ATHENS, Ohio -- Amid the fishing gear that adorns his office walls, Ohio University journalism Professor Patrick Washburn reserved a spot for a piece of family history.
For 15 years, Washburn displayed his great-grandfather's rifle.
But someone complained, and in January, OU police ordered him to remove the rifle.
University officials say the school's workplace violence policy forbids the display.
"It's been up all these years,'' Washburn said last week. "Why do they suddenly care?''
Washburn, 60, said neither he nor the 1878 Springfield rifle poses a threat to anyone.
"I've never even touched it,'' the tenured professor said. "I don't even know what kind of shell it takes.''
University officials said that doesn't matter.
"Clearly it's a violation of the policy,'' said Kathy Krendl, dean of OU's College of Communications. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it.''
The policy, which took effect in December 2000, forbids any OU employee from possessing or displaying a host of weapons, including "firearms, martial arts devices, bows and arrows or other archery types of devices, slingshots, blow darts, blackjacks, stun guns, tasers or other kinds of submission devices.''
Krendl said that in late January, someone at OU complained about Washburn's rifle. After consulting with OU's legal affairs office, she turned the matter over to campus police.
On Jan. 25, an officer told Washburn to remove the rifle or face possible disciplinary action.
Washburn complied, but has barraged OU officials with letters, e- mails and public-records requests in an effort to find out who lodged the complaint, and why, if the gun was a problem, the issue wasn't raised earlier.
"What else am I going to have to remove from my office?'' he asked in a Feb. 11 letter to OU Police Chief Stephen Ramirez. "Am I going to be allowed to have sharpened pencils?''
Washburn called the order "harassment'' and an attempt to "somehow make me look dangerous.''
OU is sticking to its guns.
"We were not told earlier about your gun, but this does not grandfather a permission for you to have a gun in your office, decoration or not,'' OU Legal Affairs Director John Burns informed Washburn in an e- mail last week.
"And there is no provision for an exception for you in the policy.''
Other schools have similar policies. For example, Ohio State University issued a workplace violence policy in 1999 that states that no employee may possess a "deadly weapon'' on campus property.
Both Ohio State and OU policies state that punishment can include termination.
OU spokeswoman Leesa Brown said concerns about workplace violence at universities should be taken seriously in the wake of incidents such as the Jan. 16 shootings at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va.
A student there who had been dismissed for poor grades is charged in the fatal shooting of a dean, a professor and a student, and wounding three other students.
Brown said she knew one of those killed, law-school Dean L. Anthony Sutin.
"I just went to the funeral of a 41- year-old father of two, who was assassinated in his office,'' she said.
Washburn, who also has removed from his office wall a spear given to him by a graduate student, said the rifle is a piece of his heritage.
"This was my great-grandfather's gun, who served in the Union army at age 16,'' he said. "This is an ancestor's gun.''