Texas University Allows Professors Gun-Free Zone in Their Offices, Not Classrooms

Thursday, July 14, 2016
University of Texas President Gregory Fenves (photo: UT-Austin)


By Benjamin Wermund, New York Times


Professors at the University of Texas at Austin will be allowed to ban guns from their offices, the university's board of regents said Wednesday.


Under a new state law, people holding licenses for concealed weapons will be able to carry handguns throughout public college campuses in Texas beginning in August. However, each university is allowed to carve out gun-free zones. At the UT flagship, dormitories will be gun-free and faculty will be able to keep guns out of their offices, under policies now given the green light by regents.


Public universities across the state have been working on carve-outs to their campus carry policies. The policies at UT Austin, where faculty have been especially vocal against the new law - three professors last week sued the college over it - are some of the most stringent in the state.


The regents made just one tweak to the policies during their Wednesday meeting, doing away with a proposed rule that would have required people carrying semi-automatic handguns to remove bullets from a gun's chamber before bringing it on campus. The regents who voted to strike the rule said they heard from numerous experts who said it would be safer to just leave the guns loaded, rather than trying to remove the ammunition before heading onto campus.


"The body of evidence we've received shows it is inherently safer... to not allow guns to be chambered (and) unchambered on campus," said Jeffrey Hildebrand, a regent from Houston who proposed the motion to scrap the rule. "The less that one manipulates a gun...the better, and the safer it is."


That faculty will be able to keep guns out of their campus offices may provide a little relief to professors who have fought against the campus carry law since it was approved last year. UT professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the law from taking effect. They are suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, UT Austin President Gregory Fenves and the UT regents to do so.


That lawsuit (pdf), however, was filed assuming UT professors would be able to keep guns out of their offices. The professors want the right to keep them out of their classrooms, too, said Renea Hicks, an attorney representing the professors.


"The challenge wasn't to the no guns in office policy, it was in the ability to exercise the option to keep guns out of the classroom," Hicks said. "The issue is does an individual professor have the option, not should or must the board of regents adopt a policy that says no guns in the classroom. Do individual professors have a right to exclude guns from the classroom?"


The professors likely will ask the court to provide emergency relief sometime before classes begin in August, Hicks said.


Also at the regents' meeting, UT Chancellor William McRaven gave the board an update on UT's acquisition of more than 300 acres of land in Houston. McRaven said a task force of Houstonians - an 18-member panel with representatives from Texas Southern University, Rice University and the city of Houston - is working on ideas for how to use the land and have been asked to submit them to him by December.


"We have an opportunity to do something grand, something bold, something of substance for the state of Texas and the city of Houston," McRaven said.


An influential state senator last week asked the Texas auditor to investigate the land deal, in which the university system bought more than 300 acres in southwest Houston at a price of more than $200 million.


What exactly UT will do with the land remains to be seen. UT's board of regents, the state legislature and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would all get to review the university's plan. Last month, the co-chair of the planning committee said UT won't build a traditional campus on the land.


"It's not going to be a four-year campus with a mascot and an admissions office," said Paul Hobby, a UT graduate and former chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership who is leading the Houston task force. The group has contacted 60 nonprofits and companies across the Houston area about possibly collaborating on the land, Hobby said. Work at the site will center around health, energy, water, the environment and cyber and data sciences, he said. UT will also likely work with kindergarten through high school students and launch a leadership institute on the site.


Paul Foster, chairman of UT's board of regents, acknowledged Wednesday that the Houston land deal and subsequent development is contentious.


"This is admittedly a controversial process," Foster, the only regent to speak on the matter during the meeting, told McRaven. "We want to be sure we get it right. I appreciate the way you've approached this and look forward to hearing from the task force later."


To Learn More:

Texas University Professors’ Lawsuit Targets Law Allowing Concealed Guns in Classrooms (by Ryan Kocian, Courthouse News Service)

Texas Professors Warn that Gun-Carrying Students May Curtail Academic Discussions (Associated Press)

New Texas Law to Allow Guns in University Classrooms (by Jon Herskovitz, Reuters)

Real Guns Welcome in Texas College Dorms, But Candles, Toasters and Squirt Guns are Banned (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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