Oglethorpe University president: College leaders unite to end silence on gun safety in America

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall. (Oglethorpe)

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall. (Oglethorpe)

Lawrence Schall, president of Oglethorpe University, shared this letter with me late Thursday night. He wrote the letter for the Chronicle of Higher Education where it was published earlier this week.

In the wake of the Price Middle School shooting, I am sharing Dr. Schall’s letter here this morning:

The Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, who served the University of Notre Dame as its president for 35 years, wrote an article in 2001 titled Where are College Presidents’ Voices on Important Public Issues?”

He began this way: “When I was a college president, I often spoke out on national issues, even when they didn’t pertain to academic life. Yet, nowadays, I don’t find many college presidents commenting on such issues.”

I will suggest that the silence has grown even more deafening in the decade since Father Hesburgh penned those words. This month, the silence was broken.

Over 330 college and university presidents signed a letter, which I penned together with my colleague Elizabeth Kiss at Agnes Scott College, calling for the adoption of rational gun-safety legislation in our country. The letter and the names of all the presidents are posted on College Presidents for Gun Safety. Additional presidents are signing on every day, and other similar letters have been drafted by such prominent organizations as the Association of American Universities, which includes virtually every leading public and private research university in the country.

Yes, the silence has been broken.

Father Hesburgh shared that back in 1957, he and one other president, John Hannah from Michigan State University, were members of the five-person U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He wrote about the angry letters he received for his public service and public stances, including when he was named to serve on President Ford’s Presidential Clemency Board at a time when draft dodgers and deserters from the Vietnam War were being considered for pardons.

He wrote: “Painful as those days were, however, they taught a powerful lesson. We cannot urge students to have the courage to speak out unless we are willing to do so ourselves.”

I am incredibly proud that so many presidents have spoken out on the appalling level of gun violence in America today. There is no simple solution, but we all believe that part of the answer lies in requiring gun owners to be subject to background checks before they can acquire guns and that there needs to be reasonable limits on high-capacity guns and magazines. We also shared our collective opinion, based on the experience of managing hundreds of college campuses, that permitting faculty members and students to arm themselves on our campuses will make us all less safe — not more safe.

James O. Freedman, former president of Dartmouth College and past dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, my alma mater, authored an article soon after he left Dartmouth on why college presidents have removed themselves from the public stage (“Getting College Presidents Back on the Public Stage,” Harvard Magazine). He reminisced about the day when such presidents as Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945, played a significant role on the national political stage, among other things campaigning for the repeal of Prohibition. He cites A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933, arguing for America’s participation in the League of Nations. We also had Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1945, speaking out against the Cold War policies of the Truman Administration.

And then Dr. Freedman speaks to today and the silence that comes from our offices. Presidents have plenty of critics, he shares, and who needs more of them, especially when so much of our job these days is raising funds from constituents? He quotes Justice Holmes: “Every idea is an incitement.” How true that is. He aptly notes the issue of length of tenure. The presidents cited above all enjoyed decades-long tenures. Today, college presidents serve an average six or seven years.

Longevity does indeed provide some cover and certainly newly minted presidents might rightfully lack the confidence to survive an onslaught of criticism. All that said, I come back to Father Hesburgh’s challenge: How can we urge students to have the courage to speak out unless we are willing to do so ourselves?

I don’t suspect that the call to action on gun safety is the start of presidents speaking out on every issue the country faces. In fact, on most of those issues, I am pretty certain we wouldn’t agree. But on this one, in the face of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary and in the face of the countless deaths by gun violence across America every day, we do agree and we have chosen to speak.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

71 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

February 1st, 2013
7:39 am

what a self serving pantload

Attentive Parent/Invisible Serfs Collar

February 1st, 2013
7:44 am

Wow. That’s a lot of hubris. The fallacy of appeal to authority. I’m a college president and that means I know more than you about history and the US Constitution and the distribution of powers. It also means all these presidents are subject to the power of the accreditation agencies like Elgart and AdvancED or New England or WASC (the Quality Assurance process managed by UNESCO, that bastion of freedom that commemorated the 100th anniversary of Ho Chi Min’s birth with a gala) .

The accreditors are quite aware of the level of social and emotional manipulation and refusal to teach reading or writing properly. But oh no, let’s make this about the 2nd Amendment. That will make AACU happy. Fits in with all the rest of the social engineering being pushed in the name of education, K-12 and higher ed.

Do you know yesterday I got to read about how to target preschoolers affectively ? It was stunningly graphic. But it was in the name of Peace.

Do you have any idea how many of the programs now being pushed as mental health first-aid and healthy youth development in the post-Newtown world were already in my in-basket as mandated by Positive Behavior Intervention for All Students as a part of Common Core without telling anyone but those who get disabilities legal mandates?

That would be me and all school districts.

Or the social and emotional learning component that is the primary purpose of Common Core according to the well-connected Linda Darling-Hammond.

So now what was coming in the windows is to get to come in the front door as an invited guest to make the chance for another Newtown less likely. Totally ignoring the high correlation between school districts pushing sociocultural/developmental theory instead of knowledge transmission in almost all of the school shootings I have ever tracked.

Elizabeth Kiss of all people should appreciate what a gun registry means in a country. And I write that respectfully as someone who went to college with her. The all-powerful state. It’s not like that is not an expressed aspiration in all of these “reforms.”

Lee

February 1st, 2013
7:49 am

Blah, blah, blah.

A bunch of politically correct, liberal college presidents get together and pen a letter wanting the omnipresent government to save them from “gun violence”. Take our freedoms, but please protect us….

Why am I not surprised?

Pluto

February 1st, 2013
8:10 am

Who elected this guy and his cohorts the chairmen of social consciousness? Do we need to address the voilence manifest in this country? Most assuredly yes, but I suggest we identify the underlying cheapening of life in general as a society and stop focusing on the inanimate objects which are easy to identify.

Private Citizen

February 1st, 2013
8:23 am

““Social conditions are fundamental in deterring crime,” says Peter Squires, professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton in Great Britain, who has studied gun violence in different countries and concluded that a “culture of support” rather than focus on individualism, can deter mass killings.”

http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/the-swiss-difference-a-gun-culture-that-works/

d

February 1st, 2013
8:26 am

@Maureen – Could you fix the headline – it’s Oglethorpe University :) Proud alumnus here! Thanks :)

Maureen Downey

February 1st, 2013
8:28 am

@D: Done. THanks

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
8:51 am

Maureen and other libs will never ever ever ever talk about the out of control gun violence in Chicago.

Maureen Downey

February 1st, 2013
8:53 am

@To all, Taking down the gratuitous potshots. If you want to comment on the issue, have at it. If you want to attack people personally, your comments will come down.
And to those of you wondering why you are in moderation, your comments violated AJC guidelines. As I have said dozens of times, I have zero patience with folks using fake names to attack guest columnists willing to take a public stand.
Also, the racist rants are tiresome. Getting multiple “report this comment” emails from readers. You are an invited guest on this blog. If you nauseate the other guests here, you are uninvited.
Maureen

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
8:54 am

“answer lies in requiring gun owners to be subject to background checks ”

WE ALREADY HAVE THAT AND HAVE HAD IT FOR YEARS!!!!! The folks committing crimes are not law abiding citizens.

‘THIS YEAR WILL GO DOWN IN THE HISTORY. FOR THE FIRST TIME, A CIVILIZED NATION HAS FULL GUN REGISTRATION. OUR STREETS WILL BE SAFER, OUR POLICE MORE EFFICIENT, AND THE WORLD WILL FOLLOW OUR LEAD INTO THE FUTURE!!!”

- ADOLF HITLER 1935

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
8:56 am

“based on the experience of managing hundreds of college campuses, that permitting faculty members and students to arm themselves on our campuses will make us all less safe — not more safe.”

Virginia Tech says what?

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
8:57 am

Chicago has the strictest gun laws in America and the highest gun crime rate in the country.

Please explain why that is.

Bob

February 1st, 2013
8:57 am

Many studies equate violent crime with poverty. Many studies equate poverty with lack of education.
Many studies equate lack of higher education with the high cost of education. Maybe Schall and his cohorts can do something about the high cost of education so people can break the cycle of poverty.
My theory is that the high cost of higher learning leads to violence and if we just cut back on the high rate of pay for college professors we can educate more young people and break the cycle of poverty.
I will compromise with these highly paid administrators, I will cut my clip capacity in half when you cut your golden parachutes in half.

MannyT

February 1st, 2013
8:58 am

Interesting how society looks for “role models” and gets all sorts of opinions from athletes & entertainers. When a well educated person who actually manages a college campus gives an opinion there is backlash.

While you don’t have to agree with the opinions of college presidents, I see their opinions as more thoughtful and probably better formed than the average celebrity. In the meantime, you can always talk to kids within your circle of influence about your views.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
8:58 am

Lawrence Schall should be more concerned with out of control STD’s on college campuses.

God Bless the 2nd Amendment

February 1st, 2013
8:59 am

Decatur Guy, all caps does not make your argument stronger. By all means “pack heat” if it makes you feel safer.

Ralph-43

February 1st, 2013
9:01 am

Although a cliche’ – we must remember that a fascist movement always begins with the Professors and educated being silenced (killed if necessary). Power cannot go to the thugs as long as there is educated oversight. We have now reached that point in our society where paranoia and anger (see Blog comments) are rampant among those who no longer can understand our complicated, integrated culture. I agree with the college leaders and hope that they will encourage their faculty to express their opinions openly.

Brasstown

February 1st, 2013
9:04 am

He probably doesn’t need a gun because his hands are lethal weapons and his hair is perfect.

agent

February 1st, 2013
9:13 am

Schall kinda looks like Richard Gere.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
9:13 am

God Bless the 2nd Amendment

So sorry you couldn’t understand my point with the quote from Hitler.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
9:13 am

Maureen,
Take inner city Chicago….how is all this going to affect folks like that, where the mass-shootings do not knock a dent into what is happening up there?

Bob in Sandy Springs

February 1st, 2013
9:22 am

And now you see the real side of Academia…….

Don't Tread

February 1st, 2013
9:25 am

Maybe the article should be title “College leaders unite to end the exercise of individual rights in America”.

These so-called “progressives” really hate it when people they don’t like exercise individual rights they don’t agree with.

God Bless the 2nd Amendment

February 1st, 2013
9:27 am

I understood the quote, just think you and the Faux News crowd are overreacting.

Say It Aint So

February 1st, 2013
9:33 am

I wonder how many of these college presidents have a sign in their yard that says Gun Free Home?

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
9:52 am

” just think you and the Faux News crowd are overreacting.”

Hey look, another “faux news” comment. Never seen that before.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
9:53 am

Don’t Tread

Most of those in “academia” can’t hold down real jobs so they “teach” in colleges.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
9:54 am

skipper,

Like most libs, Maureen will not address Chicago. I wonder why?

agent

February 1st, 2013
9:55 am

God bless the 2nd,

I find it funny how the libs always get up in the air ONLY when there is some mass killing while at the same time, ignoring the much numerous shooting deaths that occur during the years in, for example, Chicago. I guess if the killings are spread out over the year, it is ok.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
9:57 am

agent

They NEVER want to address Chicago or ANY case where someone defended themselves against a home invasion.

DDS

February 1st, 2013
10:06 am

“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.

Maureen Downey

February 1st, 2013
10:13 am

On the issue of how often private guns stop criminals:
I still think my colleague Jay Bookman wrote the best response to those who contend that guns are critical in stopping crime and violence:

We all know how that fantasy goes, because it has become a stock story in American pop culture: Bad Guy pulls a gun and starts blowing innocent people away; Good Guy pulls his own gun and kills Bad Guy, saving lives and becoming a hero.

In real life that rarely if ever happens. But we pass laws like this anyway, almost as a way to pay homage to that cultural fantasy and to placate the dreamers who insist that the law recognize their right, however far-fetched, to someday be that hero.

You know who those folks are. They’re the ones who like to claim that if they had been carrying that tragic day at Virginia Tech, a lot of those kids would still be alive today. They believe that the problem with today’s society is not too many guns in too many places, but rather too few, and they see themselves as potential white knights, just waiting for a dragon to come along.

But those dragons rarely do. In 2006, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics, guns were used in a total of 10,177 homicides. Of that enormous total, just 195 homicides were categorized as justifiable, defined by the bureau as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”

In percentage terms, 98.1 percent of the time a private citizen kills someone with a firearm, the killing is not justified. Yet because of the power of the Rambo fantasy, we write laws as if that remaining 1.9 percent of gun killings were the majority.

And even that 1.9 percent figure is a vast exaggeration of how many times the fantasy comes true. The FBI doesn’t break the numbers down further, but I’d bet that almost all those 195 cases involved a private citizen who legally used a gun to stop a burglary or home invasion, not a crime conducted in a public place.

Having followed and participated in the gun debate, and having used guns myself for a time in my life, I’d also bet that rather than being brave souls ready to protect the rest of us, most Rambo fantasists are intimidated by the world around them.

That conclusion was crystallized for me years ago when a state legislator from suburban Atlanta announced in a gun debate that he would never dare to dine in an Atlanta restaurant unless he was carrying a firearm.

Now, frail little old ladies with walkers ate in those restaurants regularly without apparent fear, but this guy — a young man well over 6 feet tall — thought it was too dangerous unless he could carry a gun with him.

Apparently, the heft of 2 pounds of steel in a shoulder holster gives some of those people the courage they need to go out into a world that otherwise terrifies them. It gives them the bravery that nature failed to provide.

That’s a big part of the reason that lax gun laws are so important to them.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
10:32 am

Maureen,
I like you, but that is not the point. The places like Chicago, Detroit, and other cesspools are where the VAST majority of this stuff happens. How is taking my gun away going to solve the thug/culture problem that you so vehemently deny is rampant in certain sections (try finding out WHERE these problems happen instead of just spouting numbers.) Take away the inner-city killings, and the mass shootings (which are terrible and are not being downplayed here) pale in comparison. Taking my gun away will not in one way affect the gun-thug-loser culture in many of these cities who are responsible for the VAST majority of gun crimes. This is insane logic…..its the same logic as “If we take everyone’s food, nobody will get fat!” Y’all tend to take down (or not address) real situations……..to point out where the majority of this stuff happens is not “politically correct”, I guess.

Lee

February 1st, 2013
10:46 am

@Maureen, quoting Jay Bookman now? What a way to destroy any remaining credibility… :)

Criminologists have interviewed violent felons in prison. The one thing they agreed upon was that they didn’t fear the police, prison sentences, burglar alarms, or guard dogs. The one thing they feared was more than anything was coming face to face with an armed citizen who refused to be a victim.

And this gets proven in that states that have “shall issue” concealed carry permits have seen a lowering of violent crime while in contrast, those cities and states that prohibit gun ownership do not. Case in point, Chicago.

A few years ago, there were some robbers who were targeting citizens who were en route FROM the Miami airport. Seems these enterprising criminals knew that passengers getting off a plane would be unarmed.

No, the true value of an armed citizen is not the Hollywood scenario of an armed citizen whipping out a gun and rushing through a hail of bullets to save the day. The true value is that it makes those who intend to do us harm think twice.

Informed in Atlanta

February 1st, 2013
10:47 am

For those commenting on Schall’s qualifications to speak out on this issue, you really need to read the article on him in today’s Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Here’s an excerpt:

” My professional career began as a civil rights attorney working in the most impoverished neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. Over time, I developed an expertise in constitutional law, focusing on children and children’s rights, including cases that were ruled upon in the United States Supreme Court. I saw first-hand the horror of gun violence which impacted almost every family I came in contact with in my practice. I also saw the impact that being born into poverty had on children and how unequal schools made it almost impossible for them to rise above their circumstance. So, the path from there to here ought not to be surprising. I have never been very good at staying quiet when I have witnessed injustice and I always have tried to do what I can to improve and protect the lives of others.”

I suspect Dr. Schall is better qualified to speak on the issue than most of you.

At least we all agree that he has nice hair.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
10:51 am

’bout like I figured……throw in a little logical thinking, folks run and hide…………..

Lee

February 1st, 2013
10:53 am

“My professional career began as a civil rights attorney working in the most impoverished neighborhoods of North Philadelphia.”

Translation: politically correct, liberal do-gooder.

“Over time, I developed an expertise in constitutional law, focusing on children and children’s rights…”

Apparently, he completely skipped over that pesky 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.

“I also saw the impact that being born into poverty had on children and how unequal schools made it almost impossible for them to rise above their circumstance.”

More liberal BS. Blame everything but the action of the person who decides to commit the crime.

agent

February 1st, 2013
10:57 am

Skipper,

Unfortunately this country will go get worse as people are walking on egg shells because they don’t want to offend anyone else or be labelled a racist if they point out where the true problem areas are.

The sad thing about it is the politicians only do what’s in their best interest to get the votes.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
10:57 am

And Lee, you left one out: “Therefore, due to my superior intelligence and education, you should not have a gun because the thugs in Philadelphia, Chicago, and other places where thugs are gathered do not have enough sense to own them.”
As usual, pseudo-logic at best……….

agent

February 1st, 2013
10:58 am

Sorry, it should this country will only get worse.

skipper

February 1st, 2013
11:10 am

agent…..agreed. But again, no lefties are willing to tackle that. There is either silence (i.e. no blog-posts that can come up with a counter-statement, so they hide) or a true sense of “Wow, they could be right; wht can I say back?”

skipper

February 1st, 2013
11:20 am

Maureen,
I appreciate (truly) your allowing us on your blog, but can you look at the last few posts, and instead of spouting the usual lib cliche’s truly address the posts? Or, since it is your blog, I suppose you do not have to do anything. Look at some of the above posts and truly give a heart-felt answer. You have my word I will give it every consideration. No one is baiting you or anyone else. It is just that once you enter certain waters, many cannot admit that (unfortunately) lots of the facts bear out the posts………

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
11:39 am

“I still think my colleague Jay Bookman wrote the best response ”

Jay Bookman is the LAST person anyone should listen to about gun control.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
11:40 am

“In real life that rarely if ever happens.”

It’s happened lots of time and Jay Bookman chooses to ignore it just like you, Maureen.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
11:41 am

“I suspect Dr. Schall is better qualified to speak on the issue than most of you.”

No, not really.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
11:43 am

Maureen, please address the Chicago issue. You, like Bookman, only put the blame on the NRA and law abiding citizens but NEVER address the fact that gangs/thugs don’t care about laws.

Chicago is a cesspool of violence and crime yet you won’t address it.

Decatur Guy

February 1st, 2013
11:44 am

Why do left wingers hate the Constitution so much?

Someone on Bookman’s blog actually asked why someone needs an AR-15.

Here’s an analogy.

Why drive a Porcshe?

Why wear Prada?

Why eat lobster?

Why fly on a private jet?

See where I’m going with this?

Remember, more people were killed by cars and hammers than guns last year.

mountain man

February 1st, 2013
11:45 am

Gun safety could start with adding a 20-year sentence to any crime that includes a gun. Gun safety could start with making it an automatic 20-year sentence for a convicted felon to be caught with a gun. Gun safety could start with making it an automatic 20-year sentence for STEALING a gun. Gun safety could also start with a 5-year sentence for allowing access to a gun to anyone below 18. Or a charge of accessory to murder before the fact for any mother who allows unsecured weapons to fall into the hands of her mentally ill son. These are also gun safety issues.

mountain man

February 1st, 2013
11:46 am

And when I say a 20-year sentence, I actually mean serving 20 years in prison, not like life sentences that really mean 7 years.

mountain man

February 1st, 2013
11:51 am

They gave the Midtown shooter life in prison without parole plus 65 years. I hope they stick to that. Of course, the body will stink for the first few months…

They can then find a closet to put it in for the remaining 64 1/2 years.