AUSTIN — An attempt by three University of Texas at Austin professors to prevent licensed permit holders from carrying their concealed handguns while attending classes was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel on Aug. 22.
Named as defendants in the professors’ lawsuit were Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, UT President Gregory L. Fenves and each member of the UT Board of Regents. The campus carry policy that sparked the lawsuit was approved by the board of regents in accordance with Senate Bill 11, a law passed by the state Legislature in 2015 allowing concealed carry on public university campuses. The law took effect Aug. 1 and the first day of classes was Aug. 24.
In their lawsuit, the professors asserted that classroom discussion would be “circumscribed by the near-certain presence of loaded guns” and that their ability to “make (their classrooms) truly a marketplace for the robust exchange of ideas will be impaired.” Their suit also argued that the new law and policy made them “incentivized to err on the side of ‘trimming their sails,’ academically speaking, when they push for classroom debate.”
In his ruling, however, Yeakel ruled that the law and the policy did not compromise their academic freedom in violation of the First Amendment, did not deny them due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and are not unconstitutionally vague.
Meanwhile, on the first day of classes, thousands of UT students reacted to the ruling and drew widespread media attention by attending on-campus rallies against guns in classrooms and openly carrying sex toys.
Transgender guidelines on hold
A Fort Worth federal court on Aug. 21 halted the U.S. Department of Education’s new guidelines proposing to create a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for transgender students in public schools. The guidelines would have allowed transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
In the case brought by the State of Texas and 12 other states, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted the plaintiffs injunctive relief. O’Connor concluded that the Department of Education failed to comply with the federal Administrative Procedures Act by: (1) foregoing the act’s notice and comment requirements; and (2) issuing directives which contradict the existing legislative and regulatory texts.
O’Connor forbade the Department of Education from enforcing the guidelines against the plaintiffs and their respective schools, school boards and other public, educationally based institutions. O’Connor further instructed that all parties maintain the status quo until the court rules on the merits of this claim or until further direction from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Many teachers work 2 jobs
Almost a third of teachers (31 percent) responding to a Texas State Teachers Association survey hold outside jobs during the school year to support themselves and their families, TSTA reported Aug. 25.
The extra jobs are in addition to the 17 hours the respondents said they spend on average each week outside the classroom on teaching-related tasks, such as grading papers and preparing lesson plans, the association said.
The survey, conducted for TSTA by faculty members at Sam Houston State University, found that 49 percent of respondents had summer jobs.
Respondents also reported spending an average $656 a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies and an average $326 a month on health insurance premiums.
Furthermore, TSTA reported, “Public education funding in Texas lags almost $2,700 per student below the national average and teacher pay falls more than $6,000 below the national average.”
Mobility improvements to come
The Texas Transportation Commission on Aug. 25 approved the 2017 Unified Transportation Program with $70 billion worth of projects to help TxDOT meet the state’s growing transportation demands.
Developed with extensive public input and legislative approval, the 10-year plan targets congestion in the state’s most-populated areas and includes projects to better connect the major interstates in rural areas with local roads and highways, according to the Commission. Outside urban areas, the program calls for enhancing and completing interstate highways, as well as addressing the continuing needs within the energy sector and along hurricane evacuation routes.
“The Unified Transportation Program reflects TxDOT’s commitment to planning for and meeting the mobility needs of our fast-growing state,” said Transportation Commission Chairman Tryon Lewis.
Ed Sterling is the director of member services for Texas Press Association.