Professors encouraged to teach more cautiously in wake of campus carry

Presentation suggested dropping curriculum topics, among other considerations

A presentation on campus concealed carry by the University of Houston Faculty Senate president is drawing concern and criticism over fears of an attack on academic freedom. 

Jonathan Snow led three faculty forums covering suggestions for adapting to the new concealed carry law going into effect at four-year intuitions on August 1; about 250 faculty members attended. Many of Snow's suggestions dealt with limiting conversation and dropping sensitive subjects from curriculums.

Private institutions may opt out

State Senate Bill 11 will allow concealed handgun license holders 21 or older to carry their weapons on all college campuses in the state, but schools may carve out "gun-free zones" and private institutions may opt out of the requirement entirely. However, guns cannot be banned from all public classrooms. In 2017, the requirement will apply to community colleges as well.

Concerns over academic freedom

The recommended changes—which the university points out are not official recommendations—deal largely with limiting academic freedom. Among the suggestions are, "drop certain topics from your curriculum," "be careful discussing sensitive topics," and do "not 'go there' if you sense anger."

Other suggestions include hosting office hours by appointment only and meeting in public places.

The law "created a very uncomfortable situation for us," says Maria Gonzalez, an associate professor of English and Faculty Senate member.

"It's an invasion of gun culture into campus life. We are worried that we have to change the way we teach to accommodate this minority of potentially dangerous students," Snow told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The recommendations, which Snow says he made based on discussions with others, show that "it's possible to teach but not well and not freely," says Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Processors' Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

'Irrational' fears

But others say professors should be more concerned with students carrying guns illegally than with those who hold licenses.

National advocacy group Students for Concealed Carry argues the new law makes campuses safer, and spokesperson Michael Newbern, a part-time instructor at Ohio State University, says faculty concerns are "irrational."

No campus shootings have taken place in states that currently permit concealed carry in classrooms, he says. And in relation to some professors' concerns that students may accidently discharge a firearm, that's extremely uncommon, he says.

University plans official recommendations

Next week, a working group comprised of 15 people will release its recommendations as to how others on campus should respond to the law. The school "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," according to a university statement (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 2/24; Fernandes, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/24). 

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