Safety

A professor describes lessons learned fighting campus carry in Georgia (essay)

Public universities in Texas are a few months into the experience of campus carry, a state law that allows students with licenses to bring guns to colleges. One fear of critics has been realized there: an accidental misfiring at Tarleton State University in September.

Yet in Georgia, where I teach, all of our campuses thankfully remain gun-free. While Texas legislators passed and its governor happily signed a law allowing concealed weapons on campus, my governor, Nathan Deal, vetoed a bill that would have done the same here in the Peach State. Faculty members in the rest of the country who will face similar bills as their legislatures meet again can learn important lessons from both states.

I was one of many faculty members who publicly fought the Georgia bill. We did that through op-eds, rallies and letters to elected officials. A few celebrities even joined our cause. As a professor of rhetoric and one of those who took an active role in stopping campus carry, I feel I am in a distinct position to offer lessons to others. They include:

The Higher Education Exception. I have already mentioned one reason Georgia does not have campus carry: the veto of Nathan Deal, a second-term Republican. His veto message offers faculty members some counterclaims to the ones gun supporters usually make.

Deal centered his veto on the oft-cited 2008 Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. This ruling is a favorite of the National Rifle Association and other similar groups who back campus carry bills. Deal noted that Scalia, in fact, supported bans on weapons in “sensitive places” like schools. Deal argued that the history of higher education in America and in our state supports this label.

A common refrain from campus carry advocates is the “contradiction” in laws about guns in states like Georgia: on one side of the street, at the strip mall, a person can carry a gun, but across the street, at the university, one can’t. But that isn’t, in fact, a contradiction. It is on purpose. Many of our other laws distinguish colleges and universities from other public institutions, even other educational ones. For example, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, means that parents lose rights over their child’s educational records when they turn 18, the age when many enter higher education.

A good rhetorical move by faculty members in both Texas and Georgia was to point to the strong definitions of higher education that had proceeded from faculty senates. Some of the language of those statements showed up in Governor Deal’s veto. He wrote that “from the early days of our nation and state, colleges have been treated as sanctuaries of learning.” If anything, this clear and precise vision of education should serve faculty well as they address campus carry.

Past Is Prologue. Another reason for a victory in Georgia was particular to our state context, but it could still be applicable to similar states. In his veto message, Deal pointed out that, in 2014, Georgia passed a law allowing concealed weapons (with a permit) in many public places -- including bars and churches that authorize them, government buildings that don’t have security screenings, and K-12 schools. It was dubbed the “guns everywhere” law. Everywhere except colleges and universities. The very same Legislature that passed what the National Rifle Association called “the most comprehensive pro-gun bill in state history” in 2014 did not seem to think campus carry important then. Yet not two years later, it seemed to think otherwise.

Deal -- who signed the 2014 bill -- didn’t let that hypocrisy pass. Activists in other states should take note: use the Legislature’s actions as precedent. Why do they want campus carry now? Why didn’t they pursue it previously?

Faculty and Students United. Another reason Georgia has no guns on campus is the large amount of organized faculty activism. This also happened in Texas, and faculty members there should be applauded for their efforts, especially those who recently sued over the allowance of guns on the campus. Every state is different, and perhaps Texas’ rich history of gun ownership was too big an obstacle. There are many reasons why sound arguments don’t persuade.

In any case, to win against the pro-gun activists, faculty members must join ranks with students. At a rally at our capitol where I spoke at against campus carry, students also spoke. Students created Facebook groups and held their own rallies. It was not merely the “liberal professors” who were against guns but the very group that the legislators wanted to keep safe. Students told those lawmakers thanks but no thanks. They counteracted the students whom the gun groups say are prompting their push for campus carry. And if it turns into a numbers game, the biggest group has some rhetorical power.

The most important lesson to be learned may be how to handle fear. Both sides have used it: fear of crime or fear of students. I understand both. But if we learned anything from the other side in this debate, fear-based arguments, while somewhat effective and energizing at times, usually put off the people whom we most need for support.

If we are intent on convincing legislators, especially those who support gun ownership, a better argument from faculty is the distinctiveness of higher education. This was Scalia’s argument. And if we intend on convincing those students (or faculty) who support gun ownership, how can we reach them through fear of them? Our commonality is a better line of argument.

We must also not let the arguments we make sabotage our credibility to make them. One example that seemed to undermine faculty members was the publicizing of a University of Houston faculty presentation about campus carry that seemed to generalize students as volatile. The university quickly distanced itself from the presentation, saying it was a draft and wouldn’t make into the final policy. But if we are painted as fearing students, the other side calls out for more protection. In other words, it leads quickly into “this is why faculty need a gun.” Fear divides us quickly.

Faculty members also at times have linked guns to academic freedom. This argument hasn’t worked because the public doesn’t fear loss of academic freedom, mainly because it only seems to be an individual benefit to professors. In other words, faculty members haven’t done a good job arguing to the public both nationally and locally how academic freedom and its sister, tenure, are part of the public good, not an individual benefit.

Campus Carry Lite. A compromise that Georgia debated at the same time allowed Tasers and stun guns on campuses. Mainly because gun-rights supporters saw it as a compromise, Governor Deal signed it into law. If your legislators are interested in compromise, that might be a good route. It has its own drawbacks, however, as many critics have noted -- one of which is that many states don’t require permits or training for such devices. Some states have made stun guns illegal. Finally, stun guns are fatal at times, making them as dangerous as firearms.

Celebrity Support. Georgia residents, such as the Indigo Girls, former R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe and actor and University of Georgia alumnus Tituss Burgess, came out against campus carry. This type of media attention seemed more respectable to the general public than the “cocks not Glocks” protest in Texas.

Finally, it is important for faculty to organize well before the first bill is filed. I recommend working with a group like Everytown for Gun Safety, founded in 2014 to advocate for gun control and against gun violence, which has been through the fight in Texas and Georgia. It encourages faculty to join its Educators for Gun Sense. Full disclosure: I have donated to and worked with this group.

Good organization can aid on the back end, too. While Texas had a year to think through its enactment, if our bill in Georgia had passed, we would have had just a few weeks. If a bill is to pass in your state, try to get some delay in its implementation. But if not, a well-organized faculty doesn’t have to wait for its administration to come up with a plan.

Campus carry bills are not going away. With a new governor in two years, Georgia will face this again. Perhaps even sooner. Faculty members across the nation must strategize now about the upcoming legislative session.

Matthew Boedy is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville.

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A white queer woman scholar describes her concerns following the Orlando shootings (essay)

The Orlando Shootings

It is Sunday morning and I wake up to a flurry of text messages and Facebook notifications. My wife texts, “Have you seen the news?” I open Facebook and find dozens of posts about the horrific event that took place overnight at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. By the time I am reading about it, news outlets are reporting that around 50 people are dead and more than 50 others are injured. One lone shooter has been identified, a man possibly motivated by a kiss he witnessed between two men a few days before in Miami.

I am living in a studio apartment in the French Quarter in New Orleans, just a few blocks from the site of what had previously been considered the most deadly mass murder of LGBTQ folks in the United States. During the 1973 arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar, 32 people were killed. I am staying on the same block of Dauphine St. where a man who was perceived as gay, Joseph Balog, was stabbed to death in 1993. The history of queer-antagonistic violence is just below the surface in this neighborhood of gay bars and rainbow flags.

I am in New Orleans conducting research on sissy bounce, a term used to describe the cluster of queer rappers and performers who have seemingly taken over the local homegrown hip-hop genre. I will spend a few weeks interviewing artists, visiting archives, speaking with locals and, yes, attending bounce nights at local clubs. As a queer woman in a city that has frequently been described to me by locals as “dangerous,” working among a community of artists who have experienced violence and tragedy firsthand and going to bars late at night without any companions, I knew my spouse was already worried about my safety.

Because we live in a rape culture and because I was raised to not travel alone or drink too much or wear anything too revealing or do anything to put myself in a position where I could be targeted -- some of which are things that my fieldwork requires of me -- I sometimes worry about my safety. A friend who lives in New Orleans recently told me, “This city is full of lucky motherfuckers. You’re lucky, until you’re not.”

Anytime I go out into the field, I text updates to my wife back home.

  • 11:56 p.m.: Waiting for Uber now
  • 12:00 a.m.: On my way to the club
  • 12:04 a.m.: At the club, waiting in line
  • 2:50 a.m.: Waiting for Uber now
  • 2:56 a.m.: In the car now
  • 3:02 a.m.: In the apartment now
  • 3:08 a.m.: Good night

The constant checking in reminds me that I have people who care about me, but it also reminds me of both my limitations as a queer woman scholar and my privileges as a white person moving through spaces populated by different groups of people.

I flash back to a conference that I attended between my first and second years as a Ph.D. student. After a long day of papers, I am at dinner with a group of ethnomusicologists, all of them women, when the topic of safety and gender comes up. A number of senior scholars I’m very excited to spend time with are at the table, and they share stories of close calls and dangerous situations that, because they are women, they endured while conducting fieldwork. These range from unwanted flirting to being shut out of performances to being cornered and threatened by unknown men.

The conversation shifts to experiences that took place not in the course of research but in familiar spaces, such as childhood homes and college campuses, including sexual assault. We are all stunned by the how common such experiences are across generations. Incidents occurred at home, abroad, in the 1980s, in the 1990s, a few years ago. It doesn’t really matter. Being a woman scholar is dangerous. Being a woman is dangerous.

Back to present day. I read article after article about the attack on the Orlando gay club, which took place during Latin night, where mostly queer and trans Latinx folks and other QTPOC -- queer and trans people of color -- are the victims. I think about the time that I spent in the archives during the previous week, poring over decades’ worth of gay, then gay and lesbian, then finally LGBT newsletters and periodicals, desperately searching for stories that were not about white cisgender men. Looking for faces that were not white. Looking for history that was not white. It’s not to be found in these archives.

I also think about a few days before, when I go alone to a black LGBT club with no sign out front in a “rough” neighborhood. (My local friend later asks me incredulously, “You went there? Alone!”) The DJ plays nonstop bounce tracks for appreciative dancers.

In response to my explanation that I’m going to bounce night, my Uber driver tells me that New Orleans is a very dangerous city. I wonder if he really thinks it is dangerous, if he thinks black people are dangerous, or if he thinks bounce music is dangerous. This seems to be a familiar trope among the white people I encounter. At the club, I sit alone at the bar, nodding along to the beat. No one speaks to me, except to apologize when they bump into me. I am grateful to be among other queer people and hope I am not intruding with my whiteness into a space that is not meant for me.

I remember when I was a college student in my home state of Michigan and how important gay bars became for me during those formative years while I was coming out. I think of nights spent on the dance floor, the joy at being in a whole building full of other queer folks. How freeing that was. How safe I felt, despite the drinking, despite the hookup culture around me, despite the part of town the bar was in. The gay bar made me brave. Brave enough to dance late into the night.

I read on Facebook pleas for increased gun control legislation in light of this most recent tragedy. I read posts by Native American and indigenous folks and their allies reminding us all that this was not the worst mass shooting in United States history. I read compassionate calls not to resort to Islamophobia in our grief or anger. I read the erasure of race in this conversation by both conservative and liberal politicians -- and even (though perhaps not surprisingly) by members of LGBT communities.

I also consider the alarming number of mass shootings that have taken place on college campuses in the last few years. I question my safety in these spaces where I spend so much of my time, but this is not a new concern, given the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on campuses. I will be applying for academic jobs in the fall, and I wonder whether or not I want to apply to positions in states that are enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation that targets trans people in public spaces, states where concealed weapons will be allowed on college campuses, states where the tenure system is being dismantled by anti-working class governments, or any number of places that seem to not want me or want to keep me safe. I wonder what jobs will be left if I limit my search by location. Where exactly could I feel safe?

Then I realize that the spaces that have meant the most to me as a queer academic have lost any feeling of safety. And then I ask myself what impact this loss of safety has had on my scholarship.

I come back to my current research and think about the act of dancing as queer resistance and survival. I think about my informants here in New Orleans who stress the relationship between dancing and bounce music. When you hear that beat, you can’t help but move. Many people, especially LGBTQ people of color, view bounce as a catalyst for dancing, which is a necessary form of self-care. Dancing can be a way to work through and shed the stress that accumulates from moving through a world that does not seem to want you. This is what I did as a college student in Michigan. This is what the patrons of Pulse were doing on that fateful June night.

In light of that realization, I resolve to continue my work here in New Orleans and do my best to amplify the voices of the most marginalized in our communities. I acknowledge both the access I have been granted and the limitations that have been imposed on me, and decide to work with, through and around them when possible.

I promise to continue dancing.

Lauron Kehrer is a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. Her current work focuses on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality in contemporary American hip-hop.

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A professor struggles to cope after a campus shooting (essay)

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant,” writes Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking.

I call April 12, 2013, “my” shooting, to distinguish it from all the others -- the more than 23 that occurred on college campuses last year alone and now the terrible murder of a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. No one died in the shooting at the college where I teach, although two people were seriously injured. Few people outside my area remember it. For me, though, it possesses startling power: 10 minutes of one afternoon bleed into the 1,000 days that have followed. I went to work that Friday morning with plans to spend the weekend with my father. I ended that Friday afternoon in shock, mutely scrawling a witness statement in red ink.

Like Didion, I turned to information as a way of managing my grief and dislocation: “Read, learn, work it up. Go to the literature.” I spent hours on the library databases, keying in terms like “professor” and “school shooting.” As though I were a patient with a rare malady, I needed an expert to explain the prognosis. What symptoms would ensue? Was I going to be able to continue teaching? There was plenty of research about the psychology of school shooters and assessments of campus safety but nothing about the long-term impact on professors who survived a shooting. That was another shock: if there was no research, maybe I wasn’t going to be OK.

I turned then to a different kind of literature. I read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World, Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave. I read Parker Palmer’s affirmations about the necessity of courage and integrity in higher education. I read Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and pondered what would emerge from my disoriented grief. I moved to South Africa for a year, finding equilibrium in the middle of cultural dislocation.

David J. Morris, in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, describes how early cultures regarded trauma as a moral and spiritual crisis rather than as a neurological disorder. Trauma, he argues, was a “social wound, a damaging of the intricate web of relations that keeps a person sane and tethered to the world.” Rather than a pathological reaction to extreme peril, trauma is a natural response to a world of incomprehensible brutality.

It was through an existential lens that I had to address how the shooting had damaged my sense of identity as a professor, my assumptions about safety and my beliefs about the holiness of education. I wasn't concerned with the logistical aftermath; I needed answers to questions that few were willing, or able, to discuss. They remain an endless echolalia: “Is this the cost of teaching in the 21st century? And if so, can I pay it?”

The costs emerge over and over again; the bill is never settled. I have nightmares that my dog is being mutilated and I’m unable to save her. She is the stand-in for my students, the precious thing that I am unable to protect. I prepare myself for a nightmare whenever I speak publicly about that day. I endure the heavy silence that descends when I tell other professors that I have witnessed a school shooting.

I shudder when I recall the campus as it was the morning after: bullet holes in the doors and walls, computer stations littered with students’ abandoned mugs and notebooks, yellow crime tape, plastic sheeting in the doorway. I feel a sickening empathy when I see the faces of other horror-stricken students and teachers on television. I wonder how I will protect my students who use wheelchairs the next time. I am always aware of the ordinary instant in which it all crumbles.

Though a fellow survivor once reminded me that there is no hierarchy of suffering, my story is nothing compared to what others have endured. Yet stories need a listener. Witnesses to campus violence remind others of the toll that these events enact and demand that we have hard conversations about what it means for educators to be expected to accept violence, injury or death as part of their professional lives.

In 2017, despite widespread opposition, Kansas will also allow concealed carry at all public colleges and universities, the ninth state to do so. Supporters invoke the usual rhetoric of preserving public safety and providing defenseless people with deadly recourse in the event of an active shooter. Opponents decry the impact on academic freedom and the potential for impulsivity to overcome reason.

My reasons for opposing campus carry are personal: I do not want another professor to become like me. I do not want anyone else to have to write a document called “Post-shooting lesson plans.” I do not want anyone else to have to spend three years in therapy to find ways to let those 10 minutes settle into the rest of their lives. I do not want anyone else to witness the fearful, childlike, exhausted looks on their students’ faces the day they return to class. I do not wish this journey back to “normalcy” on anyone.

Guns have no place on campuses and in classrooms. One gun made April 12, 2013, the worst day of my life. More guns would not have improved it (and in my case, there was no “good guy with a gun”: the shooter was subdued by an unarmed off-duty security officer who shouted at him to put the gun down). Beware the people who proclaim that they could kill a shooter, if only they were allowed to carry their guns to school. To employ a military analogy, that is the bravery of being out of range. It is swagger masquerading as courage.

No one knows what they will do until it happens. It has already happened to me, and I don’t know what I am going to do the next time. I don’t know if the choices I made that day will always be the right ones. Nor do I even remember consciously choosing. I heard the gunfire, and I acted.

I've been asked so many times, “Don't you wish you’d had a gun that day?”

No. I only wish that he had not had one.

In spite of the label “post-traumatic stress disorder,” I am not disordered. I am the natural response to a shooting in a place that should be a place of inquiry, vulnerability and transformation. What’s abnormal is a country in which students are given active shooter training and teachers are expected to be human shields. What’s deviant is a culture in which witnesses are blamed for not rushing a shooter and derided for not carrying a weapon themselves.

None of us are safe. The challenge for us and for our students is how to dwell in that awareness and still be courageous enough to live and learn unarmed, both literally and figuratively.

Megan Doney is an English professor at New River Community College. She wrote this article while on sabbatical at the University of the Free State, South Africa.

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Vigil at UCLA

Armed campuses spell the demise of public universities (essay)

Guns in Higher Ed

Shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre, a mentally disturbed former student of mine contacted Kansas State University (where I teach), saying it would be too bad if something like Virginia Tech happened at Kansas State -- and if I, in particular, were the target of the shooting. The university recognized the email for the threat it was and contacted me. Fortunately, I was then out of town. Before I returned, the university determined that the ex-student, who had been expelled for several reasons, sent the email from his home abroad.

Students, faculty members and administrators at American colleges and universities all know that, at any time, we could be shot dead. Mostly, we try not to think about it -- until another mass shooting, such as at Umpqua Community College in Oregon (nine killed, nine wounded, October 2015) or the University of California at Santa Barbara (six killed, 15 wounded, May 2014). Then we are forced again to face the possibility that, one day, we too may join the next sad, inevitable list of the murdered.

In 2012, a white male student in my class was behaving strangely. During discussion, he would either offer oddly confrontational comments or he would look down, refusing to meet anyone’s eye. Often, he sat silently in the back of the room, shaking with what seemed like suppressed rage. I tried talking with him about his behavior privately, not during class. (I didn’t want to make him feel ashamed.) But it didn’t help. He was making the other students uncomfortable. He was making me uncomfortable. After each class with him, I would think, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t come back in here with a gun and kill all of us before turning the gun on himself.” Other instructors had also reported the student’s strange, belligerent interactions. The university intervened, and the student withdrew.

Both the email and classroom incidents occurred when only members of the university’s police department were armed. As of July 1, 2017, the state Legislature’s Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act (yes, that’s really its name) forces guns onto all state university campuses. This law will make Kansas the ninth state to invite guns into classrooms, dormitories, libraries, laboratories and offices. Before the Virginia Tech massacre, only the university system in Utah required colleges and universities to allow guns on campus.

The shooting at Virginia Tech, which killed 32 people, should have motivated gun-safety advocates (as the National Rifle Association claims to be) to support legislation that helps keep weapons off college and university campuses. Instead, the reverse has occurred. The NRA drafted a “campus carry” law, versions of which have now been adopted by Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin against the wishes of those who actually work and study at higher education institutions in those states. It’s not a popular move in Kansas, either. According to a survey conducted by the nonpartisan Docking Institute of Public Affairs, 70 percent of state university employees in Kansas oppose campus carry.

The governor and Legislature are unlikely to back down. After all, the same governor and Legislature have already deregulated firearms, removing background checks and the requirement that gun owners learn to use their weapons. In Kansas, all you need to own a gun is a heartbeat and a credit card. The Legislature has even proposed lowering the age requirement from 21 to 18.

How Do We Adapt?

Kansas may be the ninth state to weaponize its campuses, but it’s the first state to have both campus carry and no meaningful gun regulation. So what can we do? A few older faculty members have decided to take early retirement. Other teachers are changing the curriculum. Since some students will be armed, instructors are less comfortable talking about racism, sexism and other sensitive subjects.

At the University of Houston, avoiding sensitive topics is already becoming policy. As part of a Campus Carry Faculty Forum in January and February, the Faculty Senate offered advice to help professors adapt to Texas’ new campus carry law: “Be careful discussing sensitive topics,” “drop certain topics from your curriculum” and do “not ‘go there’ if you sense anger.” As Dominican University history professor David Perry recently wrote, “Every one of these bullet points conflicts with basic principles of what makes education work. As a teacher, my job is to raise difficult topics, push students to think about topics in new ways and to assess their work, even if that process can sometimes be uncomfortable.” Campus carry effectively ends freedom of speech in college classrooms and thus fundamentally compromises our ability to do our jobs.

As Perry notes, it can be pedagogically useful to explore subjects that make your students cognitively uncomfortable. Here at Kansas State University, a colleague teaches her students about colonialism by conducting the first 15 minutes of one class entirely in French: What’s it like when an authority figure issues you instructions in a language you don’t understand? What challenges does it pose? It gets the students, for a moment, to imagine themselves as the colonized. It’s a very tense and effective 15 minutes. Once, a student said, “Stop it!” and pointed a finger gun at her. Fortunately, it was only a finger gun. If the students are armed, that could become a real gun. This is why, on an armed campus, we’re less likely to explore uncomfortable subjects. Classrooms can offer a place for vigorous debate, spirited exchanges of ideas -- but only if these classrooms are safe.

In other words, guns on campus uphold established systems of power: white supremacy, patriarchy and the privilege of the tenured. As a University Distinguished Professor and a straight white male, I’m more likely to continue pursuing ways in which my students can explore difficult subjects. However, I’ll also be more cautious than I was, less willing to embrace the risks that accompany creative teaching. I would quite understand if my colleagues who are women, people of color, LGBTQ or nontenured decide to be even more cautious.

Guns in the workplace make the already vulnerable even more vulnerable. Armed students make the free exchange of ideas less free. Of course, since the Kansas Board of Regents abridged state employees’ rights to freedom of speech back in 2013, we have come to accept the steady erosion of intellectual inquiry as a condition of working at Kansas universities. But guns only make this problem worse.

What can be done? There’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness here. Appealing to the Legislature is like pleading before the court in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Most of our legislators genuinely think that increased lethality leads to increased safety. In February, they passed legislation expanding concealed carry for public employees and defeated a measure that would have delayed campus carry at state universities. Senator Michael O’Donnell also proposed an amendment to move up the campus carry date to July 1 of this year. His reasoning? “We just want Kansans to be safe. There is no reason to put that off another year when we know there are people in society who want to harm other people.” That measure failed, but O’Donnell speaks for the majority of his colleagues when he equates more guns with less gun violence. With legislators like him, you can see why, even though the majority of students, faculty and staff at Kansas universities oppose this law, we despair at being able to change it.

Should We Fight?

Yet those of us facing this law and similar ones across the country must not stand by and let campus carry become our new reality. If we accept armed campuses as inevitable, then we are adapting our way toward the demise of the public university in America. We already endure funding cuts, crumbling infrastructure, the adjunctification of teaching, assaults on academic freedom and now … assault rifles in our classrooms? If we accept this latest legislative attack, we risk becoming the proverbial frog who is slowly boiled alive. Although recent experiments refute the scientific veracity of this tale, it is nonetheless an apt metaphor for where the modern public institution finds itself -- in hot water that’s getting hotter.

Here are five ways to respond.

First, protest. Despite legislative disdain for educators, we should protest. Elected officials need to at least pretend to care about what we think, and a minority of them actually do care. Our voices may go unheeded by the majority, but this is quite literally a matter of life and death. Win or lose, our right to freedom from harm is worth fighting for.

Second, practice civil disobedience. Nobel laureate and University of Texas physics professor Steven Weinberg is opposing his state’s guns-on-campus legislation by stating on his syllabus that his “class is not open to students carrying guns.” That statement violates Texas law and will violate Kansas law, too. It is also going on my syllabus, come July 1, 2017. Including that sentence may mean that I end up in court and get a different kind of sentence. But other people’s right to own firearms does not supersede my right to being alive, nor my students’ right to being alive.

If we faculty collectively adopt a no-guns-in-class policy, then we will make a more powerful statement. I realize that, unless the university installs gun detectors and guards outside of each classroom door, our no-guns policy will be unenforceable. But it makes a principled statement upon which we can build our case for gun-free campuses.

Third, if this approach fails or if civil disobedience simply isn’t your style, insist on teaching only online. Then, if any in the class are armed, they will at least not all be in the same room. I prefer being in the classroom with my students, but teaching online would allow me to continue doing my job while keeping my students and myself safer.

Online teaching and the civil disobedience approach are both imperfect. There yet may be occasions when we are required to be on campus -- to work in a lab, to retrieve a library book or to go to a meeting. In those situations, we will not be able to avoid the threat posed by guns.

For those who feel that the civil disobedience model doesn’t go far enough, a fourth approach is to strike. Whether we teach on a unionized campus or not, we can simply refuse to teach until the Legislature restores our university’s right to maintain a safe, gun-free campus. In the fall of 2017, students arriving at their first class of the term could encounter a sign on each classroom door: “No class until the Legislature repeals campus carry. Guns do not belong in classrooms. Contact your state legislator and governor.” If the legislators complain (as they surely will), we can say, “Effective teaching requires a safe environment for debate; armed students create fear in the classroom, stifling the free and open exchange of ideas. Guns in our classes make it impossible for us to do our jobs. We will return to our jobs when you let us do them. End campus carry.”

Or Should We Leave?

Fifth and last, vote with your feet. I realize that this is easier in theory than in practice. The scarcity of academic jobs (see adjunctification, above) makes it difficult for faculty and staff members to pack up and move or to decline a job offer at a university in a campus-carry state. Distinguished faculty and junior faculty are a bit more mobile; everyone else is stuck. For example, the University of Texas at Austin’s dean of architecture, Fritz Steiner, recently announced he would be moving to become dean at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. “I would have never applied for another job if not for campus carry,” he explained. Just last month, we learned that Kansas State’s own president, Kirk Schulz, is leaving to become Washington State University’s next president. He is too politic to cite campus carry as a reason, but I strongly suspect that it’s a motivating factor.

It’s certainly motivating me. In addition to exploring the other four options (protest, civil disobedience, online teaching, strike), I am also looking for another job. This decision has been hard. I like my job. I have fantastic colleagues. However, when the phrase “killing higher education” ceases being a metaphor and becomes state policy, I need to seek a safer harbor.

As director of K-State’s graduate program in children’s literature, I cannot in good conscience advise prospective students to come to a university where they put their lives at greater risk. As a member of my department’s Graduate Advisory Committee, I feel uncomfortable recruiting new graduate students. When we have job candidates on campus, I feel guilty when I fail to warn them of the imminent arrival of firearms.

If I were more at peace with the inevitability of my own death, perhaps I could bravely face a weaponized campus. But I am not. I still have books to write, more to learn, ideas to pursue, cities and countries to visit. I want to see my four-year-old niece grow up and be there for my 74-year-old mother as she ages. I want to be here for my wife -- and I want her to have the chance to age.

It won’t be easy to find another pair of academic jobs in the same place: any move would also require a position for my wife. We may yet remain here a while longer; we may not leave at all. I am well aware that all colleges and universities have problems. Should we leave, there is much that I would miss about Kansas State University -- my colleagues, most of all.

But guns change my relationship with what has been a nurturing academic home. When your state Legislature threatens to kill you and your students, then it’s time to look for a new job.

They Know Not What They Do. Or Do They?

I wonder if those who cut funds from education, inflict weapons on campuses and restrict freedom of speech have any sense of the long-term damage they cause. Are they aware that they’re poisoning healthy communities of learning, driving faculty and students away, and fostering fear in those who remain? Do they know that we feel their contempt for us? Yes, campus carry will change colleges and universities, but not for the better. And it’s so much easier to destroy than it is to create.

Philip Nel is a University Distinguished Professor of English at Kansas State University, where he directs the program in children’s literature.

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