A Community Listening Session for a New Chancellor

UW-Whitewater, a public university in Whitewater, Wisconsin, now seeks a new chancellor, and the selection committee recently held a community listening session to request suggestions about a new campus administrator.

(However useful an invitation to a community listening session might be, it’s worth noting that observation, reflection, and commentary answer to a different – and prior – invitation.)

The community leaders assembled on February 6, 2019 listed the challenges the campus faces, traits they’d like in a new chancellor, and what’s attractive about the campus.

There’s not a single isolated word they spoke that was objectionable.  One would hope for these suggestions in any routine search for a new leader.  In this, one can be genuinely grateful that February 2019 community session was more responsible than the last one. (A local newspaper’s account of the last chancellor search reads in both style and substance like a parody of sycophancy and boosterism. See The Dark, Futile Dream and The Last Inside Accounts.)

Not long ago, UW-Whitewater’s chancellor resigned after concealing from her campus – for months – two separate investigations into multiple allegations of sexual harassment against her spouse, who held a public position as an associate to the chancellor.

Note well: one can readily presume that no one in the room wanted what’s happened over these last months and years.

And yet, and yet, it has happened, and so this is not a routine search.

UW-Whitewater now seeks a new, permanent chancellor after the last two presided over a campus with a high number of sexual assaults, administrative concealment of harassment, and multiple published accounts of failure to process complainants’ claims properly under federal law. See, a category at FREEWHITEWATER addressing the circumstances that brought this campus, and this community, to search for a new chancellor.

Mentioning this does not make Whitewater weaker – it is the necessary path to making Whitewater stronger (by being safer). The path to fewer controversies – where controversy means tragedy — runs through a place of candid discussion.

Truth and reconciliation, after all, begins with truth.

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5 years ago

It almost makes sense until someone looks at it from a different perspective. Thank you for noticing and remembering.

Stephanie Vander Pas
5 years ago

I attended the event and ended up seated with the Regent chairing the committee purely by coincidence as a friend was concerned it would be a challenging night for me and that’s where I was seated. When questioned about the challenges facing the new chancellor, most of the group had a lot of the answers you expect–until it came to me, because I’m not willing to just move on and pretend nothing happened. There is healing that needs to take place. There are victims who need to be acknowledged who never have been, but my name tag had only my first name on it, so this Regent did not realize she’d been seated across from one of Pete Hill’s victims for 45 minutes by this point. So, I did the only thing I could do and I told her the truth (although I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t crying by this point). I told her that deciding to tell the world Pete Hill assaulted me and harassed me for years changed my life forever, that I left school because I no longer felt safe on campus, and that because of system restrictions, my credits were not going to transfer to another institution. I told her that it was irresponsible to expect a new chancellor to come in and simply take over that role when it was not their role to take, that System needed to step up and accept the irreversible pain inflicted on these women and the changes they’ve made in their lives–and that if they ever want UW-Whitewater to be the school it could be, it never will while we pretend nobody was hurt.