An email message was sent to the entire faculty of the University of Texas at Austin on a university listserv Tuesday morning encouraging them to oppose a “campus carry” bill being considered by the Texas Senate. The bill in question, SB 11, would allow those with permits to carry concealed handguns to also carry their guns on college campuses. Current law allows permit holders to carry on campus grounds; this bill would extend that to inside buildings as well.
A copy of the email, sent by Bill Beckner, a mathematics professor and the chair of the UT Faculty Council, was provided to Breitbart Texas from a current UT professor who wished to remain anonymous. “When you read it, the whole thing is offensive and disturbing for several reasons,” said the professor, who described himself as a conservative and a supporter of gun rights.
The professor expressed his concerns to Breitbart Texas that taking a public stance in favor of campus carry would be detrimental, in terms of getting promoted, being awarded grants, and consideration for tenure. “When you’re considering who you’re going to make a permanent part of the faculty, you take that kind of thing into consideration,” said the professor, calling it “human nature” to have a negative view of someone who was “not going to toe the party line.”
In the message, Beckner informs the faculty that SB 11 is set for a public hearing in the Texas Senate on Thursday, February 12, and includes all the information from the official notice. The email was sent from the Faculty Council’s UT email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) to a listserv on UT’s network named “University of Texas at Austin-GEN-FACULTY-ALL-Informational.”
Beckner urges his colleagues to attend the hearing, writing, “The views of faculty members are important and the Senate will benefit from hearing those views.”
However, it is not all views that the Faculty Council wants to see. Instead, the message is clear that they are hoping to encourage opposition to campus carry. “As I expect that you are aware,” writes Beckner, “both President Powers and Chancellor McRaven have expressed their opinion that this measure will not enhance safety for students, faculty and staff on our campus.”
The professor who shared the email with Breitbart Texas called Beckner’s statement that the views of faculty members were important “dishonest” and a “not subtle at all attempt to shape or control testimony that might be given to the legislature.” The email, he said, was “basically saying, ‘your views are important, if you say the right thing’ — it’s classic group-think — but don’t even testify if you might be sympathetic to the bill.” Even liberals, he added, “if they’re being honest, should be offended by this email” and its efforts to force professors to conform their opinions.
The Faculty Council’s official website, a subpage on UT’s website, promotes a similar anti-campus carry stance. In the top right section titled “Spotlights & Events,” immediately beneath the listing for the next Faculty Council meeting, is a section titled “CONCEALED HANDGUNS ON CAMPUSES.” This section has four links, all of which have an anti-campus carry message.
Breitbart Texas contacted Gary Susswein, UT’s Director of Media Relations, for comment. Susswein confirmed that the email was authentic and had been sent to the entire faculty on that listserv. He noted that the Faculty Council was not an official part of the UT administration, but rather a “representative organization for faculty” where the faculty elect their own leaders, similar to the Student Government organizations established on college campuses for students.
The professor who sent Breitbart Texas the email did not find this to be a meaningful distinction. “The technical issue of whether it was the Faculty Council or some official action of the university administration, doesn’t really make any difference,” he said, adding that he felt that it raised some first amendment issues, interfering with professors’ free speech rights, and that he was “confident” that there would be negative consequences for any professor who testified in favor of the bill.
While the email may not be an official communication from the UT administration, Susswein said, both UT President Bill Powers and Chancellor William McRaven, as well as former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, had all “publicly stated their opposition” to campus carry, at least in concept, although he was not aware of them taking a stance on SB 11 or any other specific piece of legislation.
McRaven sent a letter in January to Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus stating his opposition to allowing concealed carry of handguns on campus, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Both Abbott and Patrick have stated their support for campus carry, and SB 11, along with two open carry bills, were among the first that Patrick has sent to committee so far this session, as Breitbart Texas reported.
Senate Bill 11 will have a public hearing before the House State Affairs Committee, on Thursday, February 12, at 9:00 am. Breitbart Texas will continue to follow this story.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.