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Texas Professors Will Learn to Like Guns. Or Else

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Three University of Texas professors were informed this week that they will be "subject to discipline" if they try to ban concealed handguns from their classrooms. The warning was issued in a state legal brief connected to the professors' lawsuit seeking permission to prohibit guns in class.

It's hard to imagine a more vibrant canvas for culture war than the Texas campus-carry mandate, which went into effect at state colleges and universities earlier this month. Texas is gun country, and the state has joined a half-dozen others that guarantee campus-carry rights. But the University of Texas flagship campus in Austin is an elite institution and a liberal citadel in a state that caroms between business conservative and right-wing nutty.

The pointy-headed professors may once have had their run of the expansive Austin campus. But Republicans in the Legislature showed them who's boss: "You want boys in the girls' bathroom? We can top that. We'll give you loaded guns in your classroom."

Naturally, the three professors cited legal arguments in their complaint. There is a First Amendment claim that fear of guns in the classroom will chill academic freedom and robust speech. There is a creative Second Amendment claim that the Texas law makes no allowance for campus gun-toting to be "well regulated" in any way that enhances the personal safety of the professors and others. There is a Fourteenth Amendment due-process claim that the professors' rights have been trampled. 

But the gist of the lawsuit, best gleaned between the lines, is basically: "Are you nuts?"

Professor Jennifer Glass "has specific concerns about her safety, and the safety of her students," the complaint states. "She has witnessed in her own classroom a verbally aggressive student, disappointed in a grade handed out during class, displaying a level of animosity and aggressiveness toward Professor Glass’s teaching assistant that, had the current concealed carry rule been in place, would have left her hesitant to confront the student in defense of her teaching assistant and urge a reasoned discussion of the matter at hand."

Professor Lisa Moore said that an ideologically motivated student had once enrolled in her class to "monitor" Moore's "homosexual agenda." Another student made troubling statements and took steps that she deemed "personally threatening."

With campus carry, the line between aggression and violence is no more certain than before. It's just that the potential consequences are more catastrophic.

As Professor Mia Carter pointed out, some university students have "mental health issues." They are psychologically unstable and stressed out, and inviting them to carry a concealed weapon is probably not a great idea. "She has been threatened," the complaint states, "and so have other students."

The professors already lost this battle in the political arena, and they seem no more likely to prevail in the courts. The gun movement and its attendant politicians are in charge here, and if the pointy heads don't want to submit to gun culture in their workplace, they'll have to leave either their profession or the state. Meanwhile, state professors will probably want to ratchet down debate in class and institute a strict regime of political correctness, Texas-style. Gun culture has a low tolerance for hurt feelings.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net