The recent shooting murder of a professor and the shooter’s suicide in the engineering building on the UCLA campus is a tragic reminder that on August 1 Texas public universities open their classrooms to guns.
I recognized the office where the murder took place. The cramped associate professor’s office where quiet meetings with students take place is like the ones I used at the University of Texas at El Paso for a dozen years before my retirement in January.
These small cubbyhole offices are the classic workspaces for associate professors outside of the lecture hall. In the bustling academic crystal palace they are small sanctuaries where students seek guidance as they wind their way through the labyrinth of higher education. No appointment necessary. Anyone can walk in during posted office hours. It’s part of the job, a daily routine.
So imagine engineering professor William Klug looking up from his desk as his former student, Mainak Sarkar, a man he mentored through an arduous PhD program of study, walks in with two legally purchased semiautomatic 9mm pistols and shoots him dead.
The university has been sacrosanct space going back to Socrates, where conflicting ideas air and clash, with debate ultimately rendering some truth. Threatened by the presence of guns, intellectual sparring is the essence of academic freedom — the mill that grinds the grist that yields moments of enlightenment.
This passionate debate occurs among human beings and at times tempers explode. Even Wyatt Earp kept guns out of Tombstone knowing that a suspicious win on an inside straight could be paid in lead.
I have been in class when an angry student, thankfully unarmed, reacting to a professor’s criticism, screamed insults and stormed out of the classroom only to return later and apologize.
And I have seen red-faced professors and professionals at other times in my career spewing anger as a jabbing finger points at my heart. You don’t have to be crazy to lose your temper — it’s a universal part of work life, not only in the academy. Sometimes a hair-trigger can release the temper-tantrum.
People die from gunshots every day due to the gun lobby’s obsessive zero-tolerance opposition to sensible gun control and its fanatical imperative to plant guns in every nook and cranny. President Obama pointed out recently that laws today permit individuals with known connections to terrorist organizations such as ISIS, who are on no-fly lists and cannot board airplanes in the U.S., to buy guns legally at stores and gun shows.
My argument is not against the second amendment. I just don’t want guns in classrooms. I don’t want anybody to walk into a professor’s office with a gun.
But soon individuals in any state of mind will be allowed to walk into classrooms and professors’ offices in Texas public universities carrying concealed guns. The campus carry legislation enacted by a Republican-controlled state legislature, signed into law by a Republican governor, unchallenged by the gutless administrators in the Texas public university system, goes into effect August 1.