HOUSTON --Concealed handguns will be allowed in University of Texas classrooms but generally banned from dorms under rules begrudgingly approved Wednesday by the school's president, whose hand was forced by a new state law.
Like many who study or work at the school in liberal Austin, President Greg Fenves opposes allowing guns on the roughly 50,000-student campus. Texas' universities had been gun-free zones under the state's previous concealed handgun laws, but the Republican-dominated Legislature voted last year to force public universities to allow license holders to bring their guns to campus starting Aug. 1.
"I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date," Fenves said in announcing his decision to adopt rules recommended by a campus study group in December.
Gun-rights activists insist the right to have weapons on campus falls under the Second Amendment and they call it a critical self-defense measure.
However, the so-called "campus carry" measure has met with fierce resistance from students, faculty and other staff, and even University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command who directed the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.
"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," Fenves wrote in a letter to McRaven.
Private schools are allowed to keep banning weapons and Fenves noted most have opted to do so, including Baylor, Rice, Southern Methodist and Texas Christian universities, the largest and most in influential private schools in the state.
State lawmakers allowed public universities to carve out some gun-free zones as long as it didn't result in a campus-wide ban. Fenves said a blanket ban on guns in classrooms would have violated the law.
In most cases, a person must be 21 years old to get a gun license in Texas, which trims the gun-carrying student population a bit. And while licensed students will be allowed to bring their handguns to class, they won't be able to do so openly. A separate law that allows the open carry of handguns doesn't apply to college campuses.
Critics have predicted that allowing guns on campus will make it harder for schools to recruit top students and faculty. Gun-Free UT, a group of students, faculty and staff, has said allowing guns in classrooms will create a threatening atmosphere and chill free speech in academics. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has said he will put into his syllabus that his class is not open to students carrying guns.
The gun rules have some other exceptions.
Certain laboratories will remain gun-free, as will areas or events that involve school-age children. State law still prohibits weapons at sporting events.
Guns will generally be banned from dorm rooms, but they will be allowed in residence hall common areas such as dining rooms and study areas.
A family member who is licensed to carry can keep their weapon when visiting a student. University staff members who are licensed to carry may also hold onto their weapons if they must enter a dorm.
The rules now go to the University of Texas System Regents for review. If no changes are made within 90 days, the rules will be final.