Even when faculty accept the distinction between training for a profession and education for citizenship, conflicts arise between their role as teachers and their rights as citizens. Some teachers use class time to advocate partisan political positions. I disapprove, but understand they believe the right to free speech guaranteed under the US Constitution‘s First Amendment justifies their activities. Recently the University of Colorado faced a conflict involving the Second Amendment.
The US Supreme Court has affirmed the Second Amendment‘s Right to Bear Arms as an individual right of American citizens. When the state of Colorado informed public institutions that they had to respect these decisions, the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents challenged its application to CU, as Coloradoans call the University, by appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court, which re-affirmed the right of students with concealed carry permits to bear arms on campus. The chair of the Boulder Faculty Assembly told the Boulder Daily Camera that, if a student entered his class with a gun, he would leave the classroom and refuse to teach the class. The Chancellor of CU’s Boulder campus then issued a strongly worded public statement asserting that faculty at CU-Boulder have a contractual obligation to meet their classes and a legal duty to respect their students’ rights under the US Constitution.
Many faculty believe that permitting concealed carry weapons on a university campus is an unwise and unjust policy. Although the right has been established by legislative enactment and confirmed by judicial review, they still feel they have a right to refuse to teach students who are legally armed. On the other hand, teachers who find affirmative action in university admissions an unwise and unjust policy understand that we do not have the right to refuse to teach a class because the beneficiary of an affirmative action set-aside has enrolled. Faculty members acknowledge that citizens have duties as well as rights, since citizens obviously have a duty to pay taxes to fund public education. They find their rights to academic freedom and free speech just as obvious. Like their fellow Americans faculty sometimes fail to see that duties and rights are two sides of the same coin. For them rights always trump duties. It is a lesson we often teach our students without being aware of it, no matter what our academic discipline.