More than 160 University of Texas professors have signed a petition declaring that they will not allow concealed carry permit holders to carry handguns in their classrooms, despite a recently passed law that allows permit holders to do so.
The professors have added their names to a Google document list to showcase their opposition to the legislation that was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June. The law is expected to take effect August 2016, although a representative for the university system told TheBlaze Wednesday morning that the schools are still working out specific details of how the policy will be implemented.
"If people feel there might be a gun in the classroom, students have said that it makes them feel like they would be much more hesitant to raise controversial issues, and I know, as a professor, I would be hesitant to encourage students to debate really important and controversial ideas," Dr. Joan Neuberger, a history professor at UT at Austin and co-organizer of the petition, told the Daily Texan, UT at Austin's student newspaper. "The classroom is a very special place, and it needs to be a safe place, and that means safe from guns."
Neuberger declined to comment to the TheBlaze in a phone call Wednesday morning.
Public relations lecturer Dr. Dave Junker told the Daily Texan that the worst part is "never knowing if a student has a gun but having to assume that someone does."
Paloma Diaz-Lobos, a UT staff member for 15 years who is also co-organizing the professors' anti-campus-carry efforts, told TheBlaze in an interview Wednesday morning that her passion stems from a school shooting that occurred a few years ago.
"It's nerve-wracking just to imagine that could happen again," she said.
As it is written, the legislation allows for university presidents to make "reasonable rules [and] regulations" when it comes to allowing guns on their campuses. However, the legislation does not allow for individual professors to make their own regulations without going through the proper channels.
"The president or [other chief executive officer] may not establish provisions that generally prohibit or have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on the campus of the institution," the law states. "The president or officer may amend the provisions as necessary for campus safety. The provisions take effect as determined by the president or officer unless subsequently amended by the board of regents or other governing board."
“We expect that everyone at our universities — including the professors who signed the petition — to follow the law," John Wittman, deputy press secretary for Abbott, told TheBlaze Wednesday.
Rohit Mandalapu, a UT at Austin senior and the student government vice president, told TheBlaze that students lobbied heavily against the legislation while it was being debated in Texas legislature last semester.
"But now it's a law, and we will abide by the law," Mandalapu said. "We're not going to break the rules, but we are going to do everything we can to increase campus safety with campus carry in the mix."
As Mandalapu said, while many UT professors and students opposed the legislation, there are students who supported it.
"Campus carry is important because students should be given the right to responsibly practice self-defense," Allison Peregory told TheBlaze Wednesday.
Peregory, chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas — UT Chapter, said that as a female student at UT at Austin, the ability to carry is "reassuring."
"Walking to and from campus, especially at night and through areas with high crime, has the potential to become a dangerous situation," she said.
Diaz-Lobos said she and other university employees have been circulating the Google document to like-minded individuals but encouraged anyone in the university community such as guest lecturers, current and future students and parents to sign a Change.org petition that demands a repeal of the law.
"We oppose guns in our classrooms as a direct assault on our free speech rights," the online petition, with more than 2,250 signatories, states. "We also oppose guns in our offices, dormitories and janitor's closets."
"I am a graduate student in the School of Social Work and am scared for my safety and the safety of others on the UT campus," a Rev. Jonathan Scanlon said on the petition. "I am also a Presbyterian minister and believe God does not agree with your pro NRA stance, especially while you provide so little government assistance to the mentally ill in Texas. You can't have it both ways without enabling more tragic shootings. Please stop helping people carry weapons."
Bryan Jones of Austin, Texas, wrote that allowing guns on campus is a "direct threat to free speech." Campus Reform reported that a "faculty member at another university" wrote that the Second Amendment applied only to members of the National Guard. The college news site identified the signatory as a professor at Oregon State University.
According to an email sent to the UT community and provided to TheBlaze, a Campus Carry Policy Working Group has convened to make recommendations to President Gregory L. Fenves. The working group is made up of 19 members, including faculty, students, alumni, administrators and a parent and is collecting input from the UT community through an online survey and two public forums — one of which is to be held Wednesday evening.
Mandalapu said that during these meetings students and faculty can discuss areas that can "opt out" of the legislation, such as "high stress environments, close quarters" and areas with dangerous chemicals and equipment.