Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Making Sense of Campus Carry at Pittsburg State University

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Making Sense of Campus Carry at Pittsburg State University

Article excerpt

Introduction

In April 2014, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) signed HB 2578 into law, which became effective on July 1, 2014. This law prohibited "any and all local control of firearms and ammunition." Essentially, it became legal to carry concealed weapons on any city, county, or state property. Since then, Kansas universities have been exempt from permitting guns on their premises until July 1, 2017 when that exemption expired and was not renewed. In addition, in April of 2015, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a law authorizing the carrying of concealed handguns in the state without a license or a training requirement. Kansas became the fifth state with such a concealed carry law. As of this writing, there are ten states in the U.S. allowing guns on college campuses.

The purpose of the study was to examine the situated meanings of faculty and the sensemaking processes of the university as an organization given a prevailing sense of contradiction between the legal right to carry and campus safety and academic freedom. More specifically, in this case study I will discuss the reactions to the concealed carry law from Pittsburg State University (PSU) faculty, and to some extent, administration. I argue that the law has forced PSU to adapt by implementing a series of planned changes that threaten to dismantle the primary underpinnings of a university culture: academic freedom, a unique identity, and a climate of safety. Since these changings are ongoing, I will discuss the implementation process leading up to July 1, 2017.

Background and Method

Background

After learning about the passage of HB 2578 in April of 2014, there were ongoing conversations among faculty, staff, and administrators about what this law meant to the university People expressed anger, fear, astonishment, and sometimes indifference. Most seemed to think it was a bad idea, though some are in favor of the law. Since all colleges in Kansas had an exemption until July 1, 2017, many of us (faculty and staff) believed we might be able to do something to remain exempt permanently, or perhaps even repeal the law. That was not the case.

Method

During the fall semester of 2016, I began this qualitative research project in order to answer one very general research question: How are we, as faculty at an academic institution, making sense of this law that will allow guns on our campus? I conducted 12 semi-structured interviews of faculty members at PSU in four departments. Using convenience and snowball sampling to choose faculty participants, I spoke with eight men and four women. I started by asking each interviewee to read a paragraph about the law and its application to university campuses in Kansas. My goal was to learn more about what my colleagues' reactions and expectations were once the exemption expired. This study is also autoethnographic, so my own experiences of this event are included to an extent. Being part of the study was my way of dealing with my own uncertainty about what might happen on July 1, 2017. I hoped to be able to "make sense" of it.

Additional data sources include newspaper articles, results from a statewide survey regarding guns on campus, and PSU organizational documents. In order to situate my arguments in the scholarly literature, I frame them with research from Communication and Organizational Culture studies.

Tracy (2013) explains that qualitative research is particularly useful for studying contextual knowledge and for investigating questions about morality and values. Moreover, she says, "Social action is always changing; therefore contextual explanations and situated meanings are integral to ongoing sensemaking" (p. 3).

Theoretical Framework

Organizational Culture

The study of organizational cultures went mainstream in the early 1980s with the publication of Deal & Kennedys Corporate Cultures (1982) and Peters & Waterman's In Search of Excellence (1982). …

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