Campus carry symptomatic of unbalanced relationship between UT, Legislature

Campus carry might turn out disastrously for UT. It might also turn out to be completely benign. But even if the law’s potential effects are murky, the uneven relationship between the Texas Legislature and the University — of which SB 11 is a symptom —  has never been more clear.

Less than one-eighth of UT’s budget is covered by public funds, and yet the Texas Legislature wields a disproportionate authority to meddle in the University’s affairs. The Legislature said it consulted with student leaders in advance of the law’s passage, but given Student Government’s resolute opposition to campus carry and a May letter authored by student leaders representing more than 285,000 students from across Texas, it doesn’t appear as though they paid much attention.

That a governing body with little connection to UT can impose regulations against the University’s wishes is troubling and unfair, and it can have far-reaching consequences in the future. Just ask the University of Wisconsin. In 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed a controversial measure allowing concealed carry at public universities. To date, the law has neither vindicated nor invalidated its proponents. But a $250 million budget cut passed by Wisconsin’s legislature earlier this year has had a far more concrete impact on its university system, which was forced to cut hundreds of jobs and is now considering tightening its definition of tenure.

SB 11 is a vague and confusing law, making it a useful proxy in America’s debate over gun access in light of its recent spate of mass shootings. Fortunately, that ambiguity gives UT’s working group leeway in overseeing the law’s implementation. But the rhetoric it inspires is more ideological than it is logical, as demonstrated by last Friday’s protest and counter-protest organized by Gun-Free UT and Young Conservatives of Texas, respectively. Both sides came passionately armed with slogans and soundbites, and that afternoon’s shooting at a community college in Oregon left us relieved that no one brandished more than that.

What we do know is that campus carry is stirring up tangible fear and unnecessary tensions at UT. And the fact that the Texas Legislature can exercise that degree of power over the environment on campus with a single midnight vote is just as worrying as the law itself.

Destabilizing a community in an effort to address a nonexistent problem would make any law a shaky proposition — let alone one as bogged down by ideological contention and serious safety concerns. The working group’s public forums are an admirable attempt at keeping the principle of self-governance alive on the 40 Acres, and we strongly encourage campus community members to share their voices. But it’ll take a systemic shift in the power dynamic between the Capitol and the University to ensure that those voices actually have a say in their own affairs.