IOWA CITY — University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said he did not tell a room full of staff members last week that “teachers should be shot if they don’t have a teaching plan.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s news that a UI staff member complained about Harreld’s comments during a Dec. 9 Staff Council meeting, and email documentation showing Harreld apologized, the new president told The Gazette his words were taken out of context.
“During a discussion with our Staff Council, I responded to a question about improving graduate student teaching by commenting that, ‘I have learned the hard way that if I ever walk into a classroom without a teaching plan, I should be shot,’” Harreld told The Gazette in an email late Tuesday.
After Harreld said his comments were misreported Tuesday, he contacted the staff member who originally reached out to him in hopes of clarifying.
“She quickly agreed with what I said and agreed that I never said, ‘teachers should be shot,’” Harreld told The Gazette. “We then chatted about how this could have happened, and she commented that she passed our email exchange to someone else and couldn’t speculate how our exchange ended up in the press, nor how ‘I’ became ‘teachers.’”
Lisa Gardinier, the UI Latin American and Iberian studies librarian, who made the complaint told The Gazette that when Harreld called her Tuesday, she was taken aback. Gardinier said she told Harreld, “yeah, sure,” to his clarification.
“But, frankly, the distinction between ‘I’ and ‘they’ is not the one that matters,” she told The Gazette. “It’s the ‘should be shot part.’”
No audio or video exists of the meeting, and Gardinier said she’s not going to trust either her or Harreld’s memory of the exact phrasing. She said Harreld did not try and correct his comments in her original email, and he apologized for making them.
“He has only been interested in correcting that since it’s gone to press,” she said, adding that she still feels the comments were inappropriate. “If your attempt at putting it in a better light is ‘I’ or ‘they,’ that’s not a whole lot to stand on.”
Sam Van Horne, in the UI Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology, asked the question that prompted the answer from Harreld about unprepared teachers. Van Horne said he also doesn’t remember the exact phrasing.
“But he did say instructors who are unprepared should be shot,” Van Horne said. “Those words were used.”
He said Harreld made the comment seemingly “off the cuff,” and it was part of a 10- to 15-minute answer about improving instructor preparation. The university’s graduate student union has called Harreld’s comments threatening and asked for his resignation.
Van Horne said he didn’t take the statement as a literal threat.
“My impression listening to the president speak is that he speaks extemporaneously and kind of off the cuff,” he said. “I did not take it as a threat. I took it as an ill-conceived statement while giving a long answer.”
Provost Barry Butler said he was in the room for part of the question and answer session. but he doesn’t recall hearing the comment. Regardless of what specifically was said, Harreld in his email to The Gazette said “clearly using the word ‘shot’ in today’s environment is insensitive and I apologize.”
“However, I never said, ‘teachers should be shot.’”