Education

University of Iowa diversity councils slam President Harreld, top administrators

'We are severely disappointed and frustrated by the University of Iowa's lack of meaningful response'

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld listens Jan. 24 as the dedication begins for the new Department of Psychologi
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld listens Jan. 24 as the dedication begins for the new Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in Iowa City. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A coalition of seven University of Iowa diversity councils has written an open letter to UI President Bruce Harreld and his administrators voicing concerns with the campus culture and its response to police brutality and protests for change.

“We are severely disappointed and frustrated by the University of Iowa’s lack of meaningful response to the police brutality, protests, and calls from students, staff, and faculty to implement change for equity,” according to the letter posted Monday on the councils’ websites.

“Faculty, staff, and especially students perceive you and many other university leaders to be oblivious to the intense fear, struggle, and trauma that permeates the University of Iowa community each day.”

The university has been the epicenter of Black Lives Matter protests in Iowa City this summer following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Protesters have rallied on the Pentacrest, outside Harreld’s office and president’s residence, and they spray painted those buildings and others with movement messages.

Harreld and other administrators have voiced support and vowed, “We are here to help.”

“We will not tolerate anything but a safe and inclusive campus for people of all backgrounds regardless of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, ancestry, or disability,” Harreld and then-Provost Montse Fuentes wrote in a campus message June 1.

This week’s letter from the diversity councils — including the African American, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Native American and Pan Asian councils — referenced that message.

“It is your responsibility not only to enact this leadership that you explicitly call for, but also make it legible and relatable to the multiple individual communities of which you are a part as the president of University of Iowa, foremost being Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students,” according to the councils’ letter.

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Harreld has responded directly to the councils and asked to meet with them, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. And he issued two campuswide messages in June on the university’s support for the protesters and next steps.

In this week’s letter, however, the groups requested a public response to concerns from Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“If their address is public, your response should be public,” the letter said. “Accountability, transparency, and honesty are requisite to building trust.”

The letter asked Harreld to lead by example, and it criticized him for silence after College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Steve Goddard dismissed return-to-campus concerns from a faculty member who identifies as an at-risk woman of color.

“We need informed collaborative interaction by top administrators — and this, too, is your responsibility to implement,” the letter said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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