Last week, the Texas Tech Board of Regents gave their approval for the system’s concealed carry policy on campuses. The plan, which allows guns in classrooms and “suite style or apartment style” dorms, was finalized and submitted for review by Interim President John Opperman in late March. The regents met to make sure that the proposed policies held true to the “spirit” of Senate Bill 11, which will allow gun owners with licensed permits to have concealed firearms at public universities this fall. Finding that spirit has been the concern for Texas’s public universities, which are now charged with figuring out how best to implement campus carry by the August 1 deadline. Essentially, schools must make sure that the gun-free zones they designate on campuses don’t ultimately undermine the bill.
According to Opperman, opposition to campus carry at Tech has mostly died down. “I think everybody understands this is an evolutionary thing, we’ll implement these policies and see how things go,” Opperman told The Dallas Morning News. “There may be some court cases that ultimately decide some of these issues and we’ll adhere to those. But a year from now, we’re hoping it’s a distant memory.”
But at other campuses it seems like the issue will be front of mind for a long time. At the University of Texas at Austin, two faculty members have announced their departures specifically due to campus carry. In October, Daniel Hamermesh, a professor emeritus of economics wrote a letter to UT President Greg Fenves announcing his plans to leave the university. Hamermesh retired in 2014, but agreed to teach a class during fall 2015, 2016, and 2017. In his letter, he announced that he was ending the agreement and would be teaching at the University of Sydney instead. He explained:
With a large group of students my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law.
In February, Fritz Steiner, UT’s architecture dean, announced that he would be leaving the university to take up the position of dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design on July 1. Steiner said he’d been approached by the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater, in previous years, but this year because of campus carry, he was more open to the possibility of leaving UT.
“I was faced as a dean to administrate a law that I didn’t think is right and that my faculty and most of my students were very upset about.” Steiner told NPR in an interview. “I became open to the possibility of looking at other schools. And it just so happened that my alma mater was one of those, an institution I have great affection for. And so I proceeded with discussions with them, and it’s worked out. So I’ll be moving there.”
He added that he knows of “two or three” other faculty members who have talked to him about changing schools, adding that he “wouldn’t be surprised if others were leaving, too.”
While organizations like Gun Free UT commended decisions to ban firearms in dormitories, they believe that the UT’s policy “does not go far enough,” since it will allow concealed carry in classrooms. According to the Austin Chronicle, Gun Free UT is open to taking legal action, and one professor, Steven Weinberg, has even stated that he would ban guns in his classrooms despite the law, and would be willing to be a “test case.”
Organizations on the other side of the issue, such as Students for Campus Carry, also aren’t satisfied with campus carry policies across the state. They believe that while some universities have upheld SB 11, others are “considering policies that would undermine the intent and, in some cases, the very letter of the legislation signed by Governor Abbott.” For example:
SCC is particularly concerned that both Texas Tech and the University of Texas at Austin want to let occupants of private offices designate their offices as criminally enforceable “gun-free” zones. Because the duties of a faculty member, staff member, research assistant, or teaching assistant may require entering one or more private offices multiple times each day, this policy would leave many license holders unable to carry on campus at all.
The university presidents figuring out how best to implement campus carry can’t seem to please anyone.
There are only a few months left before campus carry goes into effect on campuses across Texas, and thanks to data gathering efforts from The Dallas Morning News and The Houston Chronicle keeping track of the progress is a bit easier. With the Campus Carry Tracker, the News is monitoring how far along Texas universities are in finalizing their policies. According to the tracker, only six universities, including Texas Tech, have received final approval from their regents. The Houston Chronicle’s “Who’s in, who’s out” map plots out which campus will allow campus carry, which will ban it, and which are still deciding. So far, eleven universities are still deciding on whether to adopt campus carry, and if so, how to implement it. A few patterns about campus carry implementation are easier to spot between the two data sets.
Dorms and residential halls have been one of the central points of debate for universities trying to implement campus carry without effectively undermining it with their gun-free zones. Campus carry supporters have argued that banning concealed weapons in dorms will ultimately negatively affect a student’s right to concealed carry—if students can’t store their handguns in their rooms, how can they carry on campus? The vast majority of universities in Texas, except UT Austin, plan to allow campus carry in dorms in some form. Some, like Texas Tech, are limiting them to residential halls that are apartment style or private, which tend to house older students. Others, like Texas A&M, are allowing guns in dorms only if they are kept in an approved safe.
Organizations like Gun Free UT have argued against allowing concealed weapons in the classroom, saying that concealed carry “threatens academic freedom and free speech, compromises our educational mission, and diminishes the university’s reputation interferes with the free speech spirit.” But banning guns in classrooms is tricky. While residential halls are generally particular to students, classrooms also involve faculty and staff. Despite the opposition, nearly every university across the board will allow concealed handguns in the classroom under SB 11.
A Texas university isn’t a Texas university without a strong college sports culture. But no universities seem to be willing to introduce guns into that rite of passage, especially since some college arenas sell alcohol. Every single public university that have at least released preliminary recommendations have all elected to ban concealed firearms from sporting events.
While concealed carry on campus is mandatory for public universities under SB 11, it’s optional for private universities. Of the private universities that have made their decision so far, all of them have opted out of campus carry. However, all eleven universities on the Chronicle’s map that have yet to announce their campus carry plan are private. While public university presidents are trying—and largely failing—to establish campus carry policies that please everyone, private universities are avoiding the mess by simply opting out. There’s still time for the private university trend against campus carry to change between now and August 1, but somehow that seems unlikely.