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Monday, August 8, 2022

Faculty & Staff

Professors react to campus carry advice to curb curriculum


Margot Backus, an associate professor of English literature, said she worries about potentially dangerous situations that could arise in the classroom. | Justin Tijerina / The Cougar.

The debate over campus carry gained international attention last week after an instructional slide about changing policies to address teacher safety concerns leaked online.

The slide, which was part of a faculty forum on campus carry, detailed possible ways professors could change their teaching policies to address concerns over personal safety.

During the presentation, which was given by Faculty Senate President Jonathan Snow, teachers were advised to “be careful discussing sensitive topics” and “drop certain topics from your curriculum.” The language of the slide prompted national media attention and was met with vocal opposition from several faculty members.

“There were a couple that said they would never change what they teach, but that was (not) exactly the point,” Snow said. “That slide was meant to initiate discussion, not tell them what to teach because that’s not my role.”

Snow said he isn’t worried about removing controversial subjects from his material, but he is concerned about grading.

“When it comes time to talk to students about grades or their future in the program it can be significantly bad news for some people,” Snow said. “When there’s more guns around on campus,  there’s a greater chance that a student in an impulsive moment harms themselves or has an accident.”

Associate professor of English literature Margot Backus opposes the bill and agrees about grading concerns, but said she isn’t changing how she teaches.

“In English, it’s very hard for us to envision how we could change our classes to avoid controversial or sensitive subjects or avoid having anyone be mad,” Backus said “Writing is a very intimate thing and being graded on it feels different than being graded on math or chemistry. It feels closer to the self.”

Backus has been teaching at UH for 25 years and said she receives at least one to two student evaluations every semester accusing her of “shoving her propaganda down (students’) throats.”

She teaches courses focusing on LGBTQ literature as well as Irish studies, both of which involve controversial topics.

“You don’t know what people are expecting, and I absolutely know that how I teach strikes some people as very surprising and maybe upsetting,” Backus said.

Backus said she even promotes students to “push back” when they don’t agree with something.

“I feel like I’m empowering them if they feel free to say ‘I disagree with that,’ and some of my most memorable experiences have been when students pushed back on a subject that they knew more information about than me,” Backus said. “If they feel free to push back, then I feel that means they know that I’m open to getting to the clearest understanding of the subject at hand.”

Faculty Senate subcommittee chair of Core Curriculum and chemistry professor Simon Bott said he worries about students dealing with the stress of finals, and though he doesn’t know the legality of the bill, he doesn’t think that the Texas legislature has “worried too much about legality, ethics, morals or hypocrisy in many of their actions.”

History professor John Moretta said he thinks the law is wrong, but he does not find UH at fault.

“I fault the Texas legislature, those idiots are the ones,” Moretta said. “How stupid can you be? It’s simply inviting a catastrophe.”

UH’s Campus Carry Work Group released a draft on the campus carry policy Wednesday, Mar. 2. listing exclusion zones in the draft.

According to the draft, guns will not be allowed in university housing, spaces used for discussion of grievances and disciplinary hearings, areas containing critical university infrastructure and areas used for day care and school activities, including areas used by minor children.

Backus said she feels disheartened by the draft and asked, “So the professors aren’t key infrastructure for the university?”

The Campus Carry Work Group is hosting an open forum to discuss the draft from 3 to 5 p.m. today in the Student Center South Theater.

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