Institutions face workplace climate consequences of campus carry
New legislation breeds concerns over aggressive students and disgruntled employees
Update: An earlier version of this story did not mention current legislation in Tennessee.
A professor steps up to the lectern in a large introductory course and looks out into a sea of faces. A student walks into a lab where hazardous and flammable chemicals are stored. An instructor holds open office hours, allowing students to show up and discuss their grades. An administrator invites a subordinate into her office to go over poor job performance and recent conduct.
All of these scenes are common on college campuses across the country. Only, in a handful of states across the country, any of the individuals in the scenario may soon be carrying concealed firearms. Campus carry laws, as they have come to be known, are striking fear into faculty members, students, staff and campus police at public colleges and universities nationwide. They also have their share of supporters, though on campuses, they seem to be in the distinct minority.
In Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, campuses are awaiting impending implementation of new laws. In Florida, Michigan and Ohio, similar bills are being discussed in the legislature.
While still fairly isolated, the recent success of campus carry bills has created concern that the conversation will become more widespread. And members of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, or CUPA-HR, are watching progress closely.
“Everyone is going to be looking to the states where this is now going to be permitted for guidance, for policy language, for examples of how this is being implemented on campus,” said Andy Brantley, president and CEO of CUPA-HR.
Brantley has two key recommendations for HR professionals in states with campus carry.
- Create very clear policies and procedures that outline where firearms are — and are not — permitted on campus, and communicate those clearly to stakeholders across the entire campus.
- Develop a strong working relationship with campus police and public safety officers as new policies are implemented and monitored.
While much of the public dialogue around campus carry has focused on potential dangers represented by students carrying concealed firearms, Brantley highlights concerns for managers and supervisors in the various departments and administrative offices on campuses. One recent conversation questioned whether campuses should, as a rule, ask campus police to be present for any disciplinary meetings with staff. But difficult conversations happen all over campus virtually every day.
“Most campuses aren’t staffed to handle that,” Brantley said.
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, Inc., or IACLEA, took an official position against concealed carry on college and university campuses in 2008. In a position statement, the association wrote that there is no credible evidence to suggest such policies reduce violence, and, in contrast, they have the potential to dramatically increase it. One concern outlined in the statement is that campus police would have a hard time distinguishing between active shooters and other armed bystanders in emergency situations.
But William Taylor, president of IACLEA and chief of police at Collin College in Texas, said there have been lessons learned since then, and while the organization cannot come to a clear consensus on the issue, he sees a track record in states that have allowed campus carry for some years now that is not especially troubling.
“Our concerns are one thing, but what has actually happened so far is it has not been a problem,” Taylor said. He expects the new policies to be implemented and the furor to die down fairly quickly.
Both chambers of the Georgia legislature have already approved a measure that would allow guns on public college and university campuses in all buildings except living spaces and athletic events. The fight goes on, however, as Gov. Nathan Deal calls for a number of additonal exceptions. Tennessee's version looks a little different: if signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, it would not explicitly allow guns on campus, but would inhibit postesecondary institutions from taking any adverse action against students or employees who have carry permits "solely" for having guns in their vehicles.
And in the meantime, all eyes will be on Texas, when public campuses begin allowing concealed carry in classrooms in August.
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