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CU profs can't cancel classes if student is legally carrying a gun, administrator says

Earlier this week, we told you about CU-Boulder's new regs concerning concealed-carry permits -- changes necessitated by a Colorado Supreme Court ruling allowing them on campus two years after the university added Nerf guns to its banned weapons list. Shortly thereafter, one professor said he'd cancel class if he learned a student was packing heat -- an announcement that prompted CU administrator Phil DiStefano to fire a warning shot.

Jerry Peterson is among the most distinguished instructors on the CU-Boulder campus -- a professor of physics who's also a Jefferson Science Fellow for the U.S. Department of State and a faculty member in the schools international affairs program. But he doesn't appear to be a big fan of students being strapped. He told the Boulder Daily Camera, "My own personal policy in my classes is if I am aware that there is a firearm in the class -- registered or unregistered, concealed or unconcealed -- the class session is immediately canceled." He added, "I want my students to feel unconstrained in their discussions."

Such a statement by a professor of Peterson's stature brings with it the prospect of mutiny -- a response that could undo CU's carefully calibrated response to the Supreme Court's order that it allow concealed carry. No surprise, then, that DiStefano, CU's chancellor, would rush out a statement telling Peterson and any other professor ready to go rogue on weapons that it's not allowed.

In an e-mail to faculty that's also been published on the CU website, DiStefano writes that "I have the utmost respect for Professor Peterson, who is an old friend and valued colleague." However, DiStefano promptly adds that Peterson's announced policy "directly violates Colorado law and the operating principles of the campus. Faculty do not have the right to shut down a class or to refuse to teach merely because a student in that class is carrying a handgun under a concealed carry permit."

He frames this violation in terms that liberal Boulderites will presumably understand: discrimination. In his words, "Such actions discriminate not only against the concealed carry permit holder -- who is exercising a basic right granted under Colorado law -- they deprive all other students of the education they have paid for and have a right to."

Even after the Aurora theater shooting, allegedly perpetrated by onetime CU-Denver graduate student James Holmes, plenty of folks on the CU campus are uncomfortable with the idea of people carrying guns with them as they go about their studies, even if they're entirely within their legal right to do so. As such, Peterson's remarks, and DiStefano's swift reply, are unlikely to be the last words on this very difficult subject.

Here's DiStefano's entire e-mail to faculty.

Many of you are aware that last March the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the University of Colorado Board of Regents lacks the authority to enact any provision against the Colorado Concealed Carry law. Last week, as I'm sure you are aware, we informed the campus and the public of how the law would be implemented on campus, with provisions for concealed carry permit holders to live in graduate student apartments.

I want to take this opportunity to clarify what concealed carry will mean for the campus, in light of recent media reports quoting BFA chair Jerry Peterson's position that he will not teach any class if he becomes aware that a student is carrying a weapon. Safety and a classroom environment conducive to learning were clearly at the center of Professor Peterson's comments, but it is important that those comments are not misconstrued with respect to what the rights and responsibilities of our faculty and staff are as they pertain to the recent Supreme Court ruling on the concealed carry permit issue.

I have the utmost respect for Professor Peterson, who is an old friend and valued colleague, but I want to make clear that if the student carrying the weapon has a concealed carry permit, the position implied by Professor Peterson's comments directly violates Colorado law and the operating principles of the campus. Faculty do not have the right to shut down a class or to refuse to teach merely because a student in that class is carrying a handgun under a concealed carry permit.

Such actions discriminate not only against the concealed carry permit holder - who is exercising a basic right granted under Colorado law - they deprive all other students of the education they have paid for and have a right to. On this issue there can be no ambiguity: all CU-Boulder faculty, as CU and state employees, are expected to teach their assigned courses and to hold class for all enrolled students. Cancelling a class because of who is enrolled in it is never acceptable. Faculty who do this violate the terms of their contract with the University and face departmental discipline.

I understand that, given recent events in Aurora, Texas and Wisconsin, people are on edge regarding issues of firearms. But I also believe this moment requires calm, focus, and a clear commitment to the law. I further believe we have a safe campus, one of the finest police forces in the country, and a conscientious faculty of integrity, talent and commitment. We need to trust in these things, and in one another, while continuing to be vigilant about safety procedures and practices.

If you have questions, please feel free to email the office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs (faculty), the Interim Vice Chancellor for Administration (staff) or the Office of Student Affairs (students). I believe it is time to proceed with the important work of teaching, research and service with the launch of a new academic year, trusting in our training, experience and values to guide our community.

I know our faculty, staff and students will rise to this occasion as they always do.

More from our Education archive: "CU-Boulder doesn't think gun restrictions discriminate against concealed-carry holders."


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