Staff Council and Campus Carry

The passage and pending implementation of campus carry is drawing increasing attention on the 40 acres and around the country. Recently, our campus was the subject of a New York Times op-ed. There were quotes from Faculty Council and Student Government leadership, but not from Staff Council.

To be clear, Frank Bruni did not contact me asking for a quote. However, Staff Council’s absence from the article speaks to a debate that has been simmering amongst staff since the bill passed last legislative session. Many people believe that Staff Council has been effectively silent on the issue of campus carry.

I do not agree. We have discussed the issue with university and system leadership, including Chancellor McRraven and President Fenves. I believe our purpose in those meetings was not to express one opinion or another on behalf of staff, but rather to ensure our leadership knew this was an issue many staff felt passionately about, and that staff wanted an opportunity for their opinions to be heard. We were also able to communicate the varied nature of staff opinion on the issue of concealed handguns. Finally, staff – including current Staff Council representatives – are active participants on the president’s working group and campus subcommittees helping to implement the law.

While I am one to believe that everything can always be done better, I think that staff and the community at large have had, and continue to have, ample opportunity for their voices to be heard on this issue. Staff Council meetings provide a forum for staff to discuss and debate any issue, and the council leadership has stood ready to communicate staff sentiment to the president. Through this, as well as through public and online forums, I believe staff have had every opportunity to express themselves.

When staff turned to me and asked me to distribute information to our council representatives about a group opposed to guns on campus, I felt passing that information along was the right thing to do. I would have done the same thing if approached by staff who asked me to distribute information about a group in support of guns on campus. I am sorry to have found out that some people on campus disagree, but I stand by the decision and welcome further debate on the issue.

Some have also complained about Staff Council’s unwillingness to take a position on this issue and advocate for a given perspective. When the bill was moving through the Legislature, Staff Council began discussing the issue and the question was raised: would Staff Council propose and vote on a resolution formally supporting or opposing campus carry?

When campus carry was being debated in the Legislature, university leadership opposed the legislation. As chair of Staff Council, I believe there should be compelling reasons to oppose the university’s leadership. In my opinion, the risk for this issue was that regardless of the outcome of a vote, Staff Council would be put in a compromised position.

If representatives voted in support of campus carry, Staff Council would be alone as an institutional stakeholder supporting legislation that was likely to pass anyway. This was a risk I thought pointless to take, as there would be no change in the end result.

Similarly, if Staff Council voted in opposition to the legislation, it risked alienating colleagues on campus without a material change in the end result. I believe Staff Council is about bridging gaps across campus and bringing staff together – why drive staff apart with no payoff other than being another voice in the crowd?

As the campus carry working group has convened to issue recommendations on implementing the law, the debate has regained momentum, and new challenges for Staff Council have arisen. More specifically, renewed pressure has mounted for Staff Council to formally take a stand on the issue. While I continue to resist the need to be an advocate one way or another on the issue, I do feel Staff Council cannot reside completely out of the limelight.

We continue providing a forum for discussion and debate, something that I believe is of great service to our campus. We will continue to be active participants in our community, continue to help guide staff who are unsure where else to turn, and continue doing our best to help the true decision makers on our campus make more informed decisions.

An overriding debate throughout has been, what exactly is Staff Council’s role, and when, if ever, is Staff Council supposed to get involved in political issues such as campus carry?

I do not think that there is a single answer to this question. No two issues are the same, no two moments in time the same. There is no simple logic that can uniformly be applied to issues as they arise. Staff Council exists to be a partner on campus, to help our leaders achieve their vision for improving our university, and to do so in a way that recognizes, rewards, and takes seriously the centrality of staff in those endeavors. As chair, I will do my best to see that Staff Council’s actions are grounded in these principles.

Posted in UTSC Chair

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