The leaders of Texas’s largest university systems on Tuesday told state senators to expect some pushback over the state’s new campus carry law, even as the school heads assured legislators that they would each be in compliance with the law when it goes into effect on August 1.
The session was scheduled in part to check in on the schools’ progress in setting gun policies that comply with the statute. Chancellors and presidents from the University of Texas, the University of Houston, Texas Tech, Texas A&M University, and other systems, testified to the Committee on State Affairs that they were each working with individual campuses to implement their campus carry plans, and anticipated meeting their deadlines while vowing that they would adhere to the legislature’s intent. But their collective testimony also made it clear that because the law gives campus bosses at least some discretion in how it will be carried out at individual schools — and because critics and proponents of the law will inevitably be displeased with those interpretations — the fight over campus carry in Texas still has a few more rounds left in it.
“We are going to follow the law,” University of Texas Chancellor William McRaven said. “It’s that simple. And we expect people to follow the law.”
But he added a caveat, saying, “I fear that whatever rules are adopted on our campuses, whether by U.T. or the other systems, we think it is likely that those rules will be subjected to legal challenges through lawsuits filed by persons on one side or the other of the debate.”
Under the law, SB 11, public colleges and universities are limited in where they can ban concealed handguns on their properties, with some exceptions allowed for areas with critical infrastructure, labs with dangerous materials, child care facilities, and other buildings. Much of the roughly three-hour hearing dealt with the logistics of setting up and enforcing those boundaries. (The clarity of Texas’s open carry law was the other main topic on the agenda.)
Some witnesses expressed concern with dormitory safety, as well as staff and faculty offices. Others brought up athletic buildings and other large meeting places.
The hearing emphasized the role that faculty members opposed to the bill have played in driving pushback on their campuses. University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator said that while she hasn’t received word from any parents, some of her professors have protested vehemently.
“Faculty and staff continue to express serious concerns,” she said. “Some have said they will leave the university.”
Despite the threats of faculty attrition, the university leaders indicated that classrooms would likely not be designated gun free. John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, said he would be “surprised and frankly disappointed” if any of the campuses under his purview opted to bar handguns from classrooms — or dormitories, for that matter.
Republican Senator Joan Huffman, the committee chairwoman, warned against moves that would allow guns into lecture halls and seminar spaces while still corralling concealed gun carriers. Advising the chancellors to be mindful of gun owners’ rights, she admonished against unequal treatment like placing licensed gun owners in the back of a classroom.
As the committee meeting came to a close, the panel heard testimony from supporters and detractors of the laws, including Antonia Okafor, a U.T. Dallas graduate student representing the group Students for Concealed Carry. Okafor said she was concerned that some schools would use loopholes to arrive at narrow implementations of the law, and urged state officials to help spell out where schools are allowed to create so-called gun-free zones.
Joan Neuberger, a University of Texas history professor and member of anti-gun group Gun Free U.T., asked the legislators instead to grant the universities more leeway, citing fears from worried students who, she said, have come to her office since the law’s passage.
“We create an environment in the classroom that is an environment of absolute trust and respect,” Neuberger told the panel. “I don’t think I can do this if I don’t know if the person sitting next to me is carrying a gun in their backpack.”
[Photo: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File]