Must be tough to be a college president these days. Once upon a time, the hardest part of the job was deciding who should get tenure and how much tuition would go up. Now, it's crossing your fingers and hoping no mass murderers mow down your students on the campus green.
Dr. George Hanbury, the president of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, released a statement yesterday pleading for guns not to be allowed on college campuses, except those used by law enforcement officers.
Currently, Florida expressly prohibits guns on campuses. But that could change, as two bills have been filed by state senator Greg Evers, a Republican from the Panhandle. One calls for removing the gun ban, and allowing weapons to be held by anyone with a conceal-carry license. The other authorizes a school safety designee to carry. Both will be considered during the state legislative session in spring of 2016. Eight states already allow guns on campus.
On top of Evers's bills, the father-son duo of Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Don Gaetz have filed matching bills that would let Floridians open carry wherever they like.
Hanbury was traveling and not available to comment, but here is the full text of his statement:
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First of all, I would like to point out that I am neither a registered Republican nor Democrat but registered as "No Party Affiliation" (NPA) or what many call an independent voter. It is, therefore, in that vein that I wish to be heard.
As a concerned university president and grandfather of five school-aged children, I believe weapons should not be allowed on school grounds unless by a licensed law enforcement officer. However, once again our nation is grappling with a horrific incident that occurred on property where individuals were aspiring to achieve their academic dreams through the pursuit of knowledge. And, once again, I am shocked by what I am seeing and hearing about this tragedy.
As the President and Chief Executive Officer of one of the largest private, not-for-profit universities in the United States with nine campuses throughout Florida and Puerto Rico, my staff and I place the highest priority on the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff and visitors on our campuses. We have established excellent working relationships with law enforcement and other first responder agencies. Furthermore, we've put emergency plans in place and we continually update and practice the procedures we have to be ready in the event a crisis situation arises. We are one of the safest campuses in the nation and we take security with the utmost seriousness. As such, we have a complete security system with one key integral component: we do not allow any weapons on any of our campuses, unless they are in the possession of a licensed law enforcement officer. Thus, we believe our campuses are safe.
That being said, there is only so much we can do – and as we have seen countless times, tragic incidents continue to occur. As a father, grandfather and someone responsible for tens of thousands of young people following their educational dreams, these incidents rattle me to my core. Every time a school shooting occurs I am saddened, as no student should have to pay for an education with his or her life, and no parent should have to grieve the loss of his or her loved one who they expected to be in the safe confines of an educational institution. Yet, too many innocent people on our K-12, community college, college, and university campuses across the country have paid a terrible price for simply attending class.
In any educational institution, ideas need to be expressed, and innovation needs to be explored and debated in an atmosphere that encourages free and open expression. It all comes under the heading of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, theories, and philosophies, espoused by previous generations in order to understand and gain knowledge for the future. Many times, these expressions lead to passionate reasoning and emotional discussion by faculty, staff and students – the essence of any educational institution of higher learning.
Some may argue that if faculty or students were allowed to carry weapons, there could be safety in the classroom through the threat of action by those of greater reasoning. This too, is an erroneous assumption and could lead to even greater injury and loss of life by confusion and ambiguity of law enforcement officers by not immediately identifying the real perpetrator.
I am calling on all educators and those who love education to join with me and work with all of those in authority to prohibit any weapons on educational grounds unless they are carried by licensed law enforcement officers. While there are many options open to us, the one option that is not viable is to do nothing and remain silent.
George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D.
Nova Southeastern University