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AAUP Files Brief Opposing "Campus Carry"

By Aaron Nisenson

In November, the AAUP joined with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an amicus brief challenging a Texas statute and a University of Texas at Austin policy mandating that faculty al­low concealed handguns in their classrooms. The brief argues that the policy violates faculty mem­bers’ academic freedom.

Texas passed a “campus carry” law in 2015, and UT Austin issued its policy the following year. Several faculty members sued, challenging the policy and the law. The lower court dismissed the case, holding that the faculty had not proven that they had been harmed by the law or university policy. The faculty appealed, and the case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The brief filed by the AAUP argues that the presence of weap­ons has a chilling effect on the academic exchange of ideas. The “decision whether to permit or exclude handguns in a given classroom is, at bottom, a deci­sion about educational policy and pedagogical strategy,” the brief states. “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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