Professor takes heat for calling cops on student who discussed guns in class

March 4, 2009

A professor in Connecticut reported one of her students to the police after he gave a class presentation on why students and teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. Now, free speech activists say the professor’s actions are what really need to be investigated.

Last October, John Wahlberg and two classmates at Central Connecticut State University gave an oral presentation for a communications class taught by Professor Paula Anderson. The assignment was to discuss a "relevant issue in the media," and the students presented their view that the death toll in the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting massacre would have been lower if professors and students had been carrying guns.

That night, police called Wahlberg, a 23-year-old senior, and asked him to come to the station. When he arrived, they they read off a list of firearms that were registered in his name and asked where he kept them. Guns are strictly prohibited on the CCSU campus and residence halls, but Wahlberg says he lives 20 miles off-campus and keeps his gun collection locked up in a safe. No further action was taken by police or administrators.

"I don’t think that Professor Anderson was justified in calling the CCSU police over a clearly non-threatening matter," Wahlberg told The Recorder, the CCSU student newspaper that first reported the story. "Although the topic of discussion may have made a few individuals uncomfortable, there was no need to label me as a threat."

Wahlberg declined to comment further to FOXNews.com, saying he did not want more media attention.

According to The Recorder, Anderson cited safety as her reason for calling the police.

"It is also my responsibility as a teacher to protect the well-being of our students, and the campus community at all times," she told The Recorder. "As such, when deemed necessary because of any perceived risks, I seek guidance and consultation from the Chair of my Department, the Dean and any relevant University officials."

Anderson did not respond to calls from FOXNews.com. Campus police forwarded requests to university spokesman Mark McLaughlin, who declined to comment, citing Wahlberg’s privacy.

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said Anderson’s actions appeared to be out of line.

"If all he did was discuss reasons for allowing guns on campus, it seems a bit much to call the police and grill him about it," Shibley said. "If you go after students for just discussing an idea, that goes against everything a university is supposed to stand for."

Shibley said FIRE has seen many more cases of hair-trigger responses by administrators over anything gun-related since the Virginia Tech shooting.

In 2007, Shibley noted, a student at Hamline University in Minnesota was suspended after writing a letter to an administrator arguing that carrying concealed weapons on campus may help prevent tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech. The student was allowed to return only after undergoing a psychological evaluation, he said.

Shibley also cited an incident at Colorado College last year in which campus administrators denounced a flyer as "threatening and demeaning content" because it mentioned guns. He said the students who produced the flyer were found guilty of violating the school’s violence policy, which was added to their school records.

"It is, of course, important that administrators identify real threats to students," Shibley said. "But they need to use logic to discern whether a threat is real."

But Jerold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at CCSU who sits on the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, say the Wahlberg case is not so clear-cut.

"This is a situation where both sides can come up with a reasonable explanation," Duquette said.

"[Wahlberg] certainly has a reason to complain, since he didn’t do anything directly threatening. But I wouldn’t say the administration has a reason to sanction or punish the professor or the police…. I don’t know if I would have done anything differently in the situation."

Katie Kasprzak, a spokeswoman for the group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, suggested that the professor called the police because she disagreed with Wahlberg’s political views.

"Critics of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus argue that colleges and universities are dedicated to the free flow of ideas," she said. "Yet when a student gives a class presentation on a relevant issue in the media, it is acceptable to label the student as a threat? The only threat posed was a threat to the professor’s personal beliefs."

Duquette said there was no evidence to support that.

"I think a lot of people see this as a liberal professor going after a student because he likes guns. I don’t know if that’s the case," Duquette said, adding that more would need to be known about the incident.

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Schools: Central Connecticut State University