Editorials

Physicist adds heat to fight about guns

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg spoke at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2012 as part of an international conference on linear colliders.
Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg spoke at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2012 as part of an international conference on linear colliders. UTA

It would be a shame if Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg were to leave The University of Texas at Austin because of the new law allowing people with state-issued permits to carry concealed handguns into buildings at public universities.

Weinberg, the only Nobel winner who teaches at UT Austin, told fellow faculty members on Monday that he would not allow students to carry guns in his classes.

The Legislature passed the new law last year, and its author, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, says it was intended to allow permit holders to carry guns into classrooms.

Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion last month saying the law does not allow classroom gun bans. The law goes into effect Aug. 1.

Some faculty members at UT Austin have raised a ruckus about the law, and Weinberg’s statement on Monday put a prominent public face on their discontent.

Weinberg discussed his options with reporter Madlin Mekelburg of The Texas Tribune.

“I think I have the right to exclude anyone whose presence would get in the way of my teaching,” he said. “I’m nervous enough about guns, so that would get in the way of my teaching.”

But he might not fight. He might retire, he said.

“I’m way past the age of retirement,” the 82-year-old said. “I love teaching, I want to go on teaching, but I can quit teaching.”

If he stays and ends up facing a lawsuit from a student whom he banned from bringing a gun to class, he’s stand by his conviction.

Will he face that test?

Weinberg teaches one upper-level undergraduate class each semester. This spring, it’s an astrophysics course with 25 students. He insists that students in that class be proficient in calculus so they can keep up with classroom discussions.

It’s always possible that, among the calculus-fluent students at UT Austin who yearn to dive into astrophysics on a Nobel Prize winner’s level, there’s at least one who insists on packing a pistol. But what are the odds?

More likely, Weinberg’s stand will serve as inspiration to other faculty members whose classroom audience is less refined.

UT Austin has not yet set its formal policy on guns, but a task force report sent to President Gregory Fenves did not recommend a ban on guns in classrooms.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee asked UT System Chancellor William McRaven Tuesday what would happen if any professors refused to follow the law. He said university administrators would discuss it with them.

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