December 17, 2015
University of Iowa president makes badly-timed joke, librarian calls him out
by Chad Felix
University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld raised more than eyebrows last week during a staff council meeting when he remarked that professors teaching without lesson plans “should be shot.”
As reported by Inside Higher Ed‘s Kellie Woodhouse, the new president’s complete statement was: “There [is] one way to prepare lessons and any instructor who goes into a class without having done so should be shot.” The comment was delivered—rhetorically, Harreld argues—in response to a question from Professor Sam Van Horne about teaching methods.
The day following Harreld’s remark, Lisa Gardinier, a university librarian who attended the meeting, sent a strongly worded email to Harreld that called attention to his admittedly “off-the-cuff” statement. Her email stated:
For a university president to use the term “should be shot” so flippantly, and just a week after the most recent highly publicized mass shooting and in a tense atmosphere of racist law enforcement violence, is horrifying and unacceptable. For someone who claims to sideline his vision to that of the university community, to casually suggest potentially lethal punishment as consequences for failure to comply with a narrow perception of the correct way to fulfill one of our duties, is irresponsible and unprofessional.
Thanks for the feedback. I likely will never be able to live up to your expectations but I will try.
Undaunted, Gardinier responded:
If you don’t address the issue raised, or even acknowledge it, I’m not even convinced you’re trying. Violence is not to be joked about as a public authority, and certainly not in the frame of consequences for professional performance in the workplace.
Harreld with an apology:
Frankly, I have used the comment in many, many forums and this is the first time any one [sic] has objected to it. I apologize and appreciate your calling my attention to it.
Gardinier, however, promptly labeled Harreld’s response a “non-apology,” arguing that:
Just because nobody has raised the issue with him before does not mean that nobody has ever been bothered by his use of the phrase. I’ve said before that he strikes me as someone who is very used to speaking to boardrooms and to people who aspire to be in boardrooms, which doesn’t necessarily translate well to a wider university community or to a position of public authority,
And Gardninier’s stance has gained some traction within the University of Iowa community. The teaching and research assistant union has since criticized Harreld for his “callous disdain for the members of this community,” which is also, by the way, a violation of university policy. Additionally, as reported by the Gazette, the UI Campaign to Organize Graduate Students student group stands with Gardinier:
“We stand in solidarity with teachers who feel threatened and are committed to creating and maintaining the university as a safe place,” even going so far as demanding that Harreld resigns from his position “in light of the threat he poses to the campus community.”
Anne Bassett, an UI spokesperson, told Inside Higher Ed, “Harreld responded directly to Ms. Gardinier, which is appropriate.”
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.