A Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the University of Texas at Austin declared Monday that he will try to ban guns from his classroom this fall, even if university rules and state law say he can't.
Steven Weinberg, who won the top prize in science in 1979, said at the university's faculty council meeting that he understands the decision could leave him vulnerable to a lawsuit. Most university task forces across the state have found that Texas' new campus carry law prohibits such a ban. But Weinberg said he believes that he would eventually win that suit because forcing professors to allow guns quashes constitutionally protected free speech and academic freedom.
"I am willing by my own actions to expose myself to this," he said. "Let's have it heard. We should allow the courts to decide it."
UT-Austin officials charged with reviewing the law were unconvinced. Steven Goode, a UT-Austin law professor and chairman of the university's campus carry task force, said his group reviewed banning guns in classrooms and decided that it violated the new law. Attorney General Ken Paxton has agreed in a written opinion issued last month.
"I think that the notion that a First Amendment claim would win in court against [the campus carry law] is an illusion," Goode said. "I think it is an extraordinarily weak argument."
The campus carry law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, requires colleges to allow people with concealed handgun licenses to carry their weapons in campus buildings. University presidents can declare some rooms or buildings gun-free, but those declarations can't have the cumulative effect of banning guns campus-wide.
Many faculty members, especially at UT-Austin, have urged their presidents to ban guns in classrooms.
At UT-Austin, President Greg Fenves appointed a task force to review the law and suggest rules. That task force has recommended banning guns in dorms and allowing professors to ban guns in their individual offices. But it said that bans in classrooms went too far.
Fenves, who hasn't yet weighed in, said on Monday that he expects to propose his rules by mid-February. But in comments to the faculty council, he indicated that he would have to stick with state law. When asked whether professors can require students with handguns to sit in the back of the classroom, for example, Fenves said he didn't think so.
"As a public university, I am obligated to seeing that we carry out the law," Fenves said.
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