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Opinion: Forcing guns on Georgia's campuses violates state constitution

Michelle Haberland is a professor of history at Georgia Southern University. She is a member of the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action. In this piece, she argues politicians should not decide whether guns belong in Georgia classrooms and goes back in state history to fortify her case.

Haberland applauds the lawsuit filed this week by six veteran Georgia professors seeking an injunction to stop campus carry. Enacted in July, the campus carry law allows licensed permit holders to carry concealed guns on certain areas of public college campuses. Contending the law is dangerous and unconstitutional, the professors maintain in their suit that campus carry usurps the University System of Georgia’s constitutional authority over its campuses.

In this piece, Haberland agrees.

By Dr. Michelle Haberland

I am proud to be a professor at Georgia Southern University. I take my responsibilities to my students and the campus community seriously, and I am honored that my students come to my classroom ready to learn every day.

I believe one of my most important responsibilities as a professor is to foster honest dialogue, and encourage my students to air disagreements. That’s why I was so alarmed when Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation last year that forces public colleges and universities to allow guns on campuses, including in my classroom. When I heard the news, a flurry of questions raced through my mind.

How am I supposed to encourage students to explore their differences when one or more of them might be armed? When a student comes up to me after class to talk about low test scores or less-than-stellar essay grades, how am I supposed to know the conversation won’t turn violent? Should I pursue the path of professors in other states that force colleges to allow guns on campuses, changing my lesson plans to avoid hot-button topics?

As I pondered these questions, I wondered if the politicians who backed this dangerous policy had considered any of them. I was reminded that guns have no place on college campuses and particularly in classrooms, and that legislators simply didn’t listen to the voices of the students, faculty, administrators and campus law enforcement who repeatedly spoke out against the bill.

Thankfully, this week a group of professors from Georgia took a stand, filing a lawsuit to stop this dangerous policy. They are arguing, rightly, that our state’s constitution gives the authority to make decisions that directly impact the educational process – like whether to allow guns on college campuses and in classrooms – to the university system, not politicians.

As a history professor, one of the things I’ve kept in mind throughout this debate is the origin of  “university self-governance” in Georgia. University self-governance is the idea that politicians and political ideology should not interfere with campus communities.

As the lawsuit lays out, in the 1940s, then-Gov. Eugene Talmadge attacked our state’s public universities, announcing he intended to fire anyone in the university system who supported “racial equality.” When the Board of Regents, which manages the university system, refused to comply with the governor’s demand to fire University of Georgia professor Walter Cocking, whom the governor accused of proposing an integrated demonstration school, the governor began replacing members of the board with people who agreed with him politically.

The governor went on to fire several other faculty and administrators, including Georgia Teachers College (later Georgia Southern University) President Marvin Pittman, and even removed books from the University of Georgia library that advocated for racial equality. During this attack on university self-governance, a number of public colleges and universities in Georgia lost their accreditation. And, the fight only ended when the governor lost his reelection campaign. As a result, our state’s constitution was amended to forbid politicians from intervening in the management of colleges and universities.

In forcing colleges and universities to allow guns on campus, the Georgia Legislature and Gov. Deal have violated this critical safeguard built into our state’s constitution.

They have compromised the education of our students, since guns in classrooms will inhibit what students are comfortable saying and how professors are comfortable teaching. In fact, the professors who filed this lawsuit noted that under this policy they will be more inclined to hold online classes and less inclined to hold in-person office hours, concerned that students can now come to class or to meetings armed.

Most importantly, Gov. Deal and state policymakers have put our safety at risk.

I am thankful to the brave professors who have taken a stand against this short-sighted policy, and I hope the courts will side with them, not politicians.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.