Board of Regents member Gary Sherrer on campus safety
Topeka State higher education officials Thursday voted to prohibit weapons on the campuses of regents universities and require criminal background checks of new hires.
The action by the Kansas Board of Regents comes after the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that left 32 dead.
The regents also approved hiring a consultant soon to recommend improvements to the security plans at Kansas University and the five other regents universities.
"We want our kids in an environment that is safe when they are on the campus," said regent Gary Sherrer.
A report to the regents indicated the schools had various policies about what was allowed and not allowed concerning firearms.
"What's bothering me is that we don't have an overall policy," said regent Jarold Boettcher.
For example, KU prohibits firearms on campus, but Fort Hays State University allows hunting rifles in vehicles if the guns are properly secured.
The state law that allows qualified Kansans to carry a concealed handgun also has produced problems for universities. The schools are exempt from the law, meaning they prohibit concealed carry on the campuses, but there is a wide range of how that prohibition is carried out.
Some schools post prohibited gun signs in parking lots, while others don't. And some schools indicated they couldn't prohibit concealed guns on city streets that went through the campus.
The board voted without dissent to ask the staff to come back with ways to implement a policy of no weapons on the campuses.
Several board members also said they were bothered by the fact that the universities had a wide range of policies on conducting criminal background checks when hiring new employees.
Sherrer questioned several university presidents why they didn't conduct the checks. Several said the background reviews were too costly and time consuming.
But Barbara Atkinson, head of the KU Medical Center, said the school does a background check on every new hire and medical student. The cost is usually $50 per check and takes about 72 hours, she said.
On the KU Lawrence campus, criminal background checks are conducted for some positions, but not all.
The regents then voted for a policy that will require the schools to conduct criminal records checks on all new hires.
After the discussion, KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway agreed with the general direction of the regents.
"Good points are being made. We need to do everything possible to make our campuses safe and secure," Hemenway said.
The regents seemed divided between those who wanted to wait for recommendations from a security consultant review, and those who wanted to adopt broad policy guidelines that could be fine-tuned later. The state is accepting proposals for the consultant review through the end of the month.
Also, some regents questioned the need to focus energy on prohibiting licensed gun holders when recent incidents of campus violence have been caused by mentally disturbed assailants.
Sherrer said banning guns won't make campuses totally safe.
"There is no way to keep people from doing horrible things," he said.
But, Sherrer said that he and the other regents members felt that their actions would help make the campuses safer.