I first noticed a shift in attitudes after the Umpqua Community College shooting last October. Sure, there was the usual news cycle evincing shock, then anger, then sadness, provoking the tired old debates about whether gun laws would do anything to prevent that sort of atrocity. But the shock seemed play-acted, and the anger a kind of diluted atavism echoing past anger. People seemed suddenly to believe at that moment that this confirmed a status quo that needed to be lived with, coped with, endured. I heard friends discuss seriously whether they should spend hundreds of dollars on Bullet Blocker backpacks for their kids. And my university colleagues agitated for active shooter trainings and the retrofitting of classrooms with emergency buttons, bullet-proof windows, and lock-down equipment.
The fact that campus shooters are most often students – as with the disgruntled UCLA PhD student last month – hasn’t deterred Colorado, Utah, and now Texas from passing campus concealed carry legislation. Such legislation obviously runs counter to the wishes of the great majority of people who actually spend any time at universities – not least of all the professors, who tend to be targets of frustration when they give out grades below, say, A- to increasingly clientelist-minded students – and has obvious adverse impacts on the ability of students and professors alike to concentrate on their work in relative peace of mind. And to those who think that more guns somehow bring about less violence in a massively multiplayer deterrence game, the price tag for increased police presence in the this Chronicle of Higher Education piece tells a different story.
One of the ironies of this militarization of US university campuses is that while it is racking up costs, state budget cuts are jeopardizing the reason anyone is on campus in the first place. In Wisconsin, state legislators have stripped tenure protection and $250 million from public universities, for instance.
The long-run effect of these twin processes in many states can only be to drive out those professors who are talented, reputable, and just plain lucky enough to leave public universities. Same goes for students, though they may also need to be rich enough to attend a private school. Education regresses to being the private luxury good it was in previous centuries instead of the commonplace public good required in contemporary society.