University of Texas at Austin Students Can Bring Handguns to Class This Fall, Per New State Law

Texas University Adopts Rules Permitting Gun Possession On Campus
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

02/19/2016 AT 05:40 PM EST

Come August, the more than 50,000 students at the University of Texas at Austin will be able to bring handguns to campus, including class – but not to their dorm rooms, PEOPLE confirms.

At a Wednesday press conference, the university's president outlined the school's recently overhauled guidelines, which will take effect in the upcoming semester.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, school president Gregory Fenves said the school had to update its guidelines because of a new state law – known as "the campus carry law" – that permits licensed Texans to carry handguns in public college buildings. According to the law, which takes effect Aug. 1, weapons need to be in plain sight and secured in either belt or shoulder holsters.

Gregory Fenves, the school's president, told reporters Wednesday he has assembled a special task force that will be charged with implementing the university's amended rules.

In his statement, Fenves said guns have no place in a higher education setting.

"I do not believe handguns belong on a university campus, so this decision has been the greatest challenge of my presidency to date," Fenves wrote in his statement.

"I empathize with the many faculty, staff, students and parents of students who signed petitions, sent emails and letters, and organized to ban guns from campus and especially classrooms," Fenves explained. "As a professor, I understand the deep concerns raised by so many. However, as president, I have an obligation to uphold the law."

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On May 29, 2015, lawmakers approved the new regulation giving Texans the right to bear arms within buildings situated on public college campuses statewide.

Professor: 'This is a Ridiculous Experiment'

Rep. Larry Phillips, who introduced the "campus carry" bill, failed to respond to requests Friday seeking comment. PEOPLE was also denied an opportunity to speak with Fenves.

In Kansas, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Mississippi, Oregon and Wisconsin, students are already authorized to carry concealed handguns to school. Meanwhile, Georgia legislators have been considering a similar measure to allow guns on college campuses.

A growing group of students, staffers and instructors at the University of Texas at Austin has organized under the banner Gun-Free UT.

"You need to feel free to be able to talk about some of the sensitive issues that come up in college and to grow as a person," Ellen Spiro, a professor at the school's Department of Radio, Television, and Film, tells PEOPLE.

Spiro co-founded Gun-Free UT and believes the presence of firearms at the campus will stifle original thought.

"I'm worried students will feel they can't experiment with controversial ideas for fear they could be shot by someone who doesn't agree with them or took offense," Spiro says. "This is a threat to the free speech rights of anybody who has a controversial opinion."

Spiro says Gun-Free UT has retained legal counsel and plans to take its fight against the school's augmented policies to court.

"The school's administration, their hands are tied by the Texas state legislature," Spiro says. "But the professors here feel we have a responsibility to challenge the law. That's our job. This is a ridiculous experiment that could impact the lives of thousands of students. It is pretty sinister, the whole thing."
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