Is the policy clear? Facts about gun incident surface during faculty meeting

Bobby Shipman

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A previous report stated that a distance education student brought a handgun onto USI’s campus in a holster, but Mathematics Professor Kathy Rodgers, who discovered the gun, said it was concealed in a small bag and that the student lied about its contents.

President Linda Bennett attended the Faculty Senate Friday to clarify “misinformation” about the Feb. 18 incident.

Rodgers, who was also at the meeting, said the handgun was located inside a “little grey bag” with a zipper the woman had attached to her waist.

“If she had been sitting in my classroom, I would not have been able to ask her what was in it,” Rodgers said to the Senate.

The woman was headed into a conference room because of an arrangement that was made for her to take a test at a special time, Rodgers said.

“When they do that, I get their book bag – hopefully their cheat notes,” she said.

She told the student she needed to know what was is in the bag that was still attached to her, she said.

“She first told me it was candy,” Rodgers said.

She said the woman responded, “You’re not going to want to see it,” then whispered to Rodgers that it was a gun and offered to reveal her permit.

Rodgers said she then called 911 and Public Safety.

“This student, I don’t think, knew the policy,” Rodgers said. “But she sensed there was something not right about it, otherwise she wouldn’t have lied about it.”

Rodgers said she could tell that as soon as she called Public Safety, action began to take place.

“By the time that I finished the phone call and was out of the office, a security officer was (in the Science Center),” she said. “He was out of breath.”

Bennett commended Rodgers for the calm manner in which she handled the situation.

“Very quickly, this was a situation wherein the moment that Public Safety arrived, and the moment the student was asked for the weapon, she relinquished it,” Bennett said.

No RAVE Alert was sent out, she said, because there was no threatening behavior and because the girl expressed no intent to use the weapon.

Bennett said faculty and administrators have a responsibility as to how they communicate over social media because it could result in unnecessary panic.

“This (incident) caught on and spread more widely than we had anticipated,” Bennett said. “I regret that that happened. I got concerned as to the impact it would have on everyone involved.”

Faculty Senate Chair Jason Fertig asked at what point should a formal report be administered in similar cases.

“Students and faculty both went to social media about this event and stirred the pot,” Fertig said. “And that’s not healthy.”

Bennett said there was a clear procedure that was followed and was handled correctly by Public Safety.

“I think Public Safety does a very good job in collaboration with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office,” she said.

She pointed out that the Sheriff’s Office frequents USI’s campus more often than people think to make sure things are in order, adding that they know their way around campus.

An email was sent to Bennett stating that during the incident, two sheriff’s deputies were wandering around campus looking for the woman, who was already with a Public Safety officer, but Bennett said that is untrue.

A Shield reporter arrived at the Science Center shortly after receiving the tip and scanned the second floor.

The reporter headed to the first floor as the deputies arrived. They surveyed the first floor to no avail and the reporter had to explain to them that the building had two more floors.

The reporter reached the third floor, where the incident was occurring, several minutes before the two officers did.

Director of Public Safety Stephen Woodall said the incident was not the first time a weapon has been seized on USI property.

There was an incident where a student, who was a hunter, had a bow and arrow in his apartment and was unaware of the policy, Woodall said.

A similar incident occurred, he added, involving a student with a shotgun, who was also a hunter and was also unaware of the policy.

“I don’t recall any violations of law regarding weapons,” he said. “Because there’s a difference.”

Senator Jennifer Williams, a representative from the Romain College of Business, asked Woodall where students can learn about the university’s policy regarding weapons on campus.

“This student didn’t understand. Those students didn’t understand. What are we doing to make students understand?” Williams said.

Student Affairs informs students about university policies, Bennett said, but she admitted she is unaware of the clarity or focus on the matter.

Williams asked about posting signs.

“We tried that with smoking and the signs kept disappearing,” Bennett replied.

According the USI Student Handbook “the transfer, sale, use of, possession of weapons, including but not limited to: firearms, ammunition, bombs, explosives, clubs, dirks, martial arts weapons, sling shots, bows and arrows, sabers, swords, knives with blades in excess of three (3) inches except kitchen knives used in the preparation and/or serving of food, war souvenirs, incendiary devices, fireworks, paintball guns, pellet guns, BB guns, stun weapons, Tasers, or look-alikes, dangerous chemicals or fuels, or other destructive devices or substances, are not allowed on University-owned or controlled property unless permission for possession and/or use has been authorized by an appropriate University official.”

The handbook also states that a student who violates the policy regarding explosives, weapons and fireworks is subject to disciplinary action by the university.

Bennett said the university continues to look for ways to enhance emergency preparedness and look into any policy revisions that are necessary.

“I am not supportive of increasing the number of weapons on campus,” she said. “But I will certainly listen to any proposals that come forward.”