Investigators found no direct evidence former UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper knew about her husband’s “pervasive and well-known” sexual harassment, but in a report released Friday they also said it was “at best” a “blindspot” for her.
The investigators, while also saying there was no direct evidence she obstructed the investigation or retaliated against women who made allegations against her husband, Alan “Pete” Hill, list reports from witnesses that investigators say raise questions about her handling of the situation and her overall leadership ability, according to documents obtained by The Gazette through an open records request.
Kopper resigned as chancellor Dec. 31, months after UW System President Ray Cross banned Hill from campus for repeated claims of sexual harassment.
The most recent investigation opened after news of a 2018 investigation became public in the fall. The new report identified at least seven—and possibly up to 10—women who claimed Hill sexually harassed them. Three of the women were identified in earlier investigations.
Kopper in a December letter to Cross said she knew the UW System Board of Regents “would like different leadership.” In a statement Friday, the system said Cross, “counseled Chancellor Kopper to resign.”
Cheryl Green has been serving as interim chancellor, and the committee charged with finding Kopper’s replacement has a goal to make its decision by June 1.
Kopper said as recently as Jan. 26 she planned to return to the classroom in the fall, teaching in UW-W’s psychology department. The teaching salary listed for her in UW System documents—$118,308—would be about 50 percent more than the department’s chair.
Kopper has been on paid leave since her resignation on her chancellor salary of $242,760.
Although investigators requested to talk to him, Hill was not interviewed as part of the newest investigation. He has previously denied the allegations against him.
‘When the Chancellor’s husband is involved’
While the investigators said there was no direct evidence Kopper retaliated against women who made accusations against her husband, they found “some after-the-fact anecdotal evidence” suggesting otherwise.
A woman who was still employed at UW-W “could have suffered an employment consequence (directed by Chancellor Kopper) which may have been motivated in part because of the employee’s interactions with Hill,” the investigators wrote.
Kopper directed Judi Trampf, formerly the head of human resources, to fire the woman, “an action that Trampf thought was unwarranted and excessive.”
The woman did not have discipline on her record and termination for the offense in question was not the typical response.
With the benefit of hindsight, Trampf believed Kopper’s actions “could have been motivated, in part,” by the woman’s interactions with Hill, the report states.
The woman declined to tell investigators about Hill’s sexual harassment. She previously told another employee about it when they were traveling, according to the report.
In the absence of direct evidence, investigators found at least the perception of retaliation for what was going on in Kopper’s “blindspot.”
And that affected the culture of studying and working at the university—some employees tried to “protect” one another from Hill, according to the report.
“When the Chancellor’s husband is involved, it’s difficult,” one witness said.
Kopper told investigators she was “very upset” when she finally talked to Hill about the allegations, but she “accepted his answer” when he denied them. “When I look at all the back story on each allegation … it did not connect,” Kopper is quoted as saying in the report.
“Kopper readily and uncritically accepted Hill’s denials,” the investigators wrote.
Part of the reason Kopper told investigators she did not ask much about Hill’s conduct was because, “I kept my Chancellor’s hat on.”
But the investigators said they were not aware of any time Kopper acknowledged the impact her husband’s actions had on employees or students.
“During the interview she commented only on the effect it has had on her,” the report states.
Investigators called it “noteworthy” that Kopper took nearly three months to tell the campus about the report that led Cross to ban Hill from campus in June. She also took nearly three weeks to acknowledge Cross’ letter.
She sent an announcement to campus Sept. 14, the morning the system released documents to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
‘Lack of trust or need for power’
The investigation went beyond Hill’s actions and what the university knew about it to examine the school’s culture and Kopper’s leadership style.
Multiple witnesses said Kopper would yell at her employees and become red in the face. Deans would’“regularly” leave these meetings when Kopper was in an “emotional state,” according to the report.
Some referred to the meetings as “floggings.”
Kopper denied being intemperate, the report states.
At least four witnesses said Kopper would micromanage, such as needing to approve the hiring of custodians. This caused delays at times because Kopper often traveled, according to the report.
Two witnesses who prepared and presented budgets to Kopper said they did not think she understood those documents, the report states. For example, she did not get why they needed to make plans to get funding for repairs to campus buildings.
One witness from the budget office said Kopper’s budget was “in the red, including operational, travel and furniture,” the report states.
“The witness did not know where the money came from or went to,” the investigators wrote. “This is a claim that was not investigated as it was beyond our charge, but which we felt ought be reported.”
Since Kopper took over as chancellor in July 2015, the university has lost several senior administrators.
It’s possible, the report states, these employees simply left for better jobs—which could reflect positively on Kopper.
Witnesses told investigators when Kopper took over she brought changes and that change can be challenging.
One witness said, however, he or she left because of frustrations with Kopper.
“The greatest hindrance to change was either the Chancellor’s lack of trust or her need for power,” one witness said.
Not every witness criticized Kopper’s leadership style—three members of her cabinet offered praise.
One said Kopper was “thoughtful” and expects employees to “do the right thing,” according to the report. Another said she was a “phenomenal leader.”
“UWW is a healthy campus and expectations are high,” another said.
The Gazette is aware of several recent or upcoming changes at the university:
- A search for a permanent chancellor.
- Provost Susan Elrod’s final day is May 21 before she departs for a chancellor position in Indiana.
- For the second time in two years, UW-W will be on the hunt for a new athletic director. Todd Garzarelli earlier this month
- announced he was taking another job.
- LaVar Charleston, assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, engagement and success since 2017, on Monday was named the UW-Madison School of Education’s first associate dean for diversity and inclusion.
- The university has scheduled open houses for finalists to fill the College of Letters and Sciences dean position.
‘Uncomfortable and violated’
There is “credible evidence” Hill sexually harassed both employees and students—most of the time on campus or related properties, such as the chancellor’s residence during events, investigators wrote.
Two employees said Hill made statements “laden with sexual innuendo that made them feel uncomfortable and violated,” the report states. The two felt reporting the chancellor’s husband’s behavior would put them in an “untenable position.”
One woman said Hill in 2015 reached under her skirt and touched her sexually while hugging her.
Hill grabbed one woman with both hands and demanded she kiss him, according to the report. Although she did not report the incident, Hill would make requests of her and say something to the effect of, “that’s what the Chancellor wants.”
One person told investigators Hill said, “I am very attracted to you, but you probably already know that.”
Investigators did not find evidence Hill completed sexual harassment training in his mostly ceremonial role as “associate to the chancellor,” although he was supposed to.
One witness said he sought through the “intervention of the chancellor’s office” an exemption from such a training, and human resources removed him from the list.
Kopper told investigators she did not know if Hill completed any training.
She, according to the investigation, perceived the allegations against Hill to be retaliation against her.
“I married him for his heart,” Kopper said, according to the report. “There are so many things that I know ... it doesn’t compute.”
Witnesses also said Hill “had an outsized influence in the Athletic Department,” at times invoking his wife’s name to advance projects he supported, according to the report.
One witness said Hill would regularly meet with male coaches, such as for meals or drinks, but did not do the same for female coaches.
The UW System released a statement Friday and said it would not comment further:
“When allegations of sexual misconduct were identified at UW-Whitewater, President Ray Cross immediately called for investigations and aggressively acted upon information. After he was briefed on the findings of this report, he counseled Chancellor Kopper to resign. She did, and the report speaks for itself.”
Green, the interim chancellor, in an announcement to campus on Friday said:
“The release of these documents may cause concern and I understand this may be a difficult time for some of you. As our university navigates this situation, I hope we can focus our attention on moving forward and the healing process for all concerned.”