University defends response to threat to speaker

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2014 4:26 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Facing faculty concerns about guns on the campus of Utah State University, the school's president is responding to accusations that the institution acted irresponsibly after a threat against feminist speaker Anita Sarkeesian.

President Stan Albrecht said USU immediately started working with police and communicating with Sarkeesian's staff after receiving the email threatening a mass shooting. In a letter to faculty and students, Albrecht said USU had to follow a state law prohibiting universities from taking away concealed weapons from valid permit holders, but he expressed concern about a new push from state lawmakers to allow open carrying of weapons on campus.

The president's statements came in response to a letter signed by about 200 faculty and students saying guns on campus pose a threat to free speech.

"There are a lot of us that aren't happy to teach at a university that allows guns on campus," said English professor Jennifer Sinor, one of two instructors who wrote the letter last week. While Albrecht said he was proud of how the university handled the Sarkeesian threat, Sinor said one other nationally known speaker has expressed security concerns about a speech scheduled for next spring.

Sarkeesian canceled her talk on women and video games last week, calling it mindboggling that guns would be allowed despite the threat. She did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

The university has said it determined the threat wasn't credible and called its security measures adequate, but Albrecht said allowing the open carry of guns on campus would be bad.

"This action would have chilling implications for us, making it more difficult to attract outside speakers to our university, to hire and retain faculty, and to ensure a comfortable academic environment for our students," Albrecht wrote.

Utah is one of seven states that allow concealed carry on college campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but it is the only state that has a separate law prohibiting universities from not allowing concealed weapons at events. Republican Utah lawmaker Curt Oda of Clearfield said the law also allows people to carry guns openly on campus.

"There is no restriction on open carry," Oda said, though "we encourage people to carry it discreetly as much as possible."

In the wake of other campus shootings in the U.S., Sinor said Utah's existing concealed-weapon rule already has a chilling effect on professors who scale back on challenging topics to avoid controversy, which ultimately limits what students learn.

"They're the ones that lose," she said. Sinor said she's previously had a plainclothes police officer posted outside her classroom after one creative writing student violently threatened another in journal entries.

She argued Wednesday for what she called a middle path, with some prohibitions on guns in residence halls, in classrooms and at large events.