Student legislation supports right to display ‘Gun Free UT’ signs

Sara Schleede

Signs reading “Gun Free UT” have emblazoned windows across campus since the Texas Legislature enacted a law allowing licensed handgun owners to carry concealed weapons into public university facilities in 2016.

Earlier this semester, UT President Gregory Fenves directed department chairs to tell faculty to remove all window signs, “Gun Free UT” or otherwise, by Sept. 7. Following complaints of free speech violations, Fenves announced the creation of a task force to investigate the issue at a Faculty Council meeting in September.

Ian McEntee, Student Government academic affairs policy co-director, sits on Faculty Council and said he has not received any information about the task force since then. Joint Resolution 3, introduced at the SG assembly meeting Tuesday night, requests student representation on the free speech task force.

“There is an intense intersection between the rights of students and the rights of faculty,” said McEntee, humanities and sociology senior. “If a professor feels that they cannot adequately express themselves through window signage, that could be likened to a censorship of education.”

The legislation also asks the University to issue a formal policy protecting UT staff’s rights to express free speech in their office windows or clarify their outward-facing sign policy.

“Consistent with U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the University has policies that use a content-neutral approach based on ‘time, place and manner’ to regulate speech on campus, including the placement of signs,” UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email in September. “The University’s rules do not allow signs on windows that face externally to campus.”

McEntee said some people believe the University is targeting the “Gun Free UT” signs specifically.

“Professors can state their beliefs in a classroom, but that only has impact on the students around them,” McEntee said. “Giving professors and faculty and staff this opportunity to display what they feel in a viewpoint neutral basis is the cornerstone of any university.” 

Another resolution, J.R. 4, was introduced at Tuesday’s meeting and encourages the UT Parking and Transportation Services to devote more resources toward enforcing electric scooter parking regulations. It also recommends painted parking zones around campus bike racks so students know where to park scooters appropriately.

“The rules in place make sense, but I would like it to be made more clear,” said Austin Cole, Graduate Student Assembly financial director and biology graduate student. “You have to know what the rule is to adhere to it, and I would wager a good deal of people are simply ignorant to the rule.” 

All vehicles must follow the 15 mph campus speed limit and a 5 mph speed limit for “pedestrian priority” areas such as Speedway Mall. Still, 58 scooter-related injuries were reported to University Health Services between September and October.

Parking and Transportation Services requires all scooters to park at or near bike racks and prohibits all vehicles from blocking stairways, doors and ramps. PTS has impounded 77 improperly parked scooters in 2018, according to the legislation. 

“(PTS) started impounding scooters that were parked in really ridiculous areas and there were some fines, but there’s still this huge problem particularly on Speedway where it’s being enforced in a patchwork way,” said Carl McClain, GSA economics representative and economics graduate student.