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Open forum gives faculty platform to speak

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A lively debate was sparked among university faculty members across the state after Senate Bill 11, otherwise known as the campus carry legislation, was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature in June.

The Texas Faculty Association is hosting two open forums about campus carry for faculty members Oct. 26 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Oct. 29 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Both forums will be conducted in the LBJ Student Center in 3-7.1 and 4-1.9, respectively.

The campus carry bill, set to go into affect Fall 2016, has been the topic of discussion at Texas State Faculty Senate meetings and has led professors at the University of Texas at Austin to sign a petition stating they will not allow guns in their classrooms or offices.

SB 11 states faculty should be consulted on how to implement campus carry.

The Campus Carry Task Force, established by Texas State President Denise Trauth, is collecting faculty feedback in order to establish a draft of suggested procedures for the implementation of the legislation.

The campus carry faculty task force will hold additional forums later, said Elizabeth Skerpan-Wheeler, president of the Texas State chapter of the Texas Faculty Association (TFA). However, the details of future forums have not yet been worked out.

Students and other non-faculty members are welcome to attend the forums as well, Skerpan-Wheeler said. However, the primary focus will be placed on faculty concerns.

Skerpan-Wheeler said there will be forums to address student issues in the near future, but a date has not yet been determined.

“I think we as an organization have a different approach than the faculty at UT,” Skerpan-Wheeler said. “This forum will give faculty the opportunity to voice concerns about the new law.”

Skerpan-Wheeler is in charge of the upcoming faculty open forum. The forum is organized by the TFA and is independent of the faculty task force that has been established by the university.

Mary Aldridge Dean, executive director of TFA, hopes to facilitate discussion between faculty members about the safest implementation strategies for campus carry.

Dean said the forums will give faculty members an opportunity to discuss concerns they may have.

“I have heard a lot of concerns, and there have been of a wide variety,” said Scott Bowman, criminal justice senator. “It’s about trying to balance being rational with being cautious.”

The major issue currently on the table is what zones should be recommended to be gun free, Dean said.

“I hope that we can all agree places like (on campus) day cares should be restricted,” Dean said.

Skerpan-Wheeler said everyone is welcome at the forums regardless of their ranking at the university or position on campus carry.

“We want to pull as many people in as possible,” Dean said. “I want to have a discussion about where it is appropriate to have guns and where it is not.”

Skerpan-Wheeler said she has read a number of faculty concerns from responses to the faculty survey that was sent out by the task force.

“I would say the biggest thing faculty is concerned about is how the new law will affect their teaching and their interactions with students,” Skerpen-Wheeler said.

Dean said when SB 11 was still being discussed in the Texas Legislature, she took a poll of TFA members and 99 percent of survey-takers were opposed to campus carry.

“On an academic level we are concerned that what is being called a ‘Second Amendment right,’ even by the Supreme Court, is going to infringe on our First Amendment right, freedom of association,” Dean said. “It will affect how we interact with our students. I believe that Faculty Senate is as important as the second.”