As a small, residential college, we know many of our students on a first-name basis at Keuka College. Students give faculty, staff and administrators affectionate nicknames, such as "Prez D-H."
That kind of familiarity breeds caring. Parents entrust the well-being of their sons and daughters to us, while acknowledging that college is that period in their children's lives in which they try to become responsible adults. And this is one of the most conflicting aspects of life as a college student: you want to exercise your recently hard-won independence and autonomy at the same time that you and your parents demand that we protect you from whatever consequences emanate from this autonomy.
Young adults come to college to study science and math, the humanities and arts, the story of civilization and humanity, and to grow into exemplary citizens and leaders. We, then, have the moral and social obligation to protect students from their "growing-up" acts and the responsibility to provide a safe and caring environment suitable for the education of the whole person.
For some colleges providing a safe and caring environment means allowing security officers to carry guns. Of course, these officers are trained in the use of firearms. However, should we permit all members of the college community -- students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, donors, parents, and friends -- as well as campus visitors to carry guns as some have suggested? What about visitors to campus? Should assault weapons be permitted?
These are important questions that touch both on the autonomy of the students and on our duty to protect them from their acts. It also has to do with educating the whole person on how to be responsible citizens. We instill in our students moral and ethical values, primarily the latter, and the need to engage in serious self-examination. However, when trouble breaks out, college authorities tend to be blamed for lack of "parenting" on one hand and loose control on the other.
Morality comes from home and the teachings of one's religion and philosophy. Ethics, by contrast, are rules of conduct mostly dictated by one's profession or group association. There are ethical rules governing our conduct in college. They define our behavior in class -- "thou shall not cheat" -- and out of the classroom. Where does the possession of guns fit in the realm of college conduct? Nowhere, because we care about the health of our colleges and the well-being of our communities.
As Andrew Delbanco put it recently: "The best reason to care about college -- who goes, and what happens to them when they get there -- is not what it does for society in economic terms, but what it can do for individuals, in both calculable and incalculable ways." And many have further argued, going back to Thomas Jefferson, that a college education is critical for our form of government. "Democracy," said John Dewey, "has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife."
Can we live up to the high standards Jefferson, Dewey, and others have for education if we allow guns on our campuses? No. I believe it will be absolutely disastrous to both the individual and to society. It will require a whole new definition of college life.
After the loss of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., and two first responders in Webster, N.Y. -- right in the backyard of our campus in Keuka Park -- we should not debate whether or not teachers and others who dedicate their lives to the education of our children should carry guns. That is not a fitting tribute to those precious children and heroes. What would be a fitting tribute is to enact tougher gun control laws, and work on morality, the best-known way to end gun violence.
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