University offers little justification in request for removal of Gun Free UT signs

Sam Groves

Evidently fearing the impression UT employs people with common sense, University officials have asked faculty to remove “Gun Free UT” signs from their office windows, as well as any other outward-facing signs. Faculty were informed via email thatthe signs had to be removed by Sept. 7.

As the pro-gun crowd would have it, UT has been suffering under the oppressive scourge of these signs for about two years. In summer 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 11 into law, making it legal for licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons on state college and university campuses. In fall 2015 the signs started appearing, and ever since then, no firearm on campus has known peace. But at last, with this new directive, the University is finally a safe space … for guns.

As for students and faculty, well, that’s a different matter. This decision shows contempt for righteous defiance in the face of a ridiculous law that makes campus a more dangerous place for everyone.

The University has offered contradictory justifications for nixing the signs. On the one hand, the Legal Affairs office says the decision is merely enforcing existing policy, which regulates where a “University person or organization” can display signs. Ostensibly, this means the issue is not with the content of the signs but with their location. UT spokesman J.B. Bird told The Daily Texan that “the University’s rules do not allow signs on windows that face externally to campus.”

On the other hand, Bird also said the Sept. 7 deadline was set to combat the “proliferation of prohibited signs, including hateful fliers, at UT and on other campuses.” And while there have been incidents involving racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant fliers appearing on campus in the recent past, the policy against outward-facing signs in windows couldn’t possibly have prevented those incidents because the fliers weren’t in windows.

“It seems that what was told to different people was different,” history professor Megan Raby said. “Some (faculty) say it’s only in shared offices that signs need to come down, and some people said (the University) had specific rationale for why, like that it makes it look like this is a University policy somehow.”

“I would like some consistency,” Raby added.

Moreover, if the University is serious about enforcing this policy, it should have done so from the beginning, rather than waiting until the campus carry controversy died down.

“There were some emails back and forth that said that there was no new policy, that this had been the policy from the start,” Raby said. “That puzzles me, because my signs have been in my window for over two years, and no one has ever said anything to me before.”

As for the campus carry law itself, there can be no doubt it makes campus a more dangerous place. Research suggests access to a firearm increases an individual’s risk of committing both homicide and suicide. The Harvard Injury Control Center found that “firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense.” In crimes from 2007 to 2011, just 0.9 percent of people defended themselves with a gun.

If officials are worried the “Gun Free UT” message will be misconstrued as University policy, they should relax. For one thing, it’s hard to see anyone making that mistake. But for another, they should consider whether it’s really such a terrible thing to be seen as caring for the safety of students and staff. After all, that’s what these signs are really about.

Clarification: at a Faculty Council meeting on Sept. 17, President Fenves announced that the administration would “hold enforcement of the policy with respect to exterior windows—and exterior windows only,” pending the recommendations of a task force that would be created to “look at our current sign policy with respect to windows.”

Groves is a philosophy senior from Dallas.