Former UW-W dean drops lawsuit
Howard Ross agreed to the settlement after it became clear he was likely to lose because the case had become too convoluted for the federal jury in Milwaukee, said his attorney, Bob Kasieta.
But UW-Whitewater spokeswoman Sara Kuhl said Ross dropped the case after testimony showed he had a history of failing to comply with credit card spending rules, and that removing him as dean in 2006 was not racially motivated. She said the current and former university officials who were being sued were pleased “to have this chapter over.”
“People feel vindicated and know they behaved in an appropriate manner to make sure we were handling state resources appropriately,” she said. “We’re going to do our best on campus to move forward.”
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and UW System President Kevin Reilly praised state lawyers for a strong defense of what Reilly called lawful actions to protect school resources.
But Kasieta said the university should feel no vindication. He said the case had become “a muddle of facts” after the trial, which started Monday, was canceled Tuesday because of a snowstorm. He said witnesses were forced to testify out of order, making a complicated case even harder to understand for jurors.
“The tragedy is that a very honest man, a very noble person, Dr. Ross, was absolutely pilloried in front of the jury and never got a chance to take the whole case through,” he said. “I think he made the right decision not to proceed, but it is tragic.”
Kasieta said state lawyers “hit a new low” by insisting Ross pay $1,000 to settle but Ross agreed only because he could have been forced to pay $10,000 or more in costs had he lost.
“I hope everybody who hears about that is offended by that,” Kasieta said. “All he wanted was to have his day in court, but he has to pay them $1,000.”
Kuhl said testimony backed the university’s contention that he misspent money on an Internet dating service, OnStar service for his vehicle, hotels and other expenses. The $1,000 might help pay back part of that, she said.
Ross was removed as dean of the College of Letters and Sciences in 2006 after the university released an audit report suggesting he either misspent or failed to account for $310,000 in spending dating back to 2000. University officials said he failed to document purchases and keep receipts but later revised the spending in question to $117,000.
Ross, who is black, argued he and the university’s only other black dean were the only ones to face special audits of their spending; he also contended he was treated more harshly than white administrators. Ross argued the audit was severely flawed and was expanded after he criticized his treatment in an interview with The Associated Press.
Ross has continued to work as a professor of philosophy and religious studies at UWWhitewater and will stay at the school despite Friday’s settlement, Kasieta said.