IOWA CITY — A controversial remark that University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld made last month touched off a surge of emails in which staff and faculty members called him names and urged a librarian who challenged him to go public in efforts to oust him.
The emails proliferated between staff members after Harreld, officially on the job just over a month at the time, spoke about unprepared teachers in response to a question during a Dec. 9 Staff Council meeting. Lisa Gardinier, the Latin American & Iberian Studies librarian, has said Harreld told the group that any instructor who goes into a class unprepared “should be shot.”
The next day, she sent him an email calling him out for the comment as “truly unacceptable behavior.” She then shared with others her email and Harreld’s response, which sparked more outrage against the new president.
“This was a grievous offense and probably a violation of numerous policies,” Ruth Bryant, a spokeswoman for the UI graduate student union, wrote Dec. 13 about the comment. “I really believe that this needs to be made public.”
Gardinier sent her email exchange with Harreld to the Associated Press, and then informed her colleagues she had done so. Many praised her, writing, “i.am.so.proud.of.you.” and “Stay on him!”
After the story about his remark hit the press, colleagues applauded Gardinier’s actions as possible grounds for terminating Harreld — a former IBM executive who started in November under a cloud of controversy after the Board of Regents chose him despite widespread opposition.
The messages, which were sent or received on university email accounts, were obtained by The Gazette.
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Asked to comment on the messages, Harreld said Friday in a statement that “it’s a new year and the page has turned. We are having substantive conversations about the future of our great university and I appreciate all of the support.”
Harreld has previously said his remark was incorrectly described by Gardinier.
“I never said ‘teachers should be shot,’ ” he wrote her Dec. 15. “Instead, as you concurred, I referenced my own experience and commented, ‘I have learned the hard way that if I go into a classroom without a teaching plan, I should be shot.’ ”
Nonetheless, Harreld apologized for using the word “shot” considering “today’s world of gun violence.”
He asked in an email that Gardinier correct the information, although she later told The Gazette that she stands by her account.
Criticism and name-calling of Harreld followed when she shared her email exchange with friends. One used an expletive and called Harreld “a moron.” Gardinier herself called him “slimy,” “clueless” and “corporate America’s village idiot.”
Gardinier told The Gazette on Friday that she doesn’t regret her comments.
“Those are my personal opinions,” she said. “Whether that’s the wisest thing to do at a public university … but I don’t have any regrets about it. I will stand by it.”
A cohort of UI students, faculty and staff has been pushing for Harreld’s ouster since news broke of previously undisclosed meetings and discussions he had with regents, faculty members, and the governor while the presidential search process was still going on.
“This might (hopefully) be enough to push the whole thing over the edge,” one assistant professor wrote. “He picked the wrong thing to say at precisely the right moment and with the right person present to call him out.”
A professor wrote that the faculty and staff should keep the pressure on.
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“We have to keep at it and put his nose in it anytime we can catch him at being unaware of the ‘weight of words,’” he wrote.
In her emails, Gardinier told colleagues that “I have no doubt that he’ll say plenty more inappropriate things.”
“But people need to be present to call him on it and/or make it public,” she wrote. “If there’s any way to follow his calendar, that could be useful.”
Many who emailed Gardinier mentioned the 1991 shooting on the UI campus that left six people dead, including the gunman.
“As someone who was on campus and has close friends who were in the physics dept. when several ‘well-prepared’ instructors were gunned down and killed, I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to hear a statement like that come out of the new president’s mouth,” one wrote.