The AAUP filed an amicus brief last week supporting a challenge to a statute and policy in Texas that compel faculty to permit concealed handguns in college classrooms. We argue that the policy violates faculty members’ academic freedom.
Texas passed a “campus carry law” that expressly permits concealed handguns on university campuses, and in 2016 the University of Texas at Austin issued a policy mandating that faculty permit concealed handguns in their classrooms. Several faculty sued, challenging the policy and the law. The lower court dismissed the case, holding that the faculty had not proven that they were harmed by the law or university policy. The faculty appealed and the case is now before the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court.
The AAUP joined with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an amicus brief supporting the challenge. We argue that college campuses are marketplaces of ideas, and that the presence of weapons has a chilling effect on the rigorous academic exchange of ideas. Students and faculty members will not be comfortable discussing controversial subjects if they think there might be a gun in the classroom. The brief argues that the policy (and the law pursuant to which the policy was created) requiring that handguns be permitted in classrooms harms faculty as it deprives them of a core academic decision and chills their First Amendment right to academic freedom. The brief cites decades of social science research supporting these apprehensions.
The brief argues that the “decision whether to permit or exclude handguns in a given classroom is, at bottom, a decision about educational policy and pedagogical strategy. It predictably affects not only the choice of course materials, but how a particular professor can and should interact with her students—how far she should press a student or a class to wrestle with unsettling ideas, how trenchantly and forthrightly she can evaluate student work. Permitting handguns in the classroom also affects the extent to which faculty can or should prompt students to challenge each other. The law and policy thus implicate concerns at the very core of academic freedom: They compel faculty to alter their pedagogical choices, deprive them of the decision to exclude guns from their classrooms, and censor their protected speech.”
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Senior Counsel, AAUP