Harper College fires professor charged in Iowa shootings

 
 
Updated 1/23/2018 6:47 PM
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  • Charles Johnston

    Charles Johnston

Harper College on Tuesday fired a professor charged with shooting at vehicles Jan. 11 in Iowa.

Charles Johnston, an associate professor of psychology at the Palatine-based community college, was dismissed at a special meeting of the college's board of trustees. Board members spent nearly 30 minutes in closed session before reconvening in open session and taking a unanimous vote to fire him.

Johnston, a Harper employee since 1996, had been barred from campus after his arrest and was considered absent without leave, officials said.

Johnston, 60, of Belvidere, was charged with attempted murder and assault on a peace officer with a dangerous weapon after an exchange of gunfire with state troopers the afternoon of Jan. 11, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

Authorities said the shootings occurred near a rest stop and gas station near Interstate 80 in Cedar County, between Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Johnston told officers after his arrest -- which followed an exchange of gunfire and brief standoff -- that he was targeting truck drivers after becoming enraged over a truck crash that killed a family, according to a recent court filing.

His bosses at Harper learned of his arrest Jan. 16 -- the first day of the spring semester -- when Johnston didn't show up to his classes and a colleague came across a news report out of Iowa, according to Harper spokeswoman Kim Pohl.

Harper President Ken Ender on Tuesday night confirmed Johnston was gone for a portion of the fall semester and was scheduled to return for the new semester Jan. 16. Johnston was scheduled to teach a full course load; arrangements have since been made to cover those classes.

Ender declined to comment Tuesday about Johnston's tenure at Harper, saying it is a personnel matter. He said he only knew the professor "casually."

Iowa authorities have been in contact with Harper officials, who are cooperating with the investigation, Ender said.

One of Johnston's former students, Jim Yahazim, said he got to know Johnston during the 2013-14 school year when taking a psychology class. Yahazim also sought the professor out for side chats, and Johnston wrote Yahazim a letter of recommendation to get into a four-year school.

"I could tell he was a highly intelligent person with a deep view of life," Yahazim said. "That created a lot of pain for him."

Johnston was making a base salary of $103,892, in addition to $12,765 in extra duty pay and $9,435 in benefits, according to an Illinois Community College Board compensation report.

Johnston is being held in the Cedar County jail on $1 million bail and is due in court for an arraignment March 2.

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