Your Turn: Concealed carry or great universities?
I am submitting the following letter of resignation from the University of Kansas in light of the looming July deadline to allow concealed carry in college classrooms, a policy that will do irreparable harm to higher education in Kansas and the well-being of Kansans.
To: Dr. Eve Levin, chair, department of history and Dr. David Roediger, chair, department of American studies
Dear Professors Levin and Roediger:
In light of the State of Kansas’ apparent determination to allow concealed carry of firearms in the classrooms of the University of Kansas, I am writing to tender my resignation effective two weeks from today as an associate professor of history and American studies at the university since I have accepted a job in a state that bans concealed carry in classrooms. I proudly served as a KU professor for a decade, from 2007 until 2017, and have a great deal of affection and gratitude to the university, to Lawrence and to the State of Kansas. Kansas is a great and beautiful state that is refreshingly different than the coasts. I have enjoyed getting to know Kansans from all parts of the state as my students, neighbors and friends, and especially benefited from getting to know Kansans from rural communities where gun ownership and hard work are equally a way of life. But Kansas will never secure the future that it deserves if it weakens its institutions of higher learning by driving off faculty members or applicants who feel as I do that there is no place for firearms in classrooms. Kansas can have great universities, or it can have concealed carry in classrooms, but it cannot have both.
In practical terms, concealed carry has proved to be a failure. Campus shootings have become all too frequent, and arming students has done nothing to quell active shooter situations because students do not have the training to effectively combat shooters and rightly fear becoming identified as a suspect themselves. But beyond the fact that concealed carry does not deter gun violence, the citizens and elected representatives of Kansas must recognize that Kansas is a small state, and in order to run a premier university, which is necessary for the health and wealth of the state, it must recruit professors from out of state. Recruiting the best trained professors necessarily means recruiting from coastal areas and progressive college towns where most people do not believe that randomly arming untrained students is a proper exercise of the Second Amendment’s protection of a well-regulated militia.
Moreover, we discuss sensitive and highly charged topics in my classroom, concerning anti-religious bias, racism, sexism, classism, and many other indexes of oppression and discrimination. Students need to be able to express themselves respectfully and freely, and they cannot do so about heated topics if they know that fellow students are armed and that a disagreement or argument could easily be lethal. Guns in the classroom will have a chilling effect on free speech and hinder the university’s mission to facilitate dialogue across lines of division. That stifling of dialogue will hurt all students, including the ones with guns in their pockets.
Let us not let the NRA destroy the future of the state of Kansas with a specious argument about the Second Amendment. Guns do not belong in classrooms anymore than they belong in courtrooms, but a university simply cannot afford metal detectors at every entrance. Kansas faces a very clear choice: Does it want excellent universities, with world class faculty, or does it want to create an exodus of faculty like myself who have options to teach in states that ban weapons in classrooms? Does Kansas want to reinvent itself as a center of innovation and prosperity, and attract the minds that will create the jobs that the state needs to be prosperous for the 21st century, or does it want third-rate universities that will not find the cures, patent the drugs, train the engineers, start the companies, or innovate the laws and social programs that will bring the state lasting prosperity and health? This is the truly concealed question that faces Kansas’ citizens and legislators in the concealed carry debate. I hope for the sake of the future of the great state of Kansas that its Legislature will make the right decision and take a stand against weapons in classrooms and in favor of excellence in education.
Jacob S. Dorman, PhD, associate professor, department of history and department of American studies, the University of Kansas
— Jacob Dorman is a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Mellon Foundation, and the Jacob Javits Fellowships/US Department of Education. Winner of the Wesley-Logan Prize in African Diaspora History from the American Historical Association, the Raboteau Prize in Africana Religions, and the Byron Caldwell Smith Book Award for a 2013 Oxford University Press book partially about Kansas history, “Chosen People.”