The possibility of guns on K-State’s campus has encouraged several faculty members to retire or find work elsewhere.
David Rintoul, a former associate professor for K-State’s division of biology, retired after the spring semester specifically to avoid working on a campus that allows concealed carry, he said.
On July 1, a law exempting Kansas public universities from the state’s concealed carry law expires, and students and visitors may begin carrying on campus.
Rintoul, who is 66 and retired this spring, is one of at least four faculty members who say they are leaving the university because of the law. He worked at K-State for 37 years. It’s the only institution he’s worked for since receiving his doctorate.
“They don’t make you retire,” he said, noting he would have liked to continue teaching. “It’s a nice job… (but) I’ve been in a lot of conversations with people where I really didn’t think the presence of a firearm would be helpful. I didn’t want to repeat those conversations in the conditions where the presence of a firearm is much more likely.”
Philip Nel, a distinguished professor in English, said he is taking a leave of absence during the fall semester. During the leave, he will look for a new job or fellowships, he said.
“I’m still looking for another job and applying for fellowships because I would like to continue to do my job, but in a place where I’m allowed to do my job, rather than in a place that is weaponized and unsafe,” he said.
Nel, who has worked for the university since 2000, said he knows more faculty members who are working to leave K-State but won’t go on the record because of fear they would be targeted by gun activists and organizations like the National Rifle Association.
He said if he does not find another job by the spring, he will continue teaching at K-State, but his time on campus would be limited. He said he will teach online and cancel all of his office hours.
Ruth Miller, a K-State electrical and computer engineering professor, said she and her husband Keith, who is a part-time faculty member for K-State, decided to move to Pennsylvania this summer before the law goes into effect.
While the two will live out of state, they will continue to teach online classes at K-State, with Ruth planning to retire next spring. Because Keith is not a full-time professor, he may continue to teach online classes, but they will not return to Manhattan or set foot on campus, they said.
The couple had always planned to move to Pennsylvania, where they grew up and own land, but they left about five years earlier than previously scheduled.
“We left before the guns come in; that is our specific reason,” Ruth said.
K-State officials declined to comment on faculty members leaving.
Instead, Steve Logback, associate vice president for communications and marketing, said the university is working to create a safe campus.
“K-State has established policies and training to continue making our campuses as safe as possible for faculty, staff, students and visitors,” he said.
K-State also said President Richard Myers was unavailable for comment. He has previously spoken against the law, specifically noting its possible impact on retaining and increasing enrollment.
During a recent Kansas Board of Regents meeting, Myers said the university’s enrollment has fallen for four straight years. He also pointed out state higher education funding continues to fall, and the university has become increasingly reliant on revenue from enrolled students’ tuition.
“I think it’s already had an impact on retention,” Myers said in September during his state of the university address. “Moms and dads will say they prefer their son or daughter don’t go to a school where that’s permitted.
“Having said that, it’s state law,” Myers continued. “Maybe it will be overturned.”
All three of Manhattan’s representatives in the Kansas Legislature — Sen. Tom Hawk, Rep. Sydney Carlin and Rep. Tom Phillips — said they oppose allowing concealed carry on college campuses.
Phillips, R-Manhattan, said he voted against the initial law in 2013 that allowed concealed carry, breaking from much of the Republican party. Phillips said he also voted against the bill that removed requiring gun owners to get a permit and take training to qualify for concealed carry.
He said he does not believe guns belong on campus and would rather give local control to the universities and the Kansas Board of Regents deciding to allow them if they chose to.
This spring lawmakers attempted to extend the exemption for universities, which Phillips would have supported, but it never came up for a vote, he said. But even if it had, Phillips said he was not optimistic that it would become law because Gov. Sam Brownback would have vetoed the bill, and the legislature would not have enough votes to override it.
“I think there will be continued efforts to address guns on campus,” Phillips said. “(But) there will need to be change in the governor’s office before you see a strong push.”
Rintoul said he believes the faculty leaving won’t have much of an effect on the lawmakers supporting the law.
“For many in our legislature, that’s a feature,” he said. “They don’t mind seeing those liberal professors leaving campus. That’s no problem for them.”
Rintoul said the bigger issue would be losing students.
He said proponents for the law often cite the nine states that allows concealed carry on college campuses, but each of those states have laws that require training or other measures before people can conceal carry of firearms.
“We will be the only state that has campus carry and no training,” he said. “All of these folks going on and on that nothing has happened on other campuses, well it’s apples and oranges. There are no other campuses with this particular combination.
“I think it’s insane,” he added.
Nel said higher education and free exchange of ideas depends on safety.
“Campus carry revokes the safety on which that freedom depends,” he said. “It makes it impossible to teach what you want to teach because every student is a potentially armed student. That changes the dynamic of the classroom and the kind of conversation you would be comfortable having.”
Nel said he, too, is concerned that the law that does not require training or background checks to carry. The only requirement is that a person is 21 years old, he said.
“It’s reckless, it’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous, it poses a threat to the health and safety to all who study, teach and work at the university,” he said. “That’s insane.”
“I don’t want to live in a dystopian novel,” he added. “I’m happy to read them. I don’t want to live there. This is nuts.”