronicle notes that advice given at the faculty forum "echoes concerns voiced by professors across the state that allowing guns into the classroom will limit academic freedoms and inhibit discussion of sometimes touchy subjects."

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Jeff Villines argued that campus carry policies may have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression, silencing "discourse through fear of violence."

"To be clear," he wrote, "Step 1 of 3: Terrorism involves the silencing of discourse through fear of violence. Step 2 of 3: Open carry is advertised as a means of resisting or preventing terrorism. Step 3 of 3: Teachers advised that any problems with Open Carry can be resolved by silencing discourse."

The Ph.D student also added, "Fun Fact: 2nd Amendment is the only right in the Bill of Rights which requires a (purchased) implement to exercise. Thus, it is the point where the language of liberty can be most easily co-opted in the service of commerce."

Salon reached out to Villines with a request for further comment, but he did not immediately reply.

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Hard-line right-wing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the "campus carry" Senate Bill No. 11 into law in June 2015. It will go into effect in August 2016. The legislation does not allow public university governments to ban weapons.

The University of Houston police department notes that firearms are presently banned in university buildings.

Texas public universities are still deliberating how they will implement the new law, the Houston Chronicle reports. A recent attorney general opinion stipulated that guns have to be allowed in classrooms or dorms, though the University of Texas at Austin says it will permit students to carry weapons in the former, but not the latter.

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The University of Houston told Salon it created "a 15-member Campus Carry Work Group comprised of representatives throughout various University departments and groups with the responsibility to develop a campus carry policy that is compliant with the new campus carry law."

It additionally noted that final drafts of the campus carry policies are expected to be presented to the University of Houston System Board of Regents in May.

In late 2015, the University of Houston faculty senate passed a resolution opposing the "campus carry" law. "Weapons designed to end human life have no place in the academic life of the university," it said.

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"The diverse academic communities and free academic discourse are especially threatened by the presence of deadly weapons in teaching, research and living spaces," the resolution reads. The senate added, "Faculty are a particular source of unwelcome news to students... who often react emotionally and rashly."

In 1824, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the authors of the Second Amendment, banned "weapons or arms of any kind" at the University of Virginia, the resolution also pointed out.

The president of the faculty senate told the university's Board of Regents, the Houston Chronicle reports, that more and more faculty have expressed concern about the law. "Academics know the intrusion of gun culture into campus inevitably harms academic culture," he said.

(This post was updated with comments from a University of Houston spokesperson.)

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Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Academic Freedom Campus Carry Concealed Carry Guns Texas University Of Houston




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