Leaving Over Campus Carry

Professor’s public resignation letter points to tensions in Kansas as new law takes effect this summer.

May 8, 2017
 
Jacob Dorman

Jacob Dorman isn't going quietly.

After 10 years (and earning tenure) in the history department at the University of Kansas, he's leaving in large part because of a state law that, as of this summer, will allow guns on campus. That includes academic buildings. When faculty groups oppose campus carry laws, as they did in Kansas, supporters of the legislation frequently voice the view that no one will leave as a result of such laws. Dorman's resignation is evidence that some will leave.

Dorman is leaving for a comparable job (also with tenure) in another state, one without campus carry. The Lawrence Journal-World published his resignation letter Friday.

He starts off by writing about how much he has come to love Kansas, including "getting to know Kansans from rural communities where gun ownership and hard work are equally a way of life."

But he quickly goes on to describe how campus carry has not worked elsewhere and will keep talent out of the state.

"In practical terms, concealed carry has proved to be a failure," Dorman writes. "Campus shootings have become all too frequent, and arming students has done nothing to quell active-shooter situations, because students do not have the training to effectively combat shooters and rightly fear becoming identified as a suspect themselves. But beyond the fact that concealed carry does not deter gun violence, the citizens and elected representatives of Kansas must recognize that Kansas is a small state, and in order to run a premier university, which is necessary for the health and wealth of the state, it must recruit professors from out of state. Recruiting the best trained professors necessarily means recruiting from coastal areas and progressive college towns, where most people do not believe that randomly arming untrained students is a proper exercise of the Second Amendment’s protection of a well-regulated militia."

Dorman's courses deal in part with racism and other forms of bigotry in American history and American life. He writes that "we discuss sensitive and highly charged topics in my classroom, concerning anti-religious bias, racism, sexism, classism and many other indexes of oppression and discrimination. Students need to be able to express themselves respectfully and freely, and they cannot do so about heated topics if they know that fellow students are armed and that a disagreement or argument could easily be lethal."

He adds, "Let us not let the NRA destroy the future of the state of Kansas with a specious argument about the Second Amendment. Guns do not belong in classrooms any more than they belong in courtrooms, but a university simply cannot afford metal detectors at every entrance. Kansas faces a very clear choice: Does it want excellent universities, with world-class faculty, or does it want to create an exodus of faculty like myself who have options to teach in states that ban weapons in classrooms?"

While he does not identify his new employer in the letter, he said in an interview that it is the University of Nevada at Reno.

As with any job change, Dorman said, there were multiple factors to consider, but he said campus carry was decisive. "I would have left academia entirely rather than teach on a campus that allowed students to have guns in the classroom," he said.

Dorman, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2004, has had considerable success in his field. He has won fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. His book, The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (Oxford University Press), won three awards for scholarship.

His resignation letter circulated widely at the University of Kansas and at other public institutions in the state over the weekend. The university did not respond to requests for comment. (The political push for campus carry continues to spread, and Georgia's governor signed a bill on Thursday.)

On social media, many Kansas academics say they know of others for whom leaving faculty jobs has been linked to the arrival of campus carry. Many say they have heard of 10 people leaving, although they are not generally providing lists. Decisions involve multiple factors, and some said that various moves aren't final or they do not want potential employers to think of them as simply fleeing a bad situation.

Alice Lieberman, a professor of social welfare who has won several awards for her teaching at Kansas, said that campus carry wasn't the sole reason for her plan to retire, but it was a "tipping point" in her planning.

"I teach classes that are inherently political," she said. "And it only takes one disgruntled person."

And Maryemma Graham, a University Distinguished Professor of English, said she plans to look for jobs elsewhere if the university does not find a way to hold off campus carry. "For those who come to KU, we must put learning and respect for the safety of all first and not use the Second Amendment as a bullet and an unqualified right," she said via email. "I will pursue employment elsewhere if implementation goes through -- despite my great love for my colleagues, students and the wonderful work I have been able to do here. That work is highly dependent upon a culture of respect for difference and not fear of it."

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