Professor's Got a Gun

June 25, 2007

Next time, if an unhinged student chooses a campus in Las Vegas or Reno instead of Blacksburg, Va., Stavros Anthony wants Nevada’s colleges and universities to be prepared. After April's shootings at Virginia Tech, the Las Vegas police captain and member of the Nevada Board of Regents proposed that the Nevada System of Higher Education protect itself against a similar attack, in part, by enabling faculty and staff members to become reserve police officers.

“Virginia Tech hit home with me, and I thought, ‘What can we do here in Nevada to deal with an issue if, God forbid, if ever happens here?’ The answer, to me, was have more individuals trained to shoot back and kill somebody who’s committing a mass shooting.”

On Thursday, the Nevada Board of Regents gave the go-ahead to four public colleges in the state to develop policies -- which would still require board approval in September -- to allow faculty and staff members to become reserve police officers authorized to carry guns. Anthony is confident that the regents will ultimately approve the plan to allow armed employees on Nevada’s two- and four-year campuses. But administrators and faculty leaders are raising a bevy of practical and philosophical objections to the idea, which they vow to fight.

“This is just not a good idea,” said Bryan Spangelo, professor of biochemistry and chair of the Faculty Senate at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “It seems like a knee-jerk response to a very terrible situation that will result in more guns on campus, more accidents, and more problematic situations that are unintended."

Under Anthony's proposal, which was considered Thursday by the Board of Regents's Cultural Diversity and Security Committee, which Anthony leads, faculty or staff members who sought to become reserve police officers would, if approved by administrators on their campuses, go on paid professional leave to attend a 21-week police academy and go through post-academy training. The colleges and universities would pick up the cost of the training.

The result, Anthony said, would be that campuses would have more people trained to step in if and when a horrific incident like the one at Virginia Tech unfolds on a Nevada campus. "The common denominator" in such incidents is that "you have one person with a gun killing massive amounts of people until police show up, and there's always going to be a lag time," Anthony said. Having more people on a campus capable of stepping in effectively in such a situation would reduce that lag time, he said.

"There are lots of other things we need to do" to make campuses more safe, Anthony said, but most of them -- better lighting, more surveillance, hiring more full-time police officers -- "are very costly and take a lot more time to implement.... I guarantee you there are people who would like to be in a position to defend themselves and others on campus, and we will be putting more police officers on campus without paying them to be full time."

Anthony rejected complaints that his plan would make colleges less safe by injecting more guns onto campuses. "If we were just handing people guns, that would definitely be a concern, but we're going to make them reserve police officers so they have all the training and background," he said. "This is not going to just be some guy with a gun."

Some objections were raised at last week's board meeting, where the regents directed police chiefs at the four system campuses that already have armed police departments -- Community College of Southern Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College, and the Universities of Nevada at Las Vegas and at Reno -- to draft policies for deputizing faculty and staff members. The board will vote on those policies at its next meeting, in August, and Anthony said he was confident they would be approved.

But faculty leaders and some administrators said they believed many if not most people on the campuses opposed the approach, for a mix of reasons.

Some have to do with practical considerations such as cost and lost time. Michael J. McFarlane, vice president for academic affairs at Great Basin College, a two-year institution that would not be affected by the policy as currently constructed, said requiring colleges to pick up the cost of the police training as well as replacing the instructors while on leave would be prohibitive at a time of already tight budgets.

He also said many faculty and staff members have a hard time seeing Anthony's plan as a "significant deterrent to the type of incident that occurred at Virginia Tech.... There is little chance that having more guns on a campus will assure that those guns are in the hands of the right people and in the right place at the time that such a short-duration incident might occur," McFarlane wrote in an e-mail message from the regents' meeting.

McFarlane and Spangelo, the UNLV Faculty Senate chair, also described the discomfort that many faculty members have with the idea of arming campuses to protect them.

Citing Robert Pirsig's concept of the university as the "church of reason," Spangelo said he feared that having faculty members with guns tucked into desk drawers would create an "immediate cultural change" on campuses where openness is a fundamental principle.

"I'd hate to think we'd have people walking around who are armed because of one terrible incident on one campus," said Spangelo, who said Nevada-Las Vegas faculty and staff had responded overwhelmingly negatively to a query he put out asking for feedback on Anthony's idea. "It's a flawed idea to consider bringing something onto the campus that is potentially dangerous as a way to prevent a tragedy that has a very, very small chance of happening to begin with.”

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