AUSTIN, Texas ― A prominent dean at the University of Texas said Thursday he is leaving the state for another job in large part because of the new Texas law that will allow concealed handguns in public college classrooms.
Fritz Steiner, dean of the Texas School of Architecture, was named dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Steiner, who had previously taught at Pennsylvania, has been at Texas since 2001 and said he would not have considered leaving if not for the new law that takes effect Aug. 1.
“I thought I would be responsible for enforcing a law I don’t believe in,” Steiner said.
Texas lawmakers in 2015 voted to force public colleges to allow concealed handgun license holders to bring their weapons into college buildings and classrooms over vigorous objections from higher education officials, faculty and students across the state.
Supporters of the law call it a critical self-defense measure and protection of constitutional rights.
University of Texas President Greg Fenves last week reluctantly approved rules for where guns will be allowed on his campus. Fenves doesn’t support guns on campus but said he had no choice but to enforce the law. His office declined comment Thursday.
The law gives private schools the choice to ban guns, and most have done that.
Fenves has said allowing guns on campus will make it harder to recruit and retain top faculty and students. Steiner’s departure would be the most immediate high-profile result of that prediction.
“I can report that it’s already part of the conversation when I was trying to recruit and retain faculty and recruit graduate students,” Steiner said of the campus carry law. “It’s certainly on the minds of many faculty and students.”
Steiner said he’s not anti-guns, but doesn’t want them in the halls of higher education. Texas faculty have worried allowing guns could have a chilling effect on academic freedom and frank discussions in classrooms.
“I grew up hunting. My father was a Marine and a policeman. I’m not a stranger to firearms in any way,” Steiner said. “I grew up believing there was an appropriate place for guns and it was not in a place of higher education and higher learning.”
Students for Concealed Carry issued a statement Thursday that didn’t address Steiner’s departure, but criticized educators “overwhelmed by unjustified fear.”
“Intellectually, these professors are no different than someone whose actions are defined by an irrational fear of sharks, witchcraft, or vaccines,” the student group said.