It was the kind of rhetoric that seemed out-of-place at an institution of higher learning. “Be careful discussing sensitive topics.” “Drop certain topics from your curriculum.” “DO NOT confront a student.”
But such advice was not part of the national debate about trigger warnings ongoing at universities riven by issues of race, class and sexuality. Instead, at the University of Houston, educators were being warned about triggers – by peers struggling with how to teach when a new Texas law takes effect Aug. 1 that will allow students who are licensed to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Dispensed in a PowerPoint presentation reported by the Houston Chronicle and other outlets, the eye-raising bullet points advised faculty not to “make provocative statements” or “cute signs” about the new campus-carry law, and to “only meet ‘that student’ in controlled circumstances.” They advised faculty not to ask students about their “CHL” – that is, their concealed handgun licensing status – and not to “go there” if they “sense anger.” The bottom line: “It’s in your interest and the University’s interest to be very guarded and careful about this issue.”
The advice came as part of a discussion at the 42,000-student state university organized by the president of the central campus’s faculty senate, Jonathan Snow.
“It’s a terrible state of affairs,” Snow, a professor of isotope geochemistry, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “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 is one of many educators across Texas critical of SB 11, a law passed last year that allows those with concealed-handgun permits to pack heat in public university buildings. In a time when mass shootings are becoming commonplace, the controversial legislation inspired one University of Texas at Austin professor to quit his job.
“With a huge 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 substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law,” economics professor emeritus Daniel Hamermesh wrote in a letter to the university’s president last year. “Out of self-protection, I have chosen to spend part of next Fall at the University of Sydney, where, among other things, this risk seems lower.”
Legislators, however, sought to protect the Second Amendment rights of Texas’s college students.
“I just feel that the time has come for us to protect the men and women of Texas who are carrying concealed on our campuses,” state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R, the bill’s House sponsor, said after it passed.
The slideshow, which the University of Houston told the Chronicle of Higher Education it had not endorsed, came as a working group on the campus-carry law debates how SB 11 should be implemented this summer.
“While the University President may not generally prohibit license holders from carrying concealed weapons on the campus, the law gives public universities some discretion to regulate campus carry including designating certain areas on campus where concealed handguns are prohibited,” a statement posted by the university’s police department reads. “. . . The campus carry policy will address the safety and welfare of university students and the campus community and will be based upon input obtained from campus constituents.”
Among the questions in a survey posted by the department: “Should the University provide handgun storage space for individuals who reside on campus?” and “What criteria should be considered in determining what locations concealed handguns should be prohibited?”
Campus-carry at the University of Houston may be in the national spotlight within hours. The slideshow made headlines just days before the school hosts Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.
“Once again, what was once the stuff of the Onion is now Texas Reality, 2016,” Sharon Grigsby wrote for the Dallas Morning News opinion blog in a piece called “Response at University of Houston is exactly why we feared campus carry in Texas.” “Advocates of campus carry will maintain that the law shouldn’t make any difference in curriculum – or create concerns – but judging by the many discussions going on at campuses statewide, those concerns are widespread.”