Yeshiva University announced Thursday that it is merging the faculties of its men's undergraduate college (Yeshiva College) and its women's undergraduate college (Stern College for Women). At the same time, the two colleges will maintain separate campuses and separate courses. But until now, each college had its own departments. Now merged departments will serve both colleges. A spokesman said that the merger of the faculties would not lead to job cuts, but that financial difficulties at the university could lead to a small number of cuts.
Against vociferous opposition from the state's own university system, a Florida Senate panel last month approved a bill allowing students, faculty and staff with appropriate permits to carry guns on public college campuses. This brings to 10 the number of states that are poised to consider so-called campus carry legislation this year. Nine currently allow it in some form or another.
This most recent wave of legislation is buoyed by arguments that guns on campus will help address the problem of sexual assault. As Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore put it memorably, “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. [Sexual] assaults... would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in the head.”
Critics retort that guns are a distinctly combustible ingredient added to college life, where young adults occasionally engage in binge drinking and wild partying. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine how guns can solve the problem of sexual assault on campus. Who is to say the ones carrying out the assaults won’t be armed, too?
As the campus carry movement picks up steam nationwide, there is, I would argue, another major concern worth considering -- one that has been wholly omitted thus far: How might guns impact the atmosphere and pedagogical goals of the classroom, and the political mission of the university? For, it seems clear to me, guns stand opposed to all that. There is something inherently contradictory about guns in college. They are a rude, unnecessary intrusion from the outside world, and threaten the intimacy and openness that academe hopes to foster.
American philosopher John Dewey argued that the classroom is the root of democracy, since it is where individuals learn to talk to people of different backgrounds and perspectives, collaborate, and negotiate differences. The classroom is where the all-important process of socialization occurs -- something that cannot take place at home, steeped in the privacy of family life. A functioning and vibrant democracy requires that citizens learn to work with one another, which in turn demands openness -- and a willingness to trust.
Guns communicate the opposite of all that — they announce, and transmit, suspicion and hostility.
In the humanities (where I teach), the seminar room is a designated space for intellectual exploration, and students must feel safe and encouraged to do just that. They are expected to take risks -- moral, political and personal. Controversial ideas are aired, deliberated and contemplated from many angles. Sometimes these ideas are offensive.
Many academics will contend that, at least ideally, classroom debate should be lively, even heated at times. Emotions may run high. As a case in point, I think of the many uncomfortable discussions following the Ferguson and Staten Island police killings last year. Differing views of what constituted racism -- and especially, whether racism lingered and was still entrenched -- elicited highly personal conversations, sharp comments and campus protest. In frank discussions, ugliness, racist undertones and deep cultural mistrust were exposed.
Honest exchange is the only way forward amid such controversies; different perspectives and experiences, even if they cause resentment in the short run, must be uncovered and understood if we hope to expand the bounds of empathy. Unpopular views must get a hearing in the classroom. Professors are obligated to foster a setting where students feel comfortable airing their most deep-seated fears and prejudices -- which may not be looked on kindly by others.
Guns in the classroom threaten this dynamic. Will students feel so safe and free when surrounded by other students who may be, secretly, arms bearers? Will they feel emboldened to take moral and political risks? Will they feel inclined to air potentially offensive views? I doubt it.
In fact, the prospect of guns in the classroom is more likely to cause professors to keep the conversation tepid and avoid certain controversies; everyone else will watch what they say, how they say it and to whom. This would be quite the opposite of the open and transformative exchange that universities have made it their mission to offer.
There is a further point. As we saw in the aftermath of the Ferguson and Staten Island police incidents, and earlier with the Occupy Wall Street movement, university campuses are places where political protest takes root. Perhaps colleges are not quite the haven for political protest that they once were -- like, say, in the 1960's. But universities have traditionally been places where students practice protest -- where they practice articulating and voicing political concern, and engaging in productive, demonstrative assembly. Sometimes the protest tactics they practice are aggressive, and push the envelope. Again, I would say, this is how it ought to be on campus -- it hearkens back to universities’ role as political incubators and testing grounds.
But guns are noxious in an atmosphere where people will experiment with risky methods of protest. To that extent, guns on campus may well kill such protest.
Guns may provide a basic kind of bodily and personal safety. This is the recurring argument put forth by campus carry proponents. This argument is dubious at best. But this much is clear: guns do nothing to help universities attain the kind of safety they desire and need -- the safety that enables intellectual and political exploration. Guns by their very nature dampen speech -- they chasten it. Colleges simply cannot tolerate them.
Firmin DeBrabander has writtenDo Guns Make Us Free?to be released by Yale University Press in May. He is also a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
In today's Academic Minute, Julia Hormes, psychologist at the State University of New York at Albany, discusses the correlations between social media usage and addiction. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Adjuncts at Robert Morris University have voted to unionize with the United Steelworkers. The union announced the results Tuesday and noted that it is seeking to organize adjuncts throughout the Pittsburgh area. A spokesman for the university told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that once the results are certified by the National Labor Relations Board, the university would negotiate in good faith.
Faculty members of the main undergraduate college at Yeshiva University have voted no confidence in President Richard Joel, The Jewish Week reported. Yeshiva University has been facing severe financial problems. Faculty leaders say that cuts are being imposed that have a direct impact on the curriculum, and that a lack of information about which positions will be eliminated makes it difficult to plan. The university's board issued a statement affirming support of Joel and noting that "the Board of Trustees is ultimately responsible for ensuring the university is able to move forward with excellence."
Many scientists were alarmed when Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who does not believe in the scientific consensus on climate change, this year became chair of the Senate Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee. Those concerns grew on Thursday when, during a budget hearing, Cruz said that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was spending too much on earth science (which is where the agency studies climate change, among many other topics) and not enough on space exploration. NASA officials questioned the way Cruz analyzed their budget, and also defended the centrality of earth science to NASA's mission, National Journal reported.
On Friday, the American Geophysical Union sent Cruz a letter defending the type of earth science that only NASA can do. "Earth science division missions aid in flood prediction, earthquake response and severe storm tracking across the Great Plains," the letter said. "Greater knowledge and prediction skill are urgent when we consider the effort, time and costs of protecting infrastructure along coasts, rebuilding fish populations, developing new water resources for manufacturing and agriculture, and restoring communities in the wake of hazards. These observations, and many others like them, are integral and require the vantage point of outer space."