Texas Tech Interim President Explains Policy for Guns in Dorms, Classrooms, and Offices

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After over six months of working towards a campus carry policy for Texas Tech, the president’s office, with the assistance of the campus carry task force, has polished off their recommendations for the campus carry policy which will go into effect across the state August 1. The recommendations provide the parameters for how license-holding students can carry firearms on campus.

Is Texas Tech’s interim President John Opperman happy with the outcome?
“I wouldn’t say I’m happy, it’s something that we have to do and we’re gonna abide by the law,” he said.

The most controversial parts of the recommendations permit handguns in only four, suite-style dorms and prevent gun free zones in any classrooms or faculty offices.  Opperman explained that, under these recommendations, all campus offices will not be allowed to have gun bans, including the offices of Texas Tech leaders and administrators. 

Opperman believes the task force did the best they could given the limitations and contentious opinions surrounding campus carry. 

In December Texas Tech Provost and Senior Vice President Lawrence Schovanec met with EverythingLubbock.com explaining the task force’s preliminary recommendations. At that time, it appeared there could be some flexibility for the president’s office to designate certain spaces on campus as gun-free zones. 

“The [Texas] Attorney General issued an opinion that clarified some of the issues for the task force,” Opperman explained. “I think in terms of implementation on campus, there was a chance to look at these particular implementation issues as it effects dorms or laboratories. We were able to talk to different institutions around state as they were grappling with the same issues and looking at how they were interpreting certain things.”

President Opperman explained that after Schovanec released preliminary recommendations in December, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued several opinions arguing that it would be illegal to ban guns from classrooms, faculty offices, and dorms. 

“Offices can’t be gun free—in the AG opinion was part of the factor there because the same rationale the attorney general used for classrooms applies to offices as well, so offices cannot be excluded,”  Opperman said.

While Paxton’s opinions are not legally binding, Opperman said that TTU’s general counsel advised the university to structure their policies keeping Paxton’s opinions in mind. TTU’s general counsel believed that Paxton’s arguments would hold up in a court of law.  The university has been seeking legal advice, bracing for the inevitable litigation that will spark related to the campus carry law.

In addition to places like sporting events or Board of Regents meetings where concealed carry is already banned, the recommendations released Tuesday advise banning concealed carry in the Student Rec Center, the Kent Hance Chapel, any facility where counseling services are provided, places where minors are present, certain laborotories, and events where alcohol is being served.

Under these recommendations, certain performances will also be gun-free. Residence halls will also be gun free with notable exceptions. 

“For security reasons, we are limiting guns to only dorms where there is a private residence, a private bedroom,” Opperman said. “So we have four dorms on campus that provide private suites, so an individual, if they were a CHL holder, would be able to have a gun safe in their room that would be secure and nobody else would have access to. In the rest of the dorms, guns would be banned.”

Opperman said this past fall the administration faced a lot of pressure to draft policies quickly.

“There was kind of a rush in the fall to move forward on these recommendations quickly, because the concern was implementing these rules might be difficult,” he said. “I think once the task force got into looking up some of these issues of how to implement the law, it turns out it wasn’t as complicated as they thought it might be.”

 A provision in TTU’s campus carry recommendations also allows for future adaptations of the policy depending on how future legal cases play out.

“This is also an issue that is going to be litigated and if this turns out–if UT Austin pevails in their litigation on that issue–then we will be able to change our rules to reflect that,” Opperman said.

It’s still possible that the policy will require changes in the near future; Opperman explained that a Campus Carry Committee will still exist at Tech and can appoint additional spaces or events gun-free as needed. That means, for example, professors seeking more gun-free spaces to meet with their students can work with the committee to designate gun-free rooms in their buildings.

Texas Tech professor of Military History Ron Milam is glad that the policy can still be changed by a committee, but the campus carry law in general doesn’t sit well with him.

In the fall, Milam was appointed to Texas Tech’s campus carry task force and has been working with the university on drafting the policy since then. Milam’s role was to represent faculty input on the task force. He said Tuesday’s recommendations follow the spirit of Senate Bill 11, which put campus carry into place, but that Tech’s policy doesn’t incorporate all of the factulty’s concerns.

“The faculty that had represented their interests in surverys and forums, it was very clear that the faculty did not believe guns should be allowed in the classrooms or their private offices,” Milam said.

Being so close to the process, Milam said he isn’t critical of the way the adminstration handled crafting a campus carry policy, but as a professor, the realities of the state law still concern him.  

Milam carried a gun every day during his time in the Army in Vietnam and he doesn’t want to worry about guns in his classroom. He also worries that guns in the classroom won’t eliminate any of the already existing safety threats at universities.

“[Years ago] If somebody had said to me, where would be the most unlikely place to authorize people to carry a gun? People would have said bars and churches, but certanly a third would have been places of education,” he said.

After his experience with gunfire in the Army, Milam said he’s doubtful of the argument that concealed carrying would enhance safety on TTU’s campus. 

“So there’s this romantic idea that somehow you can get to your holster, get to your backpack, get to the back of your pants, or whatever, and make a difference in a mass shooting situation. My own experience in combat tells me that is not the case,” Milam said.

But not every faculty member feels the same way. 

Major Chistopher Dawson, TTU Assistant Professor of Military Science, feels that if people are already carrying concealed weapons around Texas, it shouldn’t be problematic for university students to concealed carry under responsible guidelines.

“I’m used to [people carrying weapons] but I really don’t see the difference, if you’re in a line in a grocery store and somebody was behind you with a concealed carry, you wouldn’t know unless they produce [that weapon]. You really wouldn’t know, so really in my mind’s eye it’s no different than what it is now,” Dawson said. 

Dawson has a son who attends Texas Tech and as a parent he feels safe with the direction Tech is taking their campus carry policy.

“I one hundred percent agree that the campus carry task force got it right, both in the spirit and in the letter of the law, adressing as many concerns as possible and still keeping concerns for safety in the back of their mind,” Major Dawson said.

As for Milam, while he is concerned for his safety, he plans to continue teaching at Texas Tech.

“I personally know I am very opposed to the law itself, but I chose to be here, my decision doesn’t change because of this law,” Milam said. “But I will probably teach differently and I will probably be concerned about some of the controversial things I put out in front of my class, I may even be concerned about the way I grade–I hope not. Those are things that will now all of a sudden be in the back of my mind.”

“I’ve yet to find any of our administrators who find that Senate Bill 11 is a good idea. What they have been able to say is we at Texas Tech will implement it in a way that it will be a safe place for students to come,” Milam added.

Opperman said that after TTU works out how to successfully implement the policy, much of the controversy around the new law will fade.  

“The experience of other states is after that first year, things settle down and I think that will happen here as well,” Opperman said.”We want to work through this the best we can and hopefully it all goes away and people can forget about it.”

Milam isn’t sure he can forget about it.

“Every student that walks into my office now, and they leave and I upset them, I think about the next time I’ll see that student,” Milam explained.”I dont worry about whether they are 18, 19 or 20, I don’t worry about whether they have a CHL or anything else, I just know that we are creating a gun culture now that allows students to believe that in order to secure their safety, they might feel the need to carry a gun. And if they are carrying a gun, then how will they use it in times of stress?”

In April, Texas Tech’s Board of Regents will review the recommendations and they can make changes to the policy based on a two-thirds vote. If there are no changes proposed, the policy will head back to Opperman’s desk and be submitted formally as an operating policy. Opperman said that it’s quite possible the policy could change between now and the time it goes into effect.

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