In November of 2013, the Senate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador voted to exempt on-duty student police officers from an existing university regulation (8.4) which prohibits all students from bringing weapons onto campus and into classrooms. The revised regulation now allows on-duty student police officers to bring their loaded weapons to class.
This decision, which many believe greatly affects the educational quality and safety of our classrooms, took place with virtually no public discussion. Almost no one with whom I have spoken in the university has heard about this decision and almost everyone I have told about it has expressed opposition to it. This petition asks the Senate to reverse the decision and reinstate the previously existing regulation that prohibits ALL students, including student police officers from bringing weapons onto campus and into classrooms.
There are a number of compelling reasons to be concerned about this change in firearms policy and to insist that the decision allowing firearms in classrooms be reversed.
1. In their consideration, Senators in favor of the exemption argued that on-duty police are allowed to be on campus with guns anyway, when they are called for police emergency. But 'the police' only come on campus with guns for reasons of extreme emergency. To make the emergency protocol the normal operating procedure for everyday classroom use is an unprecedented and frightening development.
2. The reason for this new policy is that the police claim that it is inconvenient for on-duty student Police officers to change out of uniform before coming to class. Is an organizational scheduling problem sufficient reason to impose this enormous change in weapons policy on campus? Have the Senate and police department explored all other possible options? Surely there must be many other ways of solving the minor problem of changing uniforms. The police department is located less than ten minutes from campus. Can they change there? Could they have a change room and locker at the offices of Campus Enforcement and Patrol? And why do Police get such special treatment here? Many other students have equally complex schedules and deal with the inconvenience of having to change before class.
3. Like many others with whom I have spoken, I am frightened by the prospect of a gun in a classroom. I do not think that I can be as focused on teaching in the presence of a gun. The President of the Graduate Students Union has said, in a letter to the Telegram, that he thinks he could not be as effective a student in the presence of guns. Would you want to be a student sitting next to someone with a gun? Do you feel free to speak your mind in the presence of a gun? These are important questions about basic principles of university life: can the threat of violence and force coexist with the spirit of education?
4.There are also basic questions of personal safety to be raised. There is a powerful argument to be made that introducing a gun into a situation makes it a more dangerous situation. What if, for instance, the lone student Police officer, his/her attention already divided between between police duty and class discussion, is overpowered by one of his sixty classmates and the gun is made available to others? Then we find that we are a captive population in a closed room with a gun - a familiar scenario in countless scenes of gun-related violence on North American campuses. It seems clear to me that even the possibility of this scenario is a significant threat to personal safety and cannot be justified by the minor convenience of not having to change before class.
5.In all of this, I think that the important point to be made is that we do not teach ' the Police' as such. MUN is not a police academy. We teach students who happen to be police. We teach all sorts of other professionals as well, and we expect them to leave their professional paraphernalia at home. While we teach them, they are students. Students are not allowed to have guns in the classroom. If this means that the police cannot be on duty while in class ( how could they do that effectively anyway?), or must lock the guns in the trunk of their cars while in class, then that seems like a reasonable compromise.
6. Even if it is only a small minority who feel strongly opposed to the presence of loaded weapons in class, that should be enough to compel the Senate to reverse the decision since all that is at stake here is a minor scheduling conflict in the police department that cannot warrant the enormous change in university culture that this new regulation brings into effect.
The Senate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador should reverse the decision to allow weapons in the classroom. Clearly the decision was made without adequate consultation of all those affected and without due consideration and public debate of all possible alternatives to this drastic measure. We do not want to attend classes with armed student police officers and believe that other less extreme solutions should be found for the problems of scheduling and uniforms changes in the police department.