As described in an email that librarian Lis Gardinier sent to President Harreld, his statement that “there was ‘one way’ to prepare lessons and any instructor who goes into a class without having done so ‘should be shot’” was not only “horrifying and unacceptable” but also “irresponsible and unprofessional.”
Gardinier wrote to Harreld:
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. You may not have been kicked out since your appointment, but not for lack of trying, and nor is anyone is advocating for bodily harm to come of you or anyone complicit in your hire.
I have many other issues with your rambling, unfocused talk, none of which alleviated any of my concerns regarding your ability to lead our university. If you’re going to play university president, a very public figure, please do it well for the sake of the community you’ve been given to lead. If you’re going to earn the trust of the community, none of your approach yesterday was to your credit.
Thanks for the feedback. I likely will never be able to live up to your expectations but I will try.
Unfortunately I think you’re right. 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.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore your comment about gun violence. It was an unfortunate off the cuff remark and I had no intention to offedn [sic] anyone. Nor did I seriously mean to imply I support gun violence in any shape, manner, or form.
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.
Thank you. It's appreciated. I did understand your use of the phrase to be rhetorical, and inappropriate. A teachable moment.
In U.S. higher education, any violation of a speech code has a way of taking on a first, second, and maybe even, a third life of its own as ideologically driven individuals and groups use those words to further their coveted ends.
And so, it should not surprise anyone that the publicity accorded to the Gardinier-Harreld email exchange caused some stormy petrels who weren’t present at the meeting to take offense. For example, the union representing teaching and research assistants released a statement, noting that Harreld’s statement displayed “a callous disdain for the members of this community.”
How so? It violated the University's policy against “violent threats.”
And so the offense taken for voicing an ill-advised metaphor spreads like a virus.
Following the release of the union’s statement and perhaps realizing more blood might be extracted, Gardinier issued yet another email. In that email, Gardinier appeared to recant her previous acceptance of Harreld’s apology:
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.
Unfortunately, President Harreld doesn’t have that option because the simple fact is that those leading this assault upon free speech are nothing more than fundamentalist logophobes who take offense at language that doesn’t suit the PC police’s definition of what constitutes “acceptable language.”
Confusing ideology with decorum, fundamentalist logophobes impose an external standard--the tenets of speech--dictating what language is acceptable and unacceptable. Fundamentalist logophobes then punish any individual who violates those tenets, denying people free speech and extracting a very high price. Just ask Hester Prynne how it works.
Decorum reveals an individual’s self-appropriation of a set of conventions which demarcate what’s acceptable and unacceptable based upon situation and circumstances. Decorum requires that an apology be issued when an individual violates what propriety requires, given the situation and circumstances. Indecorous individuals realize their failure and offer a sincere apology and those who take offense graciously accept the apology. Then, both sides move forward, realizing that free speech has its limits.
After all of this, a twist in the narrative arose yesterday: President Harreld now denies stating that professors who are not prepared for class “should be shot,” telling The Gazette that he said:
I have learned the hard way that if I ever walk into a classroom without a teaching plan, I should be shot.
When interviewed, Gardinier hemmed and hawed. Instead of doubling down and standing by her previous statement, Gardinier cited the email in which Harreld didn't deny making the statement attributed to him. She also noted that Harreld clarified his remarks only after they went viral. Gardinier said:
The distinction between ‘I’ and ‘they’ is not the one that matters. It’s the ‘should be shot’ part.
Let the discussion begin...
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