The University’s policy on outward facing signs has been under review since last September, when the University mandated that all Gun Free UT signs be taken down. The passage of Senate Bill 18 this month might prevent future restrictions on faculty free speech.
The University’s previous policy banned hanging outward facing signs in office windows, according to chapter 13 of the Handbook of Operating Procedures. This policy was suspended last year and is currently under review by a faculty task force, University spokesman J.B. Bird said. SB 18 now makes all outdoor common spaces on college campuses available for free speech activities for anyone.
The task force, chaired by law professor Jordan Steiker, submitted their report reviewing the sign policy to UT President Gregory Fenves over the summer for consideration, Steiker said. According to the report, the task force recommended changing the policy to allow outward facing signs in office windows.
History professor Joan Neuberger has a “Gun Free UT” sign displayed in her window. She said she did not remove her sign when the administration ordered so last September, but said “word trickled down” that the University would not enforce the sign policy.
“I wasn’t planning to take my sign down until someone officially came and made me,” Neuberger said.
Gun Free UT, a protest that occurred after Senate Bill 11 was signed in June 2015, was a response to a law that allows licensed individuals to carry concealed firearms on campus. Neuberger said faculty cannot ban firearms from their classrooms.
“I think having loaded guns in classroom is first of all, dangerous, and second of all, distracting from the practice of teaching,” Neuberger said. “(Students should) be able to talk without any restrictions”
Neuberger said restricting the signs would be a violation of the faculty’s rights, as they are expressing their views legally through the signs.
“We have freedom of speech, just like everyone else on campus,” Neuberger said.
In the task force’s report, SB 18 is mentioned as a concern, because the public could interpret it as allowing signs anywhere on campus.
“Some members of the public might argue … the public would enjoy a right to place signs on the exterior building walls,” the report said.
However, government department chair Alan Sager said he thinks the public is unlikely to come to this conclusion.
“I don’t think they should be able to plaster the walls of my building,” Sager said. “But we’re talking about people’s right to speak, including members of the community.”
Neuberger said all sides of an argument should be allowed to be expressed on campus even if that includes pro-campus carry signs.
“That’s a visual dialogue, that’s what universities are about,” Neuberger said.
The Gun Free UT signs bring awareness to SB 11 and make students aware of how the law affects them, Neuberger said.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone who comes to school here knows what the law is and knows what the possibilities are for their participation in class,” Neuberger said.