The American Association of University Professors filed a joint amicus briefin support of a legal challenge to a Texas law permitting handguns on public college and university campuses, including classrooms.

AAUP and its partners for the brief, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argue that the law and corresponding campus policies violate faculty members’ academic freedom, since instructors may fear discussing controversial topics with guns in the classroom. The brief pertains to a brought by several faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin. A lower court dismissed the case, saying that the plaintiffs had not shown they had been harmed by the law. The professors appealed and their case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The “decision whether to permit or exclude handguns in a given classroom is, at bottom, a decision about educational policy and pedagogical strategy,” says the AAUP brief. “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 brief says. “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.”