Welcome to Wild West U: Kutztown University Opens Campus to Guns

This post originally appeared in Raging Chicken Press earlier today. If you are interested in this issue, I will continue to follow this issue as over the next few weeks – KM

Just over a week before Kutztown University will welcome the families and friends of soon-to-be graduates, the university has decided to revise a long-standing policy in order to welcome guns onto its 289 acre campus. While the massacre of students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT is still fresh in people’s minds and the families of the victims are still canvassing the nation in support of reasonable gun control policies, KU President Javier Cevallos and his Administrative Council decided that now was the time to make it easier for students, faculty, and staff to carry weapons on campus.

Kutztown’s previous policy, which appeared on the university’s web page as recent as April 23, banned the “possession or use of firearms, explosives, other weapons or dangerous chemicals on university premises.” The 83 word policy was replaced by a two page policy on the “Possession of Deadly or Offensive Weapons on Kutztown University Campus,” detailing the policy, its purpose and scope. In a May 3 email sent by the president of the local chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF, Dr. Paul Quinn provided faculty with copies of the old and the new policy, saying that “Administrative Council discussed it at their last meeting, and it is now posted on the website.” Vigorous discussion of the issue is expected at the next APSCUF-KU Representative Council meeting later today.

The most significant difference between the old policy and the new policy has to do with what is omitted. The old policy prohibits weapons on “university premises,” while the new policy prohibits weapons only in “Kutztown University academic buildings, administrative buildings, student residence halls (both university owned or leased), dining facilities, student union buildings, athletic facilities, recreation centers, or while attending a sporting, entertainment or educational event on the university property or sponsored by the university.” In other words, you can carry weapons on campus as long as you do not enter a university building or participate in a university event. That leaves quite a bit of room to roam across Kutztown’s beautifully manicured campus while packing your favorite Glock.

When asked why Kutztown University’s administration decided to make changes to the policy at this time, Matthew Santos, Director of University Relations, said that “in conversation with other presidents across PASSHE [Pennsylvania’s 14 university State System of Higher Education] and conversations with legal, the time seemed right as other universities were making individual decisions.”

Kutztown’s administration initially seemed to indicate that the change in policy was the result of a directive from PASSHE’s Chancellor’s Office or Board of Governors. Santos said that it was his understanding the change in policy “goes beyond our administration.” He said that it was his understanding that the Pennsylvania Attorney General stated that banning weapons on PASSHE campuses is not legally defensible in court. PASSHE and other state agencies were advised that they would have to adopt policies that were less than an outright ban. According to Santos, PASSHE could not dictate a system-wide policy, so they provided a model policy for each university to use in revising their policies.

However, Dennis Fisher, Acting Press Secretary for newly elected Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, the Attorney General’s Office as a “hard and fast rule” does not entertain questions for organizations or institutions who want to know how to craft a policy that would withstand a court challenge. He said that the Attorney General’s office certainly did not do anything official and that lawyers for PASSHE universities are “on their own” when it comes to fashioning their policies. Fisher said that as far as he knew the only way the Attorney General’s Office would come across this would be in the normal course of business – that is, if someone brought suit that would involve the AG’s office.

If such a model policy was distributed to each of the 14 PASSHE universities, most are either unaware of such a model policy or are unwilling to acknowledge that their respective administrations have been advised to change their policies. For example, California University of Pennsylvania’s weapons policy is similar to Kutztown’s original policy:

The possession of firearms or other weapons by any person on Cal U’s campus is prohibited. If you must possess a weapon while at the University, you must complete a form to store it at the University Police Department. You will need a valid reason for having a weapon while at the University, e.g., hunting or membership in a firearms shooting club. Violators are subject to University discipline procedures and criminal prosecution.

However, according to California’s Director of Communications and Public Relations, Christine Kindl, the university has “heard no concerns about our weapons policy.”

When asked if Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) had received any directives or advice from PASSHE’s Chancellor’s Office or from the Attorney General’s Office to allow guns on their campus, Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations, Michelle Fryling, replied simply, “No.”

IUP prohibits all employees from “introducing, possessing, using, buying, or selling unauthorized weapons, firearms, ammunition, explosives, or items deemed by campus police to be dangerous.” Any exception must receive written authorization from the campus police chief. According to IUP’s Student Policy Guide, The Source, students are prohibited from the “possession and/or use of any weapon, which is any object used to inflict a wound or cause injury.” Furthermore, IUP housing FAQ states:

Neither firearms nor other weapons are permitted anywhere in IUP residence halls or apartments. Firearms/weapons include, but are not limited to, the following: rifles, shotguns, ammunition, gunpowder, fireworks, nun-chucks, air rifles, air pistols, knives, BB guns, bows and arrows, dart guns, paintball guns, and look-alike weapons. Hunters and others must register firearms and store them with University Police.

Likewise, Millersville University’s Director of Communications, Janet Kacskos, said that Millersville hasn’t “had any rumblings about changing our gun policy.” Millersville’s policy prohibits the possession of “deadly and offensive weapons on a property owned or controlled” by the university. Unlike California’s policy, Millersville’s policy provides a means to get an exception to the policy “for compelling reasons related to their personal safety,” but such a request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the University Chief of Police.

According to Kutztown University, Millersville’s policy was one of the examples Kutztown used to help rewrite its own policy. Upon first glance, the language of Kutztown’s policy seems to mirror Millersville’s procedure for gaining an exception to a weapons prohibition. Under Section 3.c, “Procedures,” the Millersville policy reads as follows:

This prohibition against deadly and offensive weapons on a property owned or controlled by Millersville University applies equally to those persons who have a government issued license to carry a concealed deadly weapon. Any University employee or student having such a license and wishing to carry their weapon on University property for compelling reasons related to their personal safety must request an exception to this policy by contacting the University Chief of Police. Such requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

By contrast, under Section B, “Scope,” the Kutztown University policy reads:

This policy applies to all persons who are enrolled, employed by, visiting, or providing  services to Kutztown University. This policy applies equally to those persons who have a government issued license to carry a concealed firearm. Any university employee or student having such a license and wishing to carry their weapon on university property for compelling reasons related to their personal safety must request an exception to this policy by contacting the University Chief of Police. Such requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Upon reading this section of Kutztown’s new policy, many faculty, staff, and students have breathed a little sigh of relief. While not happy with the ability to carry a weapon on campus, some have grudgingly accepted that at least the University Police will have oversight of students, faculty, staff, or members of the public who want to legally carry their weapon on campus. It’s not like Kutztown is just allowing guns on campus, right? (Insert nervous laughter here).

But two things troubled me about that reading of the policy. First, Kutztown included this language under Section B,“Scope,” not under Section D, “Policy and Procedure.” That bothered me because if it is necessary to request an exception from University Police to carry a weapon on campus, that seems like a procedure. But, maybe the difference was cosmetic. Second, while the Millersville policy prohibits weapons on “a property owned or controlled by Millersville University,” no such language exists in the Kutztown policy. Kutztown’s policy seems to restrict the definition of “property” solely to university buildings and prohibit weapons on the rest of campus only during an “entertainment or educational event.” But this is splitting hairs, isn’t it?

I have worked at Kutztown University and have been an active member in our faculty union long enough to know to trust my gut on this stuff. In one of my first emails to Kutztown’s Director of University of Relations, Matt Santos, I asked him “ How does the university policy deal with the following two situations?”

  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That individual comes to campus carrying a concealed weapon, walks around campus, sits down by the waterfall, converses with friends. S/he does not enter a university building or participate in an event. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?

  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator drives to campus and parks in a university parking lot. In the trunk of the individual’s car is a rifle, a shotgun, and handgun. The individual gets out of their car, locks the car doors and goes into a university building. The guns remain in the trunk of the car. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?

He responded quickly saying that he needed to research the issue a bit and would get back to me. Later that afternoon, Santos replied with this:

You are correct. In both situations the individual would be in compliance with the new firearms policy under KU’s policy.

Following a series of email exchanges with some faculty members who were convinced that Kutztown’s new policy did, in fact, require students or faculty to apply for permission to bring weapons on campus, I began to doubt my earlier exchange with Santos. I wanted to make sure that I was correctly reporting the implications of the university’s new policy. So, I sent Santos another email that included this:

I am getting some conflicting information about what Kutztown’s policy actually means – and it seems that stems from some ambiguity between the “Scope” section of the policy and the “Policy and Procedures” section. In one of my first emails, I gave you two scenarios and asked if a person would be compliant with the new policy. Here are the two scenarios again:

  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That individual comes to campus carrying a concealed weapon, walks around campus, sits down by the waterfall, converses with friends. S/he does not enter a university building or participate in an event. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?
  • A student/faculty member/staff member/administrator drives to campus and parks in a university parking lot. In the trunk of the individual’s car is a rifle, a shotgun, and handgun. The individual gets out of their car, locks the car doors and goes into a university building. The guns remain in the trunk of the car. Is this individual in compliance with the new policy or in violation?

You responded: “You are correct. In both situations the individual would be in compliance with the new firearms policy under KU’s policy. “

I just want to double-check with you and make sure that is accurate before I run my story.

Once again, Santos was quite helpful in his response. He wrote:

The two scenarios you presented would be compliant under the new policy.  I checked this with our police department.

So there’s that.

Kutztown University: Outlier by Choice

After reviewing the weapons policies at all of the 14 PASSHE universities, only Slippery Rock University is as welcoming to guns on campus as Kutztown. Slippery Rock’s current policy went into effect August 12, 2012:

The possession or carrying of any weapon by any person is prohibited in academic buildings, administrative buildings, student residence buildings, dining facilities, recreational facilities, student centers, or while attending a sporting, entertainment, recreational or educational event on the university’s property. Entry into these buildings, in violation of this prohibition, will result in the individual being directed to remove the weapon immediately from University property.

Slippery Rock’s policy may prove to be even more permissive than Kutztown’s, making no mention of a need to apply for an exception to the policy through university police. However, given that a one is only required to apply for an exception to Kutztown’s policy if he or she wishes to bring a gun or other weapon into a building or to a university event, the difference may be negligible.

According to Matt Santos, Kutztown’s administration consulted policies from Millersville, West Chester, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock in rewriting their weapons policy. Reading each of these university’s policies, I find it difficult to see how Kutztown used them to craft their own. Rather, the administration seemed to choose the policy most open to guns and other weapons — Slippery Rock’s — and copy it. But, just to make sure I am not missing something, I emailed Millersville, West Chester, Shippensburg, and Slippery Rock the same two situations I sent to Santos and asked them if the individuals in those situations would be in compliance with their policies. I’ll let you know how they respond.

One of the biggest ironies of the Kutztown University administration’s embrace of guns on campus is that KU President, Javier Cevallos, along with the presidents of five other PASSHE universities (including Slippery Rock), personally signed Kutztown University on to a resolution sponsored by the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus. A total of 369 colleges and universities that signed the resolution nationwide. The Campaign’s resolution reads:

Whereas, following school shootings at Virginia Tech (2007) and Northern Illinois University (2008), the gun lobby’s response was to promote legislation that would prohibit colleges and universities across the country from regulating firearms on college campuses and allow students to possess and carry concealed handguns; and

Whereas, legislation has been introduced in at least 18 states that would prohibit colleges and universities from adopting policies that regulate possession of firearms on campus; and

Whereas, one state – Utah – passed legislation in 2004 that prohibits public schools or state institutions of higher education from adopting or enforcing any “policy pertaining to firearms that in any way inhibits or restricts the possession or use of firearms on either public or private property;” and

Whereas, colleges and universities have a legal duty to adopt policies to promote a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff, and

Whereas, the vast majority of educational and law enforcement professionals believe that prohibiting firearms on college campuses, except by trained security officers, is an essential element of an overall school safety plan; therefore

(Name of Institution/Organization) is opposed to legislation that would

preempt an educational institution’s right to prohibit or adopt policies to regulate possession of firearms on campus.

Apparently, one can gain some good press by standing tall against legislation that would prevent colleges and universities from prohibiting guns on campus and then pass policies designed to expand the number of guns allowed on campus. This is perhaps a double irony for Kutztown University community members who heard President Cevallos cite “children’s safety on a college campus in light of the Virginia Tech shootings,” as one of the justifications he used to close the Early Learning Center in 2010 – a pre-K, Lab School that traces back to the founding of the university.

Santos said that he was unsure whether or not Kutztown University would have to be removed from the Campaign’s supporters list. When I asked him how President Cevallos felt about the new policy given his previous support for the Campaign’s efforts to keep guns off campus, Santos replied,

Dr. Cevallos did sign the resolution. However, he also recognizes the importance of the Second Amendment in relation to this policy. He still believes in keeping guns off campus, and the way this policy is written, they are not allowed in our buildings, at events, etc.

When I began looking into Kutztown’s policy change, it appeared that Kutztown University administrators changed policy in response to prompts from PASSHE and the Attorney General to do so. However, the more PASSHE university policies I read and the more PASSHE university officials I spoke to, something didn’t sit right about that. So, I sent Matthew Santos yet another email in hopes of better understanding what motivated the change. I wrote:

Can you help me understand the process here, because I am a little confused about the reason KU changed its policy now. Initially, I thought you were saying that PASSHE and/or the Attorney General were requiring the change. However, here you say that the administration DID NOT receive a directive, only guidance. That suggests to me that Kutztown was not required to make the change in policy, but CHOSE to make those changes at this time.

Santos replied with three simple words: “That is accurate.”

So, we can put aside the arguments that Kutztown administrators were “just following orders,” or that there was “nothing they could do.” No. Kutztown University administrators made a choice. They CHOSE to open up the campus to more guns, just in time for Commencement. Congratulations to the graduates of Wild West U, class of 2013.

For those of us left behind, there’s this:

Bust Your Knee Caps – Pomplamoose

O.K. Corral

3 thoughts on “Welcome to Wild West U: Kutztown University Opens Campus to Guns

  1. Three aspects of this issues seem to beg raising:

    (1) What is the point in allowing guns to be carried on university grounds but not in university buildings or at university events? Unless the point is to allow guns everywhere but it seems politically expedient to do so in stages. Since the gun lobby is always making much use of slippery slope, I will risk being accused of using one here. But truly, unless there has been a wave of attacks on students as they walk between the parking lots and the buildings, what else could be the reason for such a decision?

    (2) Why are these changes in policy occurring at two of the more rural campuses in the Commonwealth system? I have been to Kutztown and to both Slippery Rock, but much more often to Kutztown. In fact, when I was a graduate student at Lehigh University, I frequently used to visit a used books store just down the long hill from the Kutztown Campus. Granted, it has been a good while since I have been to either campus, and I suppose it is possible that suburban sprawl has now surrounded the small town of Kutztown. But I remember it as a wonderful little college town, not the sort of place where I had any misgivings whatsoever about my safety. So one wonders why such changes in campus gun policy are not occurring at more urban campuses within the system, such as West Chester, where crimes may not be much more frequent on the campus itself but the awareness of vulnerability to crimes may, in general, be much more heightened.. The pattern nationwide has been for very rural campuses, and not the more urban ones, to be most interested in relaxing the prohibition against guns on campus.

    (3) Lastly, what is going to happen when the number of gun incidents at Kutztown and campuses with similar policies starts to increase? If students are leaving guns in their vehicles, those weapons will be available to other students as well. And if someone has the impulse to use a weapon, the possibility of facing larceny charges surely is not going to be a deterrent. My guess is that this skewed shift in the longtime policy against having guns on campuses will become more and more commonplace until institutions start to be sued. Then it will be reversed. Consider the number and scope of the suits faced by Virginia Tech after the massacre there, and that institution had not endorsed the right of anyone but the campus police to carry a weapon on campus.

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