(Update, Dec 3, 2015: Rice University announced this week that it would also opt-out.)
Does the constitutional right to self-preservation override a university’s right to ban weapons on their campus in the name of public safety? That’s the question facing Texas private universities as they consider whether to opt in to the new campus carry law that will go into effect August of 2016.
Over the past 10 days, both Baylor and Texas Christian University made news on the topic, with TCU announcing it would opt-out and Baylor President Judge Ken Starr telling the audience at the Texas Tribune Higher Education Symposium on November 16th that Baylor would most likely opt out too. “My own view is that it is a very unwise public policy, with all due respect to those who feel strongly (and) very, very rooted in constitutional values as they see them,” Starr said. “We’re here as seats of learning, and I do not think this is helpful.”
The 84th Texas Legislature this past spring passed SB11, which would require public higher education institutions to permit students and faculty to carry a gun if they have the Concealed Carry Handgun License. That means they’d have to be at least 21 and pass the state’s rigorous licensing and training program to carry a gun on campus.
There’s been a lot of debate since the law passed over the location of gun-free zones and where guns are allowed in certain buildings on the campuses of the public universities that must implement the legislation. University of Texas at Austin students came together to protest the legislation by carrying around adult sex toys a few weeks ago. “I need this proliferation of [sex toys] to offer people a visual representation of what it would be like if we all carried guns…” said Jessica Jin, organizer of the Facebook event and a UT alumna.
“I think it’s not likely we will satisfy everybody,” said A&M President Michael K. Young at a faculty senate meeting in October, ”and everybody on campus will not be the only groups we want to satisfy.” Most of the public universities’ Presidents and Chancellors have created committees to look into how their schools should implement the legislation. The committees will also be tasked researching the impact the legislation will have on the surrounding communities where the universities reside.
Private institutions have the option to opt out of the legislation if they wish to do so, and TCU was the first private university on November 13th to do just that, and SMU and other private institutions have hinted they are leaning toward opting out too.
TCU’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy Cavin-Tull said that when coming to the decision of opt out, “…all cared deeply about the safety of the community.” One of the arguments against the legislation is that many fear that the police or those responding to a scene would not be able to determine who is the threat and who is the license holder.
The discussion continued at the symposium from both sides weighing in whether it is a good option for Baylor to implement the legislation. Texas Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), author of the legislation and whose district includes the greater Waco area and Baylor University, said, “The right to self-preservation is a God-given right, just as freedom of speech is…These are 21-year-old citizens of this state and we ought to treat them as the adults they are.”
President Starr countered by noting that students are still discovering who they are as a person, and to give them the great responsibility of concealing a gun on campus would not be welcoming to most. He said students and faculty would feel “less safe if weapons were brought onto campus,” adding that Baylor campus law enforcement officials are not in favor of allowing guns on campus.
The BAA posted two updates on Facebook – one after TCU announced its decision and one after President Starr spoke to the Texas Tribune audience. Between the two posts, the topic attracted 184 Likes and more than 170 comments within 72 hours of the posting, with approximately 60% of the comments taking the opt-out side. Comments ranged from support of Starr’s view, stating that there are other means of safety for the students, such as rapid police response and emergency towers that are placed all across campus while supporters of the legislation argued that “gun-free” signs do little to ward off criminals and to carry is a constitutional right for law-abiding citizens.
Last fall the Baylor Student Senate tried to pass legislation that would allow Campus Carry-like provisions to be put into place, but after passing the Senate, the Student Body President at the time vetoed the legislation.
The discussion if Baylor should implement the legislation or to opt out will be an ongoing discussion until the final decision is made by the administration. There is no timeline for Baylor’s formal decision on this topic.
What do you think? Should the Baylor Board of Regents move forward with the decision to opt-out, or are there larger issues to consider that should lead them to opt-in (and what limits should be applied)?