The husband of the UW-Whitewater chancellor is banned from the school’s campuses and events after an investigation found he sexually harassed female employees.
Chancellor Beverly Kopper announced Friday the UW System ended in June the unpaid appointment of her husband, Alan “Pete” Hill, to the university.
Kopper said she “fully supported and cooperated with” the independent investigation against her husband, who had been in a position titled “associate to the chancellor” since July 2015, when Kopper became chancellor.
Hill is no longer allowed to attend UW-Whitewater events on the school’s campuses in Whitewater or in Janesville at the former UW-Rock County campus, according to a June 22 letter from UW System President Ray Cross to Kopper obtained by The Gazette on Friday.
There were two investigations into Hill.
One 2017 complaint about inappropriate touching went through an informal review process, and Hill was not found responsible for sexual harassment.
In April 2018, the UW System received a report of inappropriate physical contact.
Women reported various instances of inappropriate physical contact by Hill, according to a completed report by a special investigator from June 12. The women feared repercussions of reporting their allegations against the husband of the chancellor.
In one 2015 incident, Hill walked into a woman’s office, shut the door behind him, walked around her desk and gave her a “full body” frontal hug, which the woman said lasted “too long.”
Days or weeks later, Hill invited a woman into a conference room and “invaded her body space” before he grabbed her face and tried to kiss her on the mouth, according to the investigator’s report. The woman turned her head, and Hill kissed her on the cheek and whispered something into her ear.
Hill when speaking with the investigator did not deny the hugging or kissing—but rather he said he “did not remember” doing it, according to the report.
A third incident described in the report discusses a woman who was sitting between Kopper and Hill in April of this year.
Hill at least three times grabbed the woman’s knee under the table and tablecloth, the report states. During the conversation, Hill would say “I can help you with that,” and squeeze the woman’s knee.
The woman reported the incident to her supervisor the next day.
Hill told investigators he was reaching down to massage a cramp on his calf and just moved the woman’s leg away to reach his own, the report states.
Women reported Hill called them “babe,” “sweetie,” or “sweetheart.”
The investigator described Hill’s role at the university as “largely ceremonial.”
Hill, in a July 24, 2018, letter to a UW System official, said he disagreed with the investigator’s report and “unequivocally” said he never sexually harassed anyone or created a hostile work environment.
To rebut an allegation he had commented on a woman’s appearance, Hill said it was true but said he had in the past complimented men on their weight loss, too.
“It would not serve any of us well for me to provide a full set of rebuttals to the report at this time, but I can assure you there are many,” the letter states.
One of the women did not want to make the reports and “had a great deal of trepidation in formally reporting these incidents,” the report states. She thought reporting would jeopardize her employment and, therefore, her health insurance.
“She feared that if she reported, Mr. Hill would lie about her work performance to the Chancellor and the Chancellor might believe him,” the report states.
One woman just wanted Hill’s advances to “go away.”
The investigator said Hill’s denials are less credible.
Another female employee came forward because of the investigation and said Hill made her “very uncomfortable” at an official February 2018 function, according to the report. Hill put his hand on the woman’s lower back, pulled her close and whispered that she “look(s) really good.”
Hill said this incident never took place, according to the report.
The investigator reached out to one current and one former UW-Whitewater employee who were unwilling to speak on the record for fear of damaging their careers.
Hill, described by others as someone who hugs rather than shakes hands, said he greets alumni the same way he greets co-workers, according to the report.
But the investigator wrote in the report’s conclusion that this does not explain Hill’s conduct, which meets the criteria of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
“It is unlikely that Mr. Hill can or would amend his behavior to comport with the needs to the employer,” the report states.
A UW-Whitewater spokesman declined to comment and directed questions to communications officials at the UW System.
UW System President Ray Cross released a statement through a spokeswoman mentioning Kopper “immediately implemented the recommended actions from our independent investigation.”
“I am confident the Chancellor will continue to make the well-being of the UW-Whitewater campus community a top priority,” Cross said in the statement. “In the UW System, it is one of our primary responsibilities to provide students, faculty and staff with a safe educational and work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment.”
The UW System did not answer written questions but instead forwarded a request from The Gazette to a public records official.
That official then forwarded records requested in July by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported Kopper’s announcement came just minutes after they first received the records Friday morning.
Whitewater Student Government President Tom Kind said in an email Kopper was “very transparent” when she met with shared governance officials Friday.
Kind met Hill only in passing, he said, and does not know him personally.
Kopper in her announcement said, “It was determined that the allegations had merit.”
“I supported this decision and put it into effect immediately,” she wrote.
In a letter she wrote to Cross on July 10, she did, however, say she had “concerns regarding certain statement of facts and interpretations made by the investigator in the report.”
Kopper added it was a “difficult situation for me personally and professionally,” and that “we typically do not discuss personnel issues publicly.”
“As Chancellor, my top priority has always been and will continue to be ensuring that UW-Whitewater is a welcoming campus for all and that students, faculty and staff have a positive and safe environment in which to learn, live and work,” Kopper wrote.
“As you can imagine, this is a challenging and unique set of circumstances for me as a wife, as a woman, and as your Chancellor.”
What do Mildred Fish Harnack, Leif Erikson and the state of Wisconsin have in common?
That is not a trick question.
Harnack, Erikson and Wisconsin are three of the 21 people, events or ideas recognized by special “observance days” in the state’s public schools.
Local school board members hope to change that number to 22.
At its first September meeting, the Janesville School Board voted to send a resolution to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards asking to add Indigenous People’s Day to the observance day list.
If the resolution makes it through the association’s committee process, it will be voted on during the state’s school board convention in January.
But to become an official observance day, it has to go through the state Legislature.
Francis and Abe
The Legislature began creating statutorily required observance days in 1923.
The first three observance days honored George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Frances Willard, the Janesville schoolteacher who headed up the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1929, Erikson, Christopher Columbus and Veterans Day were added. In 1935, America’s Creed Day made the list.
For the next four decades, the list of observance days didn’t change.
In 1976, the Legislature added Martin Luther King Jr., Robert La Follette and Susan B. Anthony, bringing the total to nine.
The remainder were added after 1986.
Chapter 118.02 of the state statutes indicates which days must be observed, but it doesn’t say anything about how that should happen.
“It is very likely that the observance of observance days varies from school to school across the state,” said Patrick Gasper, communications specialist for the Janesville School District.
Students already learn about many of the historical figures and events during the school year, Gasper said.
Most Janesville students take field trips to the Frances Willard Schoolhouse and learn about Lincoln’s brief stop in Janesville.
Observing these days could mean anything from an announcement over the loudspeaker in the morning to a special program for Veterans Day.
Making it 22
So why add another observance day?
A number of cities and states have decided to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of—or in conjunction with—Columbus Day.
But Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers said her resolution wasn’t necessarily about replacing Columbus Day.
“This is not about winners and losers,” Myers said Friday. “It’s about having a full picture of history.”
The observance day would celebrate the indigenous people of Wisconsin, not those who were enslaved by Columbus.
“This particular observance day represents a segment of our population that is very much a part of our history and culture,” Myers said. “It’s a part of our history that is oftentimes underrepresented or misrepresented.”
The resolution might not be directly connected to Columbus Day, but it came about because some people asked that Columbus Day be removed and replaced with a celebration of native people.
Critics of Columbus Day point out that Columbus didn’t reach mainland North America, and his treatment of indigenous people included torture, genocide and enslavement.
Historians don’t dispute those facts. As their source, they cite Columbus’ own diary and letters.
The board’s policy, personnel and curriculum committee took up the issue. After a long debate, it decided that the issue should be handled at the state level.
In a memo to the board, Allison DeGraaf, the district’s director of learning and instruction, wrote, “The School District of Janesville does not endorse Christopher Columbus as a positive role model, but educators and historians cannot ignore the significance of his impact on North and South America. It is our hope that we can foster historical critical consciousness in students with the support of parents and the community.”
Gladys T. Charland
George H. Frank Jr.
Donald J. Huberty
Ardith E. Oldenburg
Cynthia L. Starks
Cory A. Williams