WACO — Baylor University President and Chancellor Ken Starr said Monday that he has "little doubt" that the private institution will opt out of the state's new campus carry law when it goes into effect next year.
During a daylong Texas Tribune symposium on higher education at Baylor, Starr said he thinks allowing concealed handgun licensees to carry their guns on campus is unwise. The new law will allow concealed license holders to carry guns at public universities across the state starting Aug. 1, but private schools may choose to continue to ban the weapons.
"My own view is that it is a very unwise public policy, with all due respect to those who feel strongly (and) very, very rooted in constitutional values as they see them," Starr said. "We're here as seats of learning, and I do not think this is helpful."
Starr said Baylor’s public safety administrators are also opposed to the law.
Many private universities have indicated that they plan to opt out. Texas Christian University’s board of trustees made that decision last week. Top administrators at Trinity University, Paul Quinn College and Southern Methodist University have hinted that they are leaning toward opting out as well.
Public schools have much less discretion. They are allowed to declare some gun-free zones on campus, but those must be limited in number and can’t have the effect of making it impossible to carry guns on campus, said state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, one of the bill’s main authors.
Birdwell, who spoke a few hours before Starr at the Tribune event, said the gun-free provision was designed to allow universities to adapt the law to their specific needs. Places such as laboratories where dangerous chemicals are stored might need to be declared gun-free.
“It is not to be a general prohibition,” he said. “It is to be, for lack of a better term, very liberal in its access.”
Most universities are now debating how to write their rules. On Monday, the Faculty Council at the University of Texas at Austin passed a resolution opposing guns in “classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, university offices and other spaces of education.”
When asked if those kinds of restrictions would be acceptable, Birdwell’s answer was simple: “No.”
“The Legislature will very appropriately be watching to make sure that our legislative intent is properly followed,” he said. “And if not, I assume there will be consequences associated with that.”
Starr advocated for more discretion: “Wouldn’t it be good to allow the colleges and universities to make these kinds of judgments about the safety of their students themselves?”
Starr questioned the safety of allowing even 30-year-olds to carry weapons on campus, much less 18-year-old students. But Birdwell argued that carrying a handgun is their right, and his bill was designed to enforce that right.
"My belief is also this – these are 21-year-age citizens of this state," he said. "We ought to treat them as the adults they are.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Southern Methodist University was a corporate sponsor in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.