A tenured UW-Whitewater professor who was dismissed last week by the UW System Board of Regents says he plans to seek a judicial review of the decision in Walworth County Court.
Chris Henige was hired to teach art history at UW-W in 2001 and received tenure in 2007. The UW regents voted Feb. 8 to uphold a decision by the Personnel Matters Review Committee to dismiss the associate professor.
Henige shared with The Gazette a copy of the decision, which he also posted online. He has posted hundreds of documents related to his case on a website.
UW-W officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The decision states Henige’s case stems from a Feb. 21, 2017, complaint from Robert Mertens, interim dean of the College of Arts and Communication, who sought Henige’s dismissal “for harassing and bullying behaviors.”
In his annotated response, Henige sharply criticized the fact-finding section of the decision, repeatedly pointing out that some assertions—such as those about harassment—lacked any evidence to support them.
A UW-W faculty hearing panel held an evidentiary hearing Sept. 8 and recommended Henige’s dismissal Oct. 27. Chancellor Beverly Kopper on Nov. 28 sent a letter to UW System President Ray Cross recommending the same.
In one example, Mark McPhail, then dean of the College of Arts and Communication, sent a letter and complaint to former Chancellor Richard Telfer on May 8, 2013, saying Henige was causing “serious tension” in the department “through his angry and aggressive communications,” according to the decision.
In a report filed Oct. 17, 2014, Frank Goza, associate dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, wrote that Henige “had engaged in a sustained pattern of harassment, repeated actions of intimidation and the creation of a hostile work environment,” according to the decision.
Henige questioned the reports of harassment, in part because he said he has been living in New York and teaching online for years because of health issues.
Regarding some instances in which he said people were incompetent or liars, Henige argued his words were backed up by facts and submitted appropriately.
Henige also argued the regents’ decision did not note that some allegations were dismissed, even though it cites those allegations in the facts section.
Henige has said he has tried to spotlight what he believes are structural deficiencies at UW-W in helping students graduate on time—and UW-W officials refuse to do anything about them. The impediments to graduating in four years are adding to the student debt crisis, Henige argues.
UW-W bachelor’s degree recipients spent an average of 8.8 semesters at the university, according to 2015-16 UW System data. The minimum number of credits to graduate is 120, yet UW-W students earn an average of 135.
Henige has said the university requires students to take classes but doesn’t offer them often enough to reasonably fit in students’ schedules.
An example of harassing behavior included in the decision cited a January 2017 email to a student that read, “The administration is failing miserably in providing you with the options you deserve.”
“If an administrator makes decisions that harm the students, and you report that to them, you are subject to disciplinary action for being ‘harassing’ or ‘intimidating’ or just plain ‘uncollegial,’” Henige wrote in response to the decision.
Henige also said those handling his cases have violated due process and open-records laws, issues he said will be more thoroughly examined by the courts.
He has 30 days to file his petition in Walworth County Court.