Daniel Hamermesh came to the University of Texas at Austin more than two decades ago. The economics professor emeritus has taught thousands of students and was expected to return for the next few years to teach a large introductory course.
That plan, however, has changed.
Hamermesh has informed the university that he wouldn’t be teaching at UT in 2016, or 2017. He cited the reason in his letter: a new law that will allow concealed handguns on campus.
“With a huge group of students my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law,” he wrote in a letter to University President Gregory Fenves. “Out of self-protection, I have chosen to spend part of next Fall at the University of Sydney, where, among other things, this risk seems lower.”
Texas’ campus carry bill was signed into law this year and goes into effect next August. Texas is not the only state to have taken such action, but several others — including Florida, Georgia and Illinois — have banned concealed weapons on university campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“I cannot believe that I am the only potential or current faculty member who is aware of and disturbed by this heightened risk. … Anything that can be done to mitigate this risk should be implemented,” Hamermesh wrote in his letter. “Applying this law broadly will detract from both faculty well-being and from the national and international reputation of this University.”
Hamermesh told The Washington Post on Monday that he hasn’t really had problems in a large classroom environment before. But, he said, he now has some concerns about what might happen if a disgruntled student shows up at his office.
“I’m afraid if they have a gun in their pocket, rather than cry, they might just take it out,” he said.
Plus, there are concerns about how this will generally impact the larger campus environment, Hamermesh said. It might become harder for the university to recruit students and faculty, he said. After the news of his decision spread, he heard from one woman who doesn’t want her daughter applying anymore, for example.
“I’m sure she’s hardly unique,” he said.
It helps that Hamermesh is in a position to make this move. He’s in his 70s, he said, and already retired. He has another job at a different university and can teach elsewhere. He doesn’t expect fellow faculty members to follow suit, he said.
A statement from UT’s director of University Media Relations, Gary Susswein, said that Fenves, the school’s president, would review suggestions on how to implement the law, and in December will present recommendations to the Board of Regents.
“We understand the concerns that Dr. Hamermesh and other faculty members have raised about their classroom and ask that the campus community continue to work with university leadership in developing policies for implementing this new state law,” the statement read. “As required by SB 11, we are gathering input from faculty, students, staff and community members. Our campus-wide working group will develop recommendations designed to ensure safety on campus while following the law.”
Hamermesh’s letter was dated Oct. 4 — days after a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, where nine people were fatally shot before the gunman was killed.
The professor said his decision, however, was not prompted by a specific incident at another campus. This has been an ongoing issue, he said, and the university has been holding forums on the matter.
“We’re here to learn … to discuss ideas,” he said. “This just makes that more difficult.”
You can read Hamermesh’s letter below: