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UW-Whitewater panel to hold hearing on professor's dismissal

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Jonah Beleckis
Thursday, September 7, 2017

WHITEWATERA UW-Whitewater panel could make a recommendation to the chancellor Friday on the dismissal of a tenured art history professor with an alleged history of departmental conflicts.

In an April 28 letter to associate professor Chris Henige, Chancellor Beverly Kopper wrote that Henige “repeatedly violated a directive” she made last summer and that he has shown a pattern of “disruptive and destructive” behavior toward his department.

Henige has posted a copy of the letter and other documents online.

In her letter, Kopper says there is “sufficient evidence and just cause” to fire Henige from his tenured faculty position.

Henige is appealing the decision. He said he hopes to provide evidence and explanations for his behavior at Friday's open hearing before the UW-W Faculty Appeals, Grievances and Disciplinary Panel.

Henige also says he is simply being persistent about an issue he cares about: getting students to graduate from UW-W within four years.

In February, Robert Mertens, then interim dean of the College of Arts and Communication, sent a complaint about Henige's behavior to Kopper.

Mertens wrote that “several members of the department expressed their serious anxiety and fear about this (Henige's) repeated harassment,” according to a copy of the letter Henige posted online.

In her letter to Henige, Kopper wrote that Henige violated her directive that he must communicate with his department through Mertens.

Kopper wrote that Henige's violations “created an intimidating, harassing and disruptive environment for members of the department.”

Kopper's letter also refers to a report from a special investigator, which was submitted after Mertens' complaint. And she notes that Henige was once suspended for a semester.

Henige argues that the university is not doing enough to ensure that students graduate in four years, and that structural impediments to timely graduation are contributing to student debt. He has repeatedly raised those issues to administrators, but he said they have done nothing.

Bachelor's degree recipients at UW-Whitewater spent an average of 8.8 semesters at the university, according to 2015-16 UW System data. Eight semesters typically equals four years.

UW-Whitewater students also earned an average of 135 credits. The minimum to graduate is 120.

Students have told Henige that they could have graduated on time, but the classes they needed weren't offered, he said.

UW-W's numbers are on par with UW System averages—8.8 semesters and slightly fewer credits at 132.

Those averages are for students who start and graduate from the same UW school.

“Why can't we deliver what we're basically promising to deliver: a 120-credit degree in four years?” Henige asked. “It almost never happens. It can't be just them. Some of it has to be us.”

Henige said he has been treated unfairly in his efforts to address the problem.

UW-W spokeswoman Sara Kuhl said in an email that the university “does not comment on ongoing personnel matters.”

Henige has taught art history at UW-W since 2001. He said Friday's hearing is about more than whether he stays or goes.

“Nobody really cares about me. Nobody cares what happens to the art history guy,” Henige said. “But what they should care about is what's happening to the students.”

Henige said the issue can still go before the UW Board of Regents for review.



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