On November 16, 2015, the UT Austin Faculty Council passed a resolution concluding that it “strongly opposes allowing guns in The University of Texas at Austin classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, university offices, and other spaces of education.”
In December 2015, the Campus Carry Policy Working Group (CC working group) released its report recommending the gun-exclusion zones that should be allowed when Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) is implemented on August 1, 2016.
Consistent with the Faculty Council’s resolution, the CC working group recommended excluding guns from:
- Animal Facilities
- Dormitories (but not public spaces)
- Assigned offices (with responsibility for notifications and off-site meetings).
Although the working group expressed its strong opposition to guns in classrooms, it did not recommend excluding guns from them, and it reached no consensus on mixed use buildings.
Responding to the CC working group’s recommendations, the Faculty Council recognizes that the CC working group had a difficult job and that they “made every effort to remain true to the charge President Fenves gave us: to recommend steps he can take that will promote safety and security for all members of the campus in a way that complies with the law” (Report p. 7). The Faculty Council also wishes to express its support for maintaining campus safety, but it also affirms its broader responsibility, one that includes protecting free inquiry and academic freedom from intimidating influences that impede learning and creative activities. With that responsibility in mind, the Faculty Council endorses the following resolutions:
Resolution 1. Classrooms should be gun-exclusion zones.
Commentary: All members of the working group felt that guns should not be allowed in classrooms. They were, nevertheless, concerned that excluding guns from classrooms would be considered a general prohibition and therefore illegal. They considered but rejected the alternative, which is to exclude guns from classrooms while providing secure storage for guns for students and instructors in class. Such storage could be provided as secure gun lockers in enclosed spaces at various locations on campus.
The working group reasoned that storing and retrieving guns introduces risks that are greater than just carrying guns. While it is true that there is a risk to storing guns, the risk is borne mainly by the gun owners, not the whole campus. If the risk is unacceptable, the gun owners have the option of leaving their guns at home. Students and faculty who feel intimidated, or at risk because of guns in the classroom, do not have the option of missing or cancelling classes.
Resolution 2: When any part of a building is a gun-exclusion zone, the whole building should be a gun-exclusion zone.
Commentary: Having parts of buildings as exclusion zones will be very difficult to enforce, while treating buildings as units will reduce requirements for signage, which is a goal of the Chancellor’s. This policy will solve the problem of how to treat mixed-use buildings. In addition, it means that common areas in dormitories would be gun-exclusion zones.
Resolution 3. University personnel who have declared their office a gun-exclusion zone should be able to post appropriate signage if the “whole building” policy proposed in Resolution 2 is not adopted. They should also not be required to meet an armed person at another location.
Commentary: Recommendation #18 in the CC working group report proposes that an office holder who has prohibited concealed weapons should give oral notice to visitors and arrange somewhere else to meet with gun owners. The expectation of oral notice and having to arrange external meeting space is complicated, time-consuming, fraught, and intimidating, and it is an unjustifiable burden on University personnel. Gun owners who wish to meet with staff in a gun-exclusion zone should store their weapons and not create unnecessary work for already overburdened staff and faculty.
Resolution 4. The University Police should receive extensive training to deal with the implementation of SB 11.
Commentary: A recent demonstration adjacent to campus and in a campus parking garage evoked a confused response from campus police. Several men with semiautomatic weapons on the roof of a parking garage were not considered reason for alarm. Open display of a handgun or a very good replica was also deemed acceptable. Students and staff asked officers on the scene if the open carry of handguns was permissible, and whether the garages were considered university premises, and the officers were unable to give clear answers. The University needs to establish a policy that assures the campus that the police are properly trained and will not allow armed individuals to intimidate or threaten the community.
Resolution 5. The University should mount an initiative to study gun violence, and non-lethal means of enhancing personal safety, both on-campus and off-campus.
Commentary: As the CC working group recognized, this important area of study has long been neglected. The University of Texas at Austin could quickly become a national leader by establishing an interdisciplinary research center or institute spanning STEM and Humanities disciplines and recruiting outstanding senior scholars to lead innovative approaches to these complex problems. This effort should include a robust multi-media Public Scholarship effort to make research results on gun violence and violence prevention accessible to the public. A working group should be tasked with developing a plan to establish these research and outreach efforts. One useful step might be an initial workshop on campus bringing leading scholars from other institutions to interact with UT faculty, staff, and development officers to help jump-start this process.