UT to allow guns in classrooms

AUSTIN, Texas -- Save for some narrow exceptions, guns will be allowed in classrooms but not in dorms at the University of Texas at Austin next school year under guidelines issued by university President Greg Fenves on Wednesday.

Fenves submitted the rules to comply with the state's new campus carry law, which goes into effect Aug. 1. The law, Senate Bill 11, allows the concealed carrying of weapons in public university buildings by license holders across the state. But universities were given the power to create limited rules that designate some "gun-free zones" in areas where it would be too dangerous to have weapons. Those zones have to be limited in scope, however, and can't have the effect of making it practically impossible to carry a gun anywhere on campus.

In a letter to Chancellor Bill McRaven about the rule, Fenves said he opposes the idea of guns on campus. But the law gives him no choice, he said. 

"The presence of handguns at an institution of higher learning is contrary to our mission of education and research, which is based on inquiry, free speech, and debate," he wrote. 

Fenves said in a policy statement that guns would be banned in dorms except for three specific exceptions: Guns in common areas of dorms would be allowed, family members visiting dorms would be allowed to carry a gun as would staff members who work in the dorms. 

The statement didn't mention any specific classroom ban. But he did say faculty members who don't share an office with anyone else can ban guns in their specific areas. 

The university presidents were put in charge of making the rules, though boards of regents have the power to change them with a two-thirds vote. It's not immediately clear if or how the UT System board plans to review its presidents' decisions. Fenves made his rules after soliciting the recommendations of a task force made up of  lawyers, professors, administrators and students. 

Campus carry has been one of the most controversial issues in years at colleges across the state. Opposition has been especially strong at UT-Austin. The university's faculty council passed numerous resolutions against allowing guns in classrooms. The college's only Nobel Prize-winning faculty member has promised to flout the law and ban guns in his class no matter what Fenves' rule said. 

But the task force convened by Fenves decided that a classroom ban went too far. Many students come on campus solely for the purpose of attending class, so a classroom ban would prevent them from carrying their guns at all. The task force considered setting up storage areas for guns, but decided that would pose to much of a security risk or chance for accidental firings. 

The dorm ban is different. State leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, have argued that guns should be allowed in student housing, too. But the task force reached a different conclusion, saying few of the people old enough to have a concealed handgun license — you have to be 21 to obtain one in Texas — actually live in dorms. 

Fenves' rules are likely to be challenged by both sides. McRaven predicted earlier this year that his schools will be sued by people who think the guidelines are too strict or too lenient. 

The new law goes into effect Aug. 1. 

"Since this is a new law with an unknown effect on UT Austin, we will monitor implementation and its impact on students, faculty members, and staffers," Fenves wrote to McRaven. "I have significant concerns about how the law will affect our ability to recruit and retain faculty members and students. If problems develop, we will work to understand the causes and make adjustments to the policies, rules, and practices, consistent with the law."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

 


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