February 14, 2011


A. Resolution Reaffirming the Ban of Firearms on Campus (D 8561).

On behalf of the Faculty Council Executive Committee, Chair Neikirk presented a resolution reaffirming the ban of firearms on campus that was identical to the resolution approved by the Faculty Council at its meeting on February 16, 2009. He said the language of the resolution was the following, “The Faculty Council at The University of Texas at Austin believes carrying firearms on the University campus by anyone other than law enforcement officers is detrimental to the safety of the students, faculty, and staff.” Chair Neikirk said the motion did not require a second and invited discussion of the resolution.

Professor Phillip Barrish (English) said he wanted to preface his comments with the contextual statement that he is serving as faculty advisor to a student group called Students Against Gun Violence. He then shared three vignettes or anecdotes from September 28, 2010, when Colton Tooley came to campus carrying a gun, which Professor Barrish said had motivated him to become part of this student group. The first vignette occurred when the professor’s trip that morning to return library books was interrupted by loud noises and people running down 21st Street to take cover in the business school. He said he scurried into the Perry-Castañeda Library to take cover only to be followed a few seconds later by Mr. Tooley. Professor Barrish said he did not know why, but even as the gunman walked by, it seemed clear that the young man did not intend to hurt anyone in the library. However, the professor said he had a strong sense that a disaster would have ensued had a staff member, faculty member, or another student decided to pull a firearm and confront the gunman. Professor Barrish said the second vignette occurred when he was able to leave the library before the building was locked down. Then he witnessed the first responder, an Austin police officer, who appeared incredibly young, arrive within the first five minutes after shots had been heard. Although the police officer appeared to be a very brave young man, he had no idea where the gunman had gone so bystanders pointed toward the library. The lone police officer entered the door of the library, and Professor Barrish said he wondered what might have happened if Mr. Tooley had already gone upstairs and another individual were standing in the entry area of the library holding a gun. He said he knew that police officers are trained for such situations, but Professor Barrish said he thought that scenario would have presented “a very difficult moment for that officer.”

When statements later that day were being issued about how the incident reinforced the need for students and others to carry guns on campus in order to defend themselves, Professor Barrish said he quickly sent off a letter to The Daily Texan because he had been close to the incident and held a different perspective. The next day an op-ed response appeared in the paper by the head of the Students in Favor of Campus Carry, but Professor Barrish said the tone was “very temperate.” However, he said his wife took note of the comments posted in response to the professor’s letter, which expressed much “aggressive, vituperative, angry stuff.” Among other descriptors in the comments, Professor Barrish reported he was referred to as “a coward” and “too stupid to be teaching,” and one individual actually said he “should be fired.” In concluding his remarks, Professor Barrish said, “…the degree of vituperation and anger made me think these are the people who most want to be able to bring their guns to campus, and these are the people we would least want to be able to have guns on campus.”

Professor Mary Rose (sociology) asked what had caused the language in the resolution to be what she called “soft”? Chair Neikirk said there had been a lot of thought about the level of the debate and a great deal of discussion. Because the Faculty Council cannot lobby about legislation, it was decided not to refer to any particular bill in the resolution. Also, he said the resolution reflected the prevailing concern regarding the “safety of our community.” Professor Staiger added that the faculty could express beliefs but could not lobby. She said the state does allow individuals to carry concealed guns on campus but not into buildings. Therefore, she explained that the faculty resolution was focused on protecting against guns being carried into buildings. She said probably the best bill that might emerge in the state legislature at this time would allow individual campuses to make their own decisions about carrying concealed weapons into buildings.

Chair Neikirk asked if there were more comments or questions. Since there were none, he called for the vote. The resolution was unanimously passed by voice vote.

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