No Ordinary, Unconnected Spouse: Public officials’ use of family appointees

Imagine a world where public officials appointed spouses to high-visibility positions in the very same workplace, over which they had supervisory authority, but then disclaimed any responsibility over those appointees when they committed acts of assault and harassment (“that wasn’t me, that was my spouse, brother, sister, or cousin,” etc.). They’ll rely on their own use of nepotism as a defense. 

The relative’s familial connection would naturally concern and intimidate potential complainants, but at the same time allow the official to contend falsely that the relative’s conduct was merely and exclusively the relative’s fault despite the appointment, the supervisory responsibility, and the official’s obligation to keep a workplace same and free from coercion and intimidation.

Multiple allegations of harassment and assault at UW-Whitewater are more than simply a matter of a spouse‘s misconduct toward others (now numbering five complainants).  They reveal the failure of the appointing official.

Pete Hill was no ordinary, unconnected spouse: he was 1) appointed publicly 2) by this chancellor, Beverly Kopper 3) to attend public events 4) present often in chancellor’s office and 5) about whom the chancellor kept investigations secret for months despite knowing of allegations against Hill.

Doubt not that public relations flacks and smarmy operatives will try to spin this in the press, trying to make the worse appear the better reason, to protect the high-level leader who made the appointment.

And yet, and yet — the actual conditions of these coercive acts – found to have merit after a state investigation – are public ones showing the failure of supervisory authority and workplace safety.

Previously:  Journal Sentinel: UW-Whitewater chancellor’s husband banned from campus after sexual harassment investigationQuestions Concerning a Ban on the UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Husband After a Sexual Harassment Investigation, Chancellor Kopper Should Resign, A fifth woman publicly accuses UW-Whitewater chancellor’s husband of sexual harassment, and The UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Lack of Individual Regard.

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Stephanie Vander Pas
5 years ago

I’ve grown so weary over these two weeks–exactly for what you point out here. I read over and over again that Chancellor Kopper is being asked to resign for her husband’s actions, when that is simply false. She is being asked to resign for her own actions, for her failures, for her decision to keep information secret that would no doubt have made a difference in people’s lives–information that certainly impacted my decision to file a complaint against her husband, despite recognizing the effect it would have on my reputation, on my career, on my relationships. Nobody who has called for her resignation believes she should resign because her husband did something wrong; we believe she should resign (or ultimately be terminated) because she inappropriately handled the actions of her staff, and the staff just happened to be her own husband, which calls in to question her decision-making ability.

Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who broke the story to begin, titled their article yesterday with that misnomer.

The victims deserve better than we have received–that is absolutely a given. UW-Whitewater deserves better than its current leadership–that comes next. Then, MAYBE, we can begin some of the healing process between campus and community.