Texas’ new campus gun law has partly prompted a longtime dean at the University of Texas to quit and take another deanship at an Ivy League school, he said Friday.
“I grew up hunting. I don’t see a bunch of quail or pheasant running around the campus,” School of Architecture Dean Frederick Steiner told CNN. “Firearms in my view have their place in the world, and the university campus is not one of those places, except for law enforcement and campus police.”
Steiner said the new Texas gun law called Campus Carry was “a factor” in his decision to leave the state’s flagship university effective at the end of June.
The new law could lead to campus gunfire and self-censorship among faculty who fear their grades or lectures could incite the armed students, Steiner said. He has been the architecture school’s dean on the Austin campus for 15 years.
He also cited how the new law doesn’t apply to private universities that also receive government research funding, and he described the law as “part of a larger assault on public universities” by state legislators who have cut school funding and appointed regents who “were not sympathetic to a leading research university,” he said.
He noted that the new law becomes effective on the 50th anniversary of a mass shooting at the University of Texas in Austin. The campus saw one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history when a sniper in a campus tower killed 15 people and wounded at least 30. That date is August 1.
“It’s very sad, the irony,” Steiner said.
He expressed concern about free speech and faculty’s academic freedom under the new Campus Carry gun law, though he acknowledged only a small percentage of students now have such gun permits.
“I think that’s one possibility, that we start censoring ourselves because we’re afraid of upsetting someone with a firearm,” Steiner said. “Faculty or deans often are put in a position where we’re responsible if somebody misbehaves, we tell them to stop misbehaving. If you think of this famous scene in ‘Animal House’ where the dean is telling the fraternity guys to behave themselves, imagine the guys in ‘Animal House’ with guns.”
Classrooms, architecture studios, and grading can be highly stressful settings, he added.
“When you have a stressful situation like exams, performance review or studio, I don’t see how a firearm can enhance that learning experience,” Steiner said. “There’s no shortage of examples of stressful work settings that result in people being shot. … It’s not abstract. We see it all the time. So why add firearms to a situation where we know there is stress involved.”
The state law carries penalties for university administrators who don’t enforce it, Steiner said.
“So I’m put in the position of enforcing a law that I don’t believe in,” he added. “I don’t want to break any laws.”
His next job will be dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, where he received his master’s and doctorate degrees, both in 1986, for city and regional planning.
Steiner has received “a couple of hundred positive responses” from faculty, students, alumni and colleagues at other universities for his stand.
He’s also gotten four pieces of hate mail, he said.
“They use negative labels like liberal and go to Massachusetts,” Steiner said. “They can’t spell very well, and they can’t tell the difference between Pennsylvania University and Penn State University.”
In a letter to colleagues informing them of his impending departure, he made no mention of the new law in Texas, saying only that “as an alumnus with three degrees from Penn Design, this is an unparalleled opportunity to lead a school at an institution that means a great deal to me.”
He was proud of what his colleagues accomplished at the University of Texas the past 15 years, he said.
The new Campus Carry law will allow people who are licensed to carry concealed handguns to carry their guns onto the campuses ofTexas’ four-year state universities. The universities will be able to create gun-free zones, but those zones cannot include classrooms.