Proposed revisions to the Code of Policies and Regulations governing student use and storage of weapons on university property triggered discussion at the March 28 meeting of the Urbana-Champaign Senate.
In presenting the amended Rule 19 of the code, Mark Roszkowski, chair of the Conference on Conduct Governance, said that the proposed changes came as a result of CCG’s initiative to update and adapt the code to Banner, make it more readable and easier to amend and to ensure homogeny with the Campus Administrative Manual. Heads of campus units were asked to review all rules pertinent to them and suggest changes, which also were incorporated, Roszkowski said.
Because of a recommendation by police chief Oliver Clark, a clause stating that the campus police would register and store students’ weapons – such as firearms and ammunition used for hunting or practice and competitive shooting – was eliminated since the police no longer offer those services. The statute also was updated to conform to provisions of the Campus Administrative Manual, which reflect state laws that prohibit use and storage of weapons on state property, Roszkowski said.
Some senators said that they thought the proposed amendment defined weapons too broadly, thus banning common household items and sports equipment, and might lead to students being sanctioned for possessing items such as cooking knives, or hatchets used by campers. Hobe Scholz, a student in the College of Law, objected to prohibitions on paintball guns and pellet guns, which he believed would preclude registered student organizations from hosting events on campus.
Roszkowski said that students would not be sanctioned for possessing common household, athletic or scholastic items for which they had legitimate uses. However, such items might be considered aggravating factors when determining appropriate sanctions for students who used or threatened to use those objects while committing violations of other rules, such as assaults on other people, Roszkowski said.
“This way, we could get around having to define every possible thing in a dorm room as a potential weapon,” Roszkowski said.
Peter Loeb, professor of mathematics, suggested including a provision that would allow the chief security officer of the campus to grant certain exceptions to the rule.
Dan Nugent, a student in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, suggested adding explicit lists of items inherently considered weapons – such as firearms – that students would be sanctioned for possessing, and of legitimate-use items – such as BB guns and paintball guns – that students would be discouraged but not prohibited from bringing to campus if they used the items appropriately.
Roszkowski raised the question whether the campus should establish centralized repositories for items such as paintball guns and fencing swords owned by students.
Interim Chancellor Richard Herman asked that the committee clarify the amendment to address speakers’ concerns. The CCG would meet on March 29, Roszkowski said, and would consider whether the rule should be amended further to include a non-exhaustive list of weapons.
In his opening remarks, Michael Grossman, chair of the Senate Executive Committee, reminded senators that any discussion or votes on the code changes would be in an advisory capacity to the chancellor.
Roszkowski told the senate that the code is being reorganized into a three-part document. Article 1 will comprise student rights and responsibilities; Article 2, general university policy and regulations; and Article 3, academic policies and regulations. Article 1 will be published as a “pocket code” that will be distributed annually “to incoming freshman at least” to foster student awareness of its contents, Roszkowski said. In addition, a compilation of the three articles will be published and distributed to members of the campus community in accordance with current policies.
James Hacking, executive director of the State Universities Retirement System, addressed the senate about the changes Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed in his FY06 budget address that would reduce pension benefits for current and future university employees if passed by the Legislature.
Blagojevich proposed changing the formula for calculating annuities at retirement, reducing the amount of the state match for accumulated contributions plus interest from $1.40 to $1; he also recommended reducing the imputed interest rate for defined benefit plans from 8.5 percent to 6 percent, a rate analogous to the state’s other four retirement systems.
If those changes were approved, current SURS participants would lose more than $9.3 billion in benefits between the current fiscal year and FY2045, which would violate Article 13, Section 5 of the state Constitution, “that clearly says that pension benefits are a matter of contractual right and cannot be diminished,” Hacking said.
“We happen to believe that this proposal on its face is unconstitutional,” Hacking said. “However, the administration is going to pursue this, and I cannot promise that the General Assembly will not back this. If they do, then participants may have to resort to the state courts for redress.”
In other business
- The Senate elected Al Kagan, professor of library administration, to fill a vacancy on the University Senates Conference.
- Abbas Aminmansour, chair of the Educational Policy Committee, reported that approximately 60 to 70 people voiced their concerns at a March 16 public hearing about a proposal to move the industrial engineering program from the department of mechanical and industrial engineering to the department of general engineering and rename both departments. Since there are no established guidelines for a program transfer, the Educational Policy Committee is following the guidelines used for departmental transfers. The Educational Policy Committee planned to meet on April 4 to consider the proposal and the issues raised at the public hearing, and if a recommendation arose from that meeting, it would be presented to the senate in the fall, Aminmansour said.
- Herman said that UI President Joe White, who was invited to speak at the Senate’s April 25 meeting, was holding a retreat on March 29 with senior academic and administrative officials from all three campuses, some members of the campuses’ senates, the alumni associations and the UI Foundation to discuss the university’s strategic plan. Herman said that the three chancellors had considerable input into the plan, and over the next year strategic plans will be developed at the college level.
- Joseph Finnerty, chair of the University Statutes and Senate Procedures Committee, led the Senate in the first reading of a proposed amendment that would strengthen the three senates’ control of the text of amendments brought through the USC to the university president and the UI Board of Trustees. In instances where the concurrence of all three senates cannot be effected “within a reasonable period of time but the text of a proposed amendment has been agreed to by all but one of the senates,” the USC would forward the proposed amendment, the recommendations of the dissenting senate and the USC’s recommendations to the president for transmission to the board of trustees. Loeb, chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, voiced support for the proposed changes. Finnerty said the final document will be brought to the senate’s next meeting for a vote.
- Grossman reported that the SEC and Senate Conference Observers are continuing the practice of meeting with state legislators and members of the board of trustees to discuss issues of concern to faculty members and students. During February and March the SEC had met with state Sen. Rick Winkel and state Reps. Chapin Rose and Naomi Jakobsson as well as with Trustee Marjorie Sodemann. The SEC also met with President White on Feb. 21 and plan to have a follow-up meeting with him April 11. The Senate Conference Observers met with Trustee Kenneth Schmidt, chair of the trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee, and Stephen Rugg, vice president for administration and comptroller, prior to the board’s March 10 meeting in Urbana, and several of the concerns raised were presented at the board meeting, Grossman said.