Wisconsin to examine practices after rehiring of accused sexual harasser
- At the urging of the governor, the University of Wisconsin System will examine its hiring practices after an assistant dean resigned following accusations he sexually harassed a worker at one of the system's campuses and then was hired at another.
- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gov. Scott Walker has urged the state university system to consider changes that include all campuses sharing personnel files of current and former employees and documenting in an employee’s file any allegations of or investigations into sexual harassment.
- A UW-Stevens assistant dean, who was responsible for handling misconduct complaints, resigned after he was accused of sexually harassing an employee of a campus vendor in 2015, then was hired for the same position at the UW-Eau Clare campus. The newspaper reported that when it requested information, in several cases the campuses either did not have detailed records on sexual harassment in personnel files or the files were incomplete.
This issue comes after a series of incidents involving misconduct connected to universities, most notably by Larry Nassar, the Michigan State University sports doctor who was convicted of sexually abusing 170 young women. The former president of the university, Lou Anna Simon, testified this week before the U.S. Senate that she did not know about the abuse and blamed “bureaucracies and regulations” for stopping officials from fully investigating and resolving serious problems on campus.
The Nassar controversy swirled faster when testimony from one of the accusers suggested at a court proceeding in April that former governor John Engler, who was appointed as Michigan State’s interim president, offered her a $250,000 cash payoff. There have been calls for Engler to step down also.
Meanwhile, University of Southern California President C.L.Max Nikias agreed to resign about two weeks ago after critics charged the institution failed to act on reports that a gynecologist who worked at USC for decades was inappropriately touching students. More than 4,000 students, staff and alumni signed a petition calling for Nikias resignation.
In January, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman announced his resignation just before sexual misconduct claims against a university professor were reported publicly.
Michigan State drew criticism for its handling of the Nassar controversy, including a comment from a trustee claiming that MSU was “Not Penn State”, a reference to the scandal that rocked that institution when a football coach was convicted of abusing young men and boys. The Atlantic recently suggested that MSU did a worse job then Penn State at handling the controversy.
Meanwhile, public universities in the nation’s five major athletic conferences paid more than $10.5 million in settlements related to sexual harassment claims in 2016 and 2017, according to a Wall Street Journal review of recent settlements. The 59 settlements in the WSJ's review represent 22 universities and university systems, including all campuses in the Texas A&M and University of California systems, the University of Colorado and the University of Missouri. They include settlements for allegations by or against students, faculty and staff.
Researchers have developed strategies for college officials to employ when emergencies or controversies erupt, including a fast response and clear lines of communications. Experts say cover-ups often create more problems for schools than the original problem.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel UW System to consider tightening hiring policies to weed out sexual harassers