The board overseeing Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities asked member schools Friday to postpone any planned changes to campus policies on carrying guns, putting the brakes on a process its own lawyers set in motion last year.
Guido Pichini, chairman of the State System of Higher Education's board of governors, urged those schools to allow the matter to be examined by a task force announced last month to study all areas of campus safety and university police operations.
"While the task force reviews this issue, the Board has asked the universities to maintain the status quo in regards to their existing weapons policies," Mr. Pichini said in a statement released by the system's Harrisburg headquarters.
His directive comes after several State System schools, Slippery Rock University among them, enacted policies allowing individuals with government-issued permits to carry firearms in open campus spaces.
The campuses made the changes after the State System's lawyers last year advised schools that an outright campus ban across the 115,000-student system would not be legally enforceable. The changes already made apparently will stand pending further direction from the State System, campus officials said.
For months, the revised gun policy suggested by the State System's lawyers of allowing guns in open spaces but not in buildings or at university events attracted little notice from the public as individual schools adopted the changes.
The weapons policy approved at Slippery Rock's Council of Trustees on Sept. 27 received "minimal" attention at the time, spokesman Karl Schwab said.
But at Kutztown University, word began circulating among faculty and social media this week about the school's April 19 decision to alter the campuswide ban, Kutztown spokesman Matthew Santos said.
He said Kutztown typically announces policy changes closer to the start of the new school year but decided in light of the debate already underway to announce the change Thursday. That led to intensified interest in what has been a hot-button issue nationally, including calls from news outlets across Pennsylvania and beyond.
"There is no more compelling role for our university leaders than to ensure that our campuses provide the safest learning environments possible," Mr. Pichini said in Friday's statement. "I want to emphasize this important fact. The universities' policies and priorities must also balance the rights of individuals under state and federal law."
He said State System universities can forbid weapons, including legally registered firearms, within classroom buildings, dormitories, dining facilities, student union buildings, athletic facilities and recreation centers, or while attending a sporting, entertainment or educational event on campus.
"However, [State System] policies also must be consistent with Pennsylvania law, which allows individuals who are properly permitted to carry a firearm 'on or about one's person or in a vehicle throughout the Commonwealth,' " he said.
At Kutztown, the review followed a student's request -- initially denied -- to bring a gun onto campus. Mr. Pichini noted that a number of individuals had raised questions about campus gun policies.
School president F. Javier Cevallos relayed Mr. Pichini's statement Friday along with his own perspective on the policy change there.
"I personally believe guns have no place on campus, and by no means do we support having guns on our campus," he wrote. "We provide a very safe environment for learning and living and are committed to keeping it that way."
Bill Schackner: email@example.com, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.