About that slide show at the University of Houston on how to be a professor and avoid being killed: a few miscellaneous thoughts

Texas passed a law last year that makes it legal to carry concealed weapons on college campuses in that state. The University of Houston faculty senate put together a controversial slide show offering some debatable and/or dubious advice that became a story in Inside Higher Ed, the AAUP blog, local Mark Maynard’s blog, and lots of other places. Here’s a link to the actual PowerPoint slide show, but the slide everyone is talking about is this one:

Slide15

So, several thoughts, more or less in this order:

  • I am very much against these kinds of concealed weapon laws and the rampant arming of America and my hope is that there will be a swing in the U.S. Supreme Court (RIP, Scalia) and in federal and state legislatures in the next few years and some level of sanity can return. I have no problem with people having guns to hunt or shoot targets or whatever, and I guess you can get a gun to protect yourself if you want (though I think there is a lot of evidence out there as to why that’s a bad idea). I think there are reasonable lines to be drawn in terms of licensing gun owners, restricting automatic weapons, concealed weapons, etc. Sadly, nothing is going to change for at least the next few (5? 10?) years.
  • Frankly, the biggest concern I have about these kinds of rules allowing more guns on campuses is for students. As Casey Boyle pointed out on Facebook the other day, dumb accidents are bound to happen– as it is, half of our students are carrying around cracked up smart phones they dropped; imagine the number of students shooting themselves or others because they drop their damn gun. And don’t even get me started on the dorms and student apartments because it doesn’t take a gun safety expert to see that adding guns into the mix for young twenty-somethings who are drinking/smoking weed/whatever else (did you know college kids did these things?) is not a great idea. As it is, there’s a shooting pretty much every weekend at some college campus in this country, usually at some late night off-campus party. This isn’t going to help.
  • And I think that the argument that people with concealed weapons could stop the “crazy shooter” from killing is goofy. I didn’t attend this session (it was a scheduling thing for me), but there was an “active shooter” training for my department not so long ago, and as I understand it, one of the things that happened was someone burst into the meeting unannounced with a gun (obviously fake) and demonstrated just how impossible it would be for anyone but Jason Bourne to save themselves or anyone else against someone who has the element of surprise and a loaded gun. So I don’t know if this new law is going to lead to more shootings, but I sure as heck know it isn’t going to stop many/any.

On the other hand….

  • Let’s keep in mind that the fear that the UH faculty senate is responding to with these slides is not new with this law. This list of school shootings in the  U.S. on Wikipedia says that the first school shooting in this country was in 1764. (This list lumps K-12 schools and higher ed schools into the same category.) Obviously, the number of shootings and their accompanying deaths and injuries has been increasing, and those increases have been pretty dramatic in recent years.
  • Guns are really only the most dramatic problem faculty face from potentially dangerous students. The last EMU-AAUP contract has some language on “Student Conduct” because there were a number of incidents of students harassing faculty (typically male students and female faculty). As I wrote about in the old EMUTalk days here, there was a case at EMU where it took the administration six weeks to remove a disruptive student from a particular case, and there was at least one story that I heard about a faculty member who had a restraining order out against a student and that student was in her class and the university was slow to do anything about it.
  • The point is these threats are a) not new, and b) not limited to guns. Again, I think this new law in Texas is alarming for all kinds of different reasons, and I certainly would not be happy if the same thing were happening in Michigan (and for all I know, it will be happening in Michigan sooner than later). I’m just saying that working in schools have always had this element of danger because schools are “soft targets” filled with a lot of vulnerable people. Back in 2013, I blogged about a ridiculous article that claimed professors had the “least stressful” job. One of the categories of stressors in this article was “meeting the public,” and as I wrote back then, the people who think professors have it made because they only work with students forget the fact that students are “the public.” And to quote myself: “Every professor/ lecturer/ adjunct/ graduate assistant I know can tell you several hair-curling stories about dealing with students/the public who were insulting, mean, weepy, drunk, scary, crazy, potential violent, lazy, rude, and/or all of the above. Honestly, working with the public/students is often the best and the worst part of the job, and it is definitely one of the sources of stress in my life.”
  • Taking guns out of the equation, those first three bullet points (no pun intended) on that slide are actually not bad advice. I blogged last August in sympathetic terms about trigger warnings, and there’s something to be said for that here. Teachers should be “sensitive” when discussing sensitive topics. I don’t know about “dropping certain topics from your curriculum,” but if you’re teaching something that is going to get students so angry that it might incite violence, well, maybe that ought to be re-thought. I’m very much for challenging students’ thinking and assumptions about the world, but that’s different than trying to create conflict.
  • Most faculty already do some flavor of the last three bullet points. I don’t give students my phone number or my home address, and while I’ll meet grad students I know at a coffee shop near campus or this near-campus hangout called The Corner, I generally limit my face to face access to students (outside of the classroom or my office) to some place on campus like the student center. I try to meet students by appointment as often as necessary– not really for safety reasons but because it’s more convenient for everyone. When I meet with students in my office, I always leave the door open, though that’s more about avoiding the appearance of  sexual harassment or some other false student charge against me. (And by the way, I’ve never had any sort of charge like that from a student, but I’ve always felt like it’s best to meet with students in a semi-public space. Better safe than sorry).
  • Frankly, this slide bothers me more:

Slide13

Really? you want me to take a poll of my students on this? Isn’t that liable to call out the one who has the concealed weapon? Isn’t that more likely to piss people off?

  • And then finally, the gallows humor/practical parts of me says that maybe this is another reason why it’s worth it to teach more online.
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