Teacher’s outburst turns physical


Pablo Medina

Grace Jene Leonard gives her account of events to Officer Tricia Garcia after a physical confrontation with Professor Kate Harris.

Brett Starkopf , Editor-in-Chief

A communications instructor was caught on video cursing at and pushing a student Oct. 19 in the F-Building.

Kate Harris left her class to go to to the University Commons where students were having discussions with members of an anti-LGBTQA group.

There, Harris, who was described by her student Emily Hosman as being “liberal” and “offended by the group,” began shouting at and confronting students after the individuals already left.

“By the time I got there … I just saw her in someone’s face kind of by the door and obviously really frantic and freaking out,” Hosman said.

Harris confronted Grace Jene Leonard, a senior, and began swearing and asking students for their student IDs.

“We were just outside talking to these people who were preaching basically against homosexuality,” Leonard said. “I showed her my ID and she called me a ‘b—-’ and told me to go, ‘f—’myself.”

Once Leonard heard Harris was an instructor, she and a group of students followed her from the Commons to her classroom in the F-Building.

According to NEIU police Lt. John Schulz, the two-minute video shows Harris “fleeing” from the confrontation.

“The other people weren’t satisfied with the answer that she gave and they continued to follow (her) and they were yelling at her and she was yelling back,” Schulz said, describing the footage.

There was another confrontation between Harris and Leonard before reaching the F-Building.

“She continued to swear at me and call me a b—- and she was giving us all the finger,” Leonard said.

Once inside the F-Building, Leonard attempted to enter the classroom but Harris didn’t let her.

“She tried to slam the door and basically just pushed me out of it and pushed me down,” she said.

Schulz said the students who followed Harris back to her class used “poor judgment.”

“My advice to any student or professor is if you see something you feel is not right or unwarranted that you bring it to someone in authority’s attention. Bring it to the police’s attention,” Schulz said. “Or if it’s a professor that you think has said something that is out of line then go to the administration and say, ‘Hey, I had this encounter with one of your professors, this is what was said and this is how they acted’ and investigate and do it that route.

“You wouldn’t have had this prolonged confrontation; you wouldn’t have had the finger pointing and the swearing and the slamming the door and the news story that followed that turned into me sitting here talking to you,” Schulz added.

As of Oct. 21, NEIU police and administration are looking into the matter and no charges have been filed against Harris.

“At the moment, the University considers this a personnel matter and what I can say so far is that university will deal with this in accordance to procedures as well as the collective bargaining agreement,” said Chief Communications Officer Mike Dizon. “We are going to have to follow procedure.”

Harris agreed to speak to the Independent on Oct. 20, but only after she finds out what the university is doing regarding the matter. In an Oct. 21 email, Harris stated that she is “still waiting for my initial meeting with the University.”

NEIU University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 President and Philosophy and Political Science Professor Sophia Mihic declined to comment.

“The union has a legally defined responsibility in this investigation and process,” Mihic wrote in an Oct. 22 email. “Our role is to help foster fairness and must at this time be confidential.”

Schulz confirmed the matter is still under investigation and does not think she will be charged.

“At this point, I don’t think so,” Schulz said. “It’s still being reviewed.”

Before the incident with Leonard occurred, Hosman claimed that Harris grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her to class.

While Hosman, who is in Harris’ “Voice for the Stage” class, was trying to figure out what was happening, she audibly voiced her displeasure of the situation to a man in the Commons.

“I was talking with him and then I was saying, ‘we’re two minutes into my class and I’m paying to come out here and watch my professor yell at somebody, I feel like that’s a waste of my time. Like, why are we here now?’” Hosman told the man.

She wasn’t sure if Harris had heard her complaints but that’s when Harris grabbed Hosman’s arm and started to pull her down the hallway.

“She pulled me down the hall and she’s like, ‘c’mon, let’s go” and I stopped her from pulling me … because I was uncomfortable with the fact that she was touching me or trying to make me move,” Hosman said. “I’m not her daughter.”

Harris left then returned and attempted to pull Hosman to class again. Hosman said she felt “pressured” and told Harris she wasn’t going to class.

Kyle Burke, director of the Student Union, Events & Conference Services, also witnessed Harris grab Hosman.

“She did grab her arm, but let go pretty quickly,” Burke said. “Emily was shaken. This is someone she knows. I didn’t see an aggressive grab. It was more like a, ‘c’mon Emily, let’s go.’”

Burke, who was on the quad at the same time Harris began confronting students, called the event “strange.”

“I didn’t hear what was going on initially. What I did see was people around saying, ‘Who are you? You can’t talk to us like this,’” Burke said. “I did see (Grace) show Professor Harris her ID and I was like, ‘Who is this person? I don’t get it.’ I didn’t know who she was. With some of the way she was asserting herself it became clear she wasn’t a fellow student. It was very strange. The whole thing was strange.”

Though Harris is well received by her students, Hosman said “her behavior in the classroom was definitely inappropriate at times.”

“In terms of violent outburst, no. I’ve never seen anything like that,” Hosman said. “She’s a highly opinionated professor…She can get inappropriate with some of the stuff she says, like slang for body parts and she swears a lot.”

Hosman added that she didn’t see Harris angry with other students in her class and that she liked her class.

As of Oct. 21, Harris has not been disciplined and her classes will proceed as normal while the investigation is ongoing.

Although proper disciplinary action was offered by Leonard.

“I think she should be fired. Absolutely. And arrested for assault,” Leonard said. “Beyond the physical of what she did, I think that the things she said to me and other students and her behavior in general is abhorrent, inappropriate and it’s hypocritical of the school to employ people like that and then expect students to live up to some kind of ridiculous student code of conduct that teachers aren’t following.”

Dizon called the incident “atypical” and said, “this is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen at the university often.

“It’s also highly inconsistent with our university values,” he said.