Higher education

Faculty at Iowa universities condemn 'unpresidential' remark

Harreld says his 'should be shot' comment was taken out of context

J. Bruce Harreld, then a candidate for the University of Iowa presidency, delivers remarks during a public forum for can
J. Bruce Harreld, then a candidate for the University of Iowa presidency, delivers remarks during a public forum for candidates at the Iowa Memorial Union on the UI campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Nearly three weeks after University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld was reported to have said during a staff meeting that unprepared teachers “should be shot,” faculty groups at Iowa’s three public universities have condemned the comment and called on the Board of Regents to “revisit” its decision to hire him.

“Mr. Harreld’s crude, off-the-cuff comment makes it clear yet again that the Iowa Board of Regents disserved our students, our colleagues, and the state of Iowa when, through their dishonesty, they selected someone unprepared for the office of university president to lead one of the three universities for which they have a duty of care,” a statement said.

The American Association of University Professors chapters for the UI, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa issued the statement late Sunday, referring to the controversial selection process that landed Harreld in Iowa. The former IBM, Kraft and Boston Market executive was recruited by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and participated in several meetings — which initially were undisclosed — with members of the search committee and regents during the presidential search process.

He was named among four finalists in late August and early September, and hundreds of faculty, staff, and students voiced opposition to his candidacy.

The regents unanimously chose him for the job, citing his innovative leadership style and promise in guiding the university through significant changes in higher education. Since then, Harreld has expressed a commitment to shared governance of the institution, academic excellence and tenure. And he has proposed initiatives committing millions to improving faculty salaries, if state appropriations come through.

But some have continued to protest his lack of academic leadership experience and the process the board followed in hiring him.

Graduate students protested comments Harreld supposedly made during a Dec. 9 Staff Council meeting.

According to several staff accounts, Harreld responded to a comment about teacher preparation by saying, in essence, that unprepared teachers “should be shot.”


Harreld has told The Gazette he did not say teachers should be shot but rather that he “learned the hard way that if I ever walked into a classroom without a teaching plan, I should be shot.”

He said his comments were taken out of context, and he did not intend to threaten anyone.

But the AAUP statement deplored the incident regardless, saying it’s “unprofessional and unpresidential.”

“His words reveal a stunning lack of sensitivity for the safety of Iowa faculty, staff, and students,” according to the statement. “As Iowans know, the University of Iowa has already experienced the horror of a mass shooting in November 1991.”

Faculty members, in the statement, said they have not forgotten the faculty, students and administrator who died when graduate student Gang Lu opened fire on campus on Nov. 1, 1991. Apparently distraught that his doctoral dissertation did not win a prize, he killed five people and critically injured another before killing himself.

“Since 1991, faculty members at our universities can be, and have been, disciplined or fired for a similar remark,” according to the statement. “There is no lesser standard for a university president.”

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