U of I faculty confront new campus gun law

Staff concerns include possible intimidation or dangerous crossfire.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEJuly 4, 2014 

University of Idaho professor Jack Sullivan feels he has a contractual obligation to maintain a safe and nurturing classroom. That's why he plans to put on his syllabus that no firearms, concealed or otherwise, will be permitted in his classes.

The biological sciences educator said he's not sure if that's legal, but it's what he feels is right.

Sullivan isn't opposed to guns. He grew up hunting with his family and remembers the first firearm he purchased. But, he said, allowing guns on campus contradicts the best practices of education - something he and others have dedicated their careers to learning.

That's the difference, he said, between professors and the legislators who passed the guns-on-campus law that went into effect July 1.

The law exempts retired law enforcement officers and people who have enhanced concealed carry permits from regulations that prohibit firearms on college and university campuses.

It came despite unanimous opposition from the presidents of state colleges and universities and the State Board of Education. With the law a reality, faculty are left with more concerns than answers.

"I still don't know what's permitted with the law that's been passed, so I don't know what my reaction should be," said Sullivan, who has worked at U of I since 1997.

Jenni Light, associate professor at Lewis Clark State College in Lewiston, said she's not sure how she will handle the potential of firearms in her classroom.

Light teaches engineering and also grew up around guns. She said she will probably spend more time talking about respect and what it looks like in the classroom.

"I work hard to create a safe and comfortable learning environment," she said. "You have to be comfortable to create a learning environment. I'm not too sure how I'm going to address that or how I'm going to address that level of anxiety."

Despite repeated attempts, the Tribune was unable to locate anyone at U of I or LCSC who supported the new law.

LCSC chemistry professor Rachel Jameton doesn't know how to handle two conflicting mandates she has for her laboratory, which contains organic solvents, oxidants and other flammable chemicals. She said the college is required by the state to have a chemical safety plan that keeps such materials in a secure environment. "We keep flame away from them," she said.

Now the state has mandated that some people can bring guns into the same environment. Adding a gun to the mix runs the risk of an accidental discharge. As of now, she plans to continue prohibiting firearms in the lab.

Trish Hartzell, U of I faculty senate chairwoman, has heard some teachers talking about changing office hours and questioning whether they'll feel more pressure to raise a student's grade because they could be armed.

Jodie Nicotra, a U of I English professor, said she is concerned about the added responsibility on graduate assistants. First-year English classes are taught by graduate students.

"So I worry that people who are teaching for the first time, in many cases, just don't have the experience to manage this (law)," she said.

Sullivan said he also fears that if there is a shooting on campus, the addition of more guns could lead to more shots fired and more casualties. It also creates an issue for law enforcement if there are multiple shooters without an indication of who's who.

"So that's the argument - the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Sullivan said. "The issue is too complicated for sound bites like that."

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