Would prospective faculty members shy away from the University of Texas as a result of a state law and a school policy that will permit concealed handguns to be carried in classrooms and other interior spaces?
UT President Gregory L. Fenves, who adopted the policy Thursday, saying the law gave him no choice, put it this way: “I’m very concerned about the effect of concealed carry on recruitment and retention. We will look at what adjustments can be made if there are problems.”
Although the rules don’t take effect until Aug. 1, the law has already had an impact on recruiting. Case in point: Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.
Vaidhyanathan, who earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas and lived in Austin for 14 years, told me he was contacted in the fall by a search firm helping the university find a new dean for the Moody College of Communication. He was interviewed and told he would be brought back as one of the finalists.
But the concealed carry law weighed on him.
“Classrooms are a special place in the world, not unlike a church or a temple, where we can argue freely and frankly and be unafraid of the sort of change in the environment that a weapon brings,” Vaidhyanathan said. “If you’re in a heated discussion with students and you have the faintest concern that someone might be armed, you might dial back your emotion. It’s a chilling effect.”
Like many faculty members, he opposes guns in classrooms. And if he got the job as dean, he would feel compelled to side with faculty members of similar persuasion instead of enforcing the law.
“I would probably be fired immediately,” he said. “I told the search firm I was no longer interested in the position.”