Glass v. Paxton (University of Texas at Austin), No. 17-50641 (5th Cir. Nov. 20, 2017)(amicus brief filed)

The AAUP joined with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an amicus brief filed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals supporting a challenge to a statute and policy in Texas that compel faculty to permit concealed handguns in college classrooms. The brief explains that college campuses are marketplaces of ideas, and that the presence of weapons has a chilling effect on rigorous academic exchange of ideas. 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.

This case arose from an appeal of a lawsuit filed by several faculty at the University of Texas contesting a policy that had been promulgated as a result of a Texas campus carry law. 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 Campus Carry Policy mandating that faculty permit concealed handguns in their classrooms. Several faculty filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas alleging that enforcement of the Campus Carry Policy profoundly changes the educational environment in which Plaintiffs teach in violation of the First Amendment.  The District Court dismissed the case, holding that the faculty did not have standing to sue because they had not proven that they had been harmed by the law or university policy. The faculty appealed to the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court.

The amicus brief was filed in support of the faculty members’ appeal. The brief explains that the deleterious impact of guns on education is widely recognized by university administrators and faculty, whose conclusions are confirmed by a significant body of social science research. 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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