Dear West Virginia University Faculty, Staff and Students:
As yesterday drew to a close, I sat in the quiet of my office in Stewart Hall watching the hurried scurrying of campus life outside my window. It occurred to me the contrast of activity paralleled the atmosphere I have observed over the past few weeks.
The issue of House Bill 2519 Campus Self-Defense Act, otherwise known as Campus Carry, is one that is deeply personal. And in the fast pace in which we live our lives, it is not uncommon to find ourselves entrenched in rhetoric and emotions.
But I ask that each of you pause for a moment of your own quiet. I ask that you sit still with your thoughts, your fears and your hopes. For it is in that moment of quiet reflection that we can begin to hear each other and come together to work toward solutions.
Over the past two weeks I have read every letter and listened to every conversation with an open mind and heavy heart. I have received passionate and poignant letters from those who adamantly oppose this legislation. I also have received passionate and poignant letters from those who adamantly support this legislation. I treasure that we have a University family that is willing to stand up for their beliefs — but I carry the burden that our campus community is not speaking with one voice on this issue.
The University has been engaged and fighting this issue for a very long time – not just in the past two weeks. For the past three years, we have successfully defeated this legislation. We have defeated it through the work of administration, faculty, staff and student leadership. Perhaps, in hindsight, we should have shared the scars we bear so that all were more aware of the battle that has been fought.
Therefore, to make any assertion that West Virginia University has no backbone or has not been a leader on this issue is an inaccurate assertion based on emotion rather than fact.
The fact is no matter where I have served, I have always argued for local control of any matter that relates to the University. It is always in the best interest to keep legislation from mandating the operations of an institution of higher learning.
This situation is no different. We want to be the masters of our destiny and in control of decisions affecting our campuses.
Let me be clear: West Virginia University has never stood silent on this matter or failed to engage in this debate. We have fought for three years in opposition in the halls and offices of our State Capitol.
Let me also be very clear that I fully support the current strategy to be emphatic that we prefer local control, but also to focus on the exemptions we will need to support and protect our campuses should this bill pass.
As your University president, I do not have the luxury of leading based on my personal beliefs. I do not have that luxury because I carry a grave responsibility — and that is the responsibility to keep our campuses safe.
Despite the actions we have taken in the past, the concerns we have raised, our preference for local control, and the opposition from many on this campus and across the State, House Bill 2519 passed the House of Delegates with a vote of 59-41. It has strong support in the Legislature.
In considering the best path forward, I must be realistic about the power of West Virginia University and others to stop this legislation. However, I am confident we are taking the correct measures to ensure we can implement a plan that provides additional protections and safeguards should the legislation move forward. Failing to fight for the exemptions to this legislation given its support would be irresponsible.
I take the safety of our campuses — and each of you — extremely seriously. As your leader, I have made an educated, informed decision. And I am further confident that should the bill pass, going forward we will come together to address specific concerns, implement the right precautions and do our very best to maintain an environment where everyone feels safe.
I realize not all will agree with the strategy — but I do ask for your respectful understanding of the position in which the University finds itself. You have the right to continue voicing your opinions to your elected officials and to me. I support your right to express your opinions here and in Charleston. I will continue to listen.
And I am hopeful that in your moment of quiet, you can find the path to reconcile your personal beliefs with the actions we must take. I hope that you will reflect that every action the University takes has been done only after great consideration. And I hope that you will see a future for West Virginia University that includes you as a thoughtful contributor to create solutions as we move forward.
E. Gordon Gee
President, West Virginia University