What is this blog about?

What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A creative way to address the prospect of guns in the classroom

In 2017 it looks like some Wisconsin GOP legislators will be pushing (yet again) for a law that would permit people to bring concealed firearms into campus buildings within the University of Wisconsin system. This is a terrible idea that just won't die (at least not while Republicans remain the enthusiastic thralls of the National Rifle Association).

Professor Larry Shapiro (UW-Madison), however, is planning on pursuing a rather innovative strategy for dealing with this problem (should the proposed bill eventually become law). He's preparing two syllabi for his "Introduction to Philosophy" course. The first syllabus includes a wide variety of topics, among them things like whether God exists, the moral permissibility or impermissibility of abortion, and conceptions of social justice. The second syllabus eliminates those topics and replaces them with philosophical debates less likely to provoke strong reactions in students.

Why the two syllabi? Prof. Shapiro explains:
The reason for the second syllabus is this. The topics on the first syllabus that get my students so excited are also the topics that arouse the most passion. And, if some of our state legislators have their way, passion is the last thing I’ll want to provoke in my students. You see, my campus may soon become a concealed carry campus. This means that while I am presenting an argument in favor of a right to abortion, or against the existence of God, or in favor of tax policies that would strip these students of their inheritances (I also present arguments on the other side of these issues), I will at the same time be worrying that a depressed or disturbed or drunk or high college student is in the audience, armed, and fed up with what I or fellow students are advocating. 
It’s of course obvious that gun violence in my classroom is far more probable given the legal presence of guns than not, and even if the danger remains remote, why should I bother to keep on my syllabus those issues that promise most likely to incite gun violence? Why teach topics that increase the probability, however small, of provoking an unstable but legally carrying shooter? 
So, my plan is this. On the first day of the semester I will explain to my students that I have prepared two syllabi for the course. One they’ll find much more interesting than the other, but we’ll adopt it only if I receive a promise from the students that they will not carry weapons into my classroom.
(Read the whole piece by Prof. Shapiro here. [Hat tip to the Daily Nous.])

I formulated a less creative strategy to deal with this problem when the idea was proposed last time (during autumn 2015): (a) switch all my lower-level undergraduate courses to online only; (b) hold my office hours in an off-campus coffee shop with a 'no guns' policy; and (c) request all students in my seminars (mainly graduate students and 4th-year undergraduates) not bring guns to our meetings (I would trust that students that mature would honour this request). But perhaps I'll adapt a version of Prof. Shapiro's strategy as well.

(In an earlier post at this blog, I explained why the possession of firearms actually renders everyone within American society less free.)

1 comment:

  1. On this issue, a couple of months ago the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study entitled, “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications.”
    It can be read here: http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/_pdfs/GunsOnCampus.pdf

    A summary of the main points was reported at Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/campus-carry-laws-guns-mass-shooters