Faculty considers changing classroom practices as a result of campus carry

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Conceal and Carry Protest

A crowd gathers on Wescoe beach to protest the conceal and carry rule going into effect on July 1, 2017. Professor Eve Levin speaks about the history department's personal relationship with gun violence during the protest.

Editor's Note: This story is the third in a series of stories looking at the way concealed carry on campus will look once it goes into effect July 1.

Each new semester brings a new round of syllabi, but this semester professors will include a new added section of information that addresses concealed carry on campus. As the University prepares to shift to an environment where students are legally allowed to bring concealed handguns to class, this will be just one of many preparations.

In response to the arrival of concealed weapons on July 1 as a result of a 2013 state law, professors are taking steps to adjust their teaching style, class content, office hours or even seeking employment elsewhere.

Aerospace engineering professor Ron Barrett Gonzalez, president of the Kansas chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said this is because many faculty members are concerned that concealed carry will have a chilling effect in classrooms.

“I know a nontrivial number of faculty members who are changing their syllabus. What a number of faculty members are scaling back are some of those aspects that may be seen as terribly controversial,” Barrett Gonzalez said. “The chill that we are in seeing in an active, open and honest discourse is a continuous slide that, in my opinion, is an affront to our First Amendment and academic freedom.”

This is especially true for classes that cover controversial topics. Professor Cécile Accilien, who teaches classes in the African and African-American Studies department, said she is concerned that this chilling effect will impact the quality of her classes.

“At a conscious and subconscious level, I think it will be very hard for me to be the same passionate teacher that I was this past semester,” she said. “It's not just about my safety, but the safety of the other students in the class. (...) My students may become less critical thinkers. I will push them less and in terms of my teaching it will change.” 

According to a 2015 Docking Institute survey on campus carry, 82 percent of faculty members don't support campus carry and 61 percent would let it affect their decision to work at the University.

Changing classroom practices

Barrett Gonzalez said campus carry has driven some professors to rethink the way they teach.

One option is using online classes or hybrid classes for faculty and students who may not feel comfortable in a classroom with potentially armed peers, Barrett Gonzalez said. For example, he plans to offer virtual versions of his classroom lectures.

“I understand that a nontrivial number of students are uneasy being in a classroom where their classmates may be armed,” he said. “I understand that. To accommodate to the students, I’m working to offer a virtual Dr. Barrett.”

Other faculty members are taking more drastic steps. English professor Maryemma Graham said she won’t be teaching classes this semester, but instead will focus on the other aspects of her job, like research and mentoring.

In addition, she said that she has begun looking for a new job outside the University. 

“What we are doing at colleges and universities is helping people change and transform into the best people they can be,” Graham said. “Our job is to create a space where that's done as safely, openly and honestly as possible. So when you start using the word concealed it’s the opposite of that.”

Accilien said she is considering adjusting or not offering her office hours. According to the University’s concealed carry website, professors are only allowed to keep guns out of their offices if they have adequate security measures, which would include metal detectors and armed personnel at the entrance.

“I wouldn't be comfortable having a student who’s drunk come to my office and bring their alcohol,” she said. “To me, it's the same thing.”

The Kansas Board of Regents policy does allow faculty members in a single office to lock their doors, as long as it doesn't interfere with office hours.

Guidance from administration

Aside from the information provided on the concealed carry website and in the information sessions hosted by the University, the only guidance faculty have received is information on suggested syllabus language, University spokesperson Erinn Barcomb Peterson said in an email.

She said the suggested syllabus language “included detailed wording for courses that have labs and field trips.” It also had information for professors who require students to store their backpacks and belongings away from them during tests or lab. 

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Graham said the University has failed to show its opposition to the change during this transition and that has put faculty in difficult positions. 

“The University did not stand up against this as a whole, only faculty and students did, so we didn't have the leadership to make it really clear that they were trying their best for the students,” Graham said. “All along the assumption has been that there's nothing you can do about it and that's the problem I have." 

Some departments have taken it upon themselves to provide training or information, including Accilien’s which had the department meet with the Public Safety Office.

Accilien said it’s disappointing that some people don’t think campus carry is a big deal. To her, it means they aren’t thinking about the vulnerable people who are either marginalized or aren't legally allowed to carry guns, like international students and faculty and students under 21. 

“A lot of people aren't thinking about their position and privilege. Unfortunately I don’t have that luxury to not think about my position as a women, as a person of color, I'm an immigrant,” she said. “Too many people aren't thinking about all of the different aspects of this.”