Questions Concerning a Ban on the UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Husband After a Sexual Harassment Investigation

On Friday, this site linked to a published article in the Journal Sentinel about a campus ban against UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper’s husband after a UW System investigation found that he had committed acts of sexual harassment against campus employees. See Journal Sentinel: UW-Whitewater chancellor’s husband banned from campus after sexual harassment investigation and the original story.  The story and published public records obtained by the Journal Sentinel raise significant public policy questions.  UW-Whitewater is a public institution, and its administrators, notably, are public officials.  Questions about these repeated incidents of harassment and their handling appear below.  At the end of this post are embedded for reference the letter from UW System Cross banning Alan “Pete” Hill based on Hill’s conduct and the public records that the Journal Sentinel obtained.

 When did Kopper first learn of sexual harassment allegations against her husband, whom she had appointed to an official unpaid position “in which he was frequently asked to participate in fundraising and at alumni and athletic functions” on campus?

 When did other leading administrators at UW-Whitewater first learn of sexual harassment allegations against Kopper’s husband?

Here the question is not when an investigation began, or even when a formal complaint was filed, but when Kopper first learned through any means (including informal ones) that there were allegations for sexual harassment against her husband?

 Why did Kopper wait for months to inform her own students, staff, and faculty of a ban against her spouse, and only do so after the Journal Sentinel published its story and the public records it obtained?

Kopper had time for public addresses on other matters: a state of the university address the theme of being ‘better together,’ and a groundbreaking for a hotel and ‘community engagement’ center.

How can others be better together, or positively engaged, if – for months – even a UW System ban for sexual harassment is concealed from them?

If Kopper waited for months to inform her own students, staff, and faculty of a ban against her spouse, what message does this send to other possible complainants – including in other cases – about her candor and prompt attention to serious allegations of personal injury?

Would not the ethical course in this matter have been (1) to announce allegations at the time they were made, (2) have Hill step aside from his position while those allegations were investigated, and (3) allow him to return to his role only when and if he was exonerated?

UW-Whitewater has a history of sexual assault and harassment claims, including claims that the university failed to process those claims properly under federal law.  There is also a pending federal defamation claim against the former chancellor and former athletic director related to the constructive dismissal of Timothy Fader, a wrestling coach at the time, after reporting a possible assault directly to the police.  Beverly Kopper was a leading administrator at UW-Whitewater during these incidents and would be aware of the claims presented against the administration.  Considering this history, of which Kopper would be aware, why did she still keep these now-confirmed allegations of sexual harassment quiet for months?

Was her primary duty – from the public office she held, and for which she was highly compensated – not to her university students, staff, faculty, and community (rather than to a relative)?

Concerning this prior history of assault claims and the failure of UW-Whitewater to address claims properly, see Second Sex-Assault Survivor Files Federal Complaint Against UW-Whitewater‘A Trust Betrayed’: The Update on the Title IX Claims Against UW-Whitewater, and Questions on Assault Reporting, Formality, and Former UW-Whitewater Wrestling Coach Fader,

FREE WHITEWATER has a category devoted to assault awareness & prevention, prompted in part by the response to these incidents and others.

Why did the UW System allow a chancellor to hire a spouse for a high-profile (if unpaid) campus position “in which he was frequently asked to participate in fundraising and at alumni and athletic functions”?  Was it not obvious – as it is now should be to any reasonable person – that parties injured by that spouse would be reluctant and worried to present claims of harassment or misconduct against the spouse for fear of angering the chancellor?

Did Kopper play any role in seeking, hiring, or consulting with the lawyer her husband hired to contest these sexual harassment allegations?  If so, did she suggest to that lawyer, or anyone else apart from that lawyer, that Pete Hill might need only to submit to written questions from a UW System investigator (as the lawyer for Hill proposed) rather than an in-person interview?

Kopper in the public records writes in reply to UW-System President Ray Cross that she takes issue with some of the facts the UW System investigator determined against her husband.  Which facts does she contest?

If Kopper takes issue with some of the facts in a UW System determination against her own husband, what concern might her unwillingness to accept factual determinations present to future complainants – in this or other matters – who might present claims against those known to be close or friendly with this chancellor (including those she’s recently hired to high-profile positions)?

These are important and reasonable questions, of the kind and number that a person might and should ask of any institution – and of course a public one – following these revelations. One hopes that someday, truly, questions like these won’t be needed in this city.

Questions added 12.19.18

  What is the status – and scope – of the third UW System investigation into Pete Hill’s harassment and Beverly Kopper’s handling of the matter?

At least one of the women who has spoken of harassment from Kopper’s spouse alleges that other UW-Whitewater employees were present at the time of Pete Hill’s verbal harassment.

(“[Hailey] Miller says that Heidenreich laughed, as did Sara Kuhl, the assistant vice chancellor for university marketing and communications. That response did not necessarily surprise Miller, who says she often deflected Hill’s advances with laughter.

Heidenreich did not reply to an email detailing the incident, nor did she respond to a voicemail. Kuhl also declined to respond to direct questions about the incident, beyond saying that she respected the university’s process for dealing with reports of wrongdoing.”

One of these employees has had the responsibility of overseeing and responding to public records requests on behalf of UW-Whitewater.  Does her alleged role as a material witness not represent a conflict of interest in responses to public records requests in this or related matters?

The Journal Sentinel reports that a deal between the UW System and Kopper includes her “join[ing] the faculty through May 2020 as a tenured psychology professor.” (I oppose the deal – this question merely pursues its implications.) If it should be true that the UW System believes (as I do not) that Kopper should have the option of returning as a full professor, why set an end date?

Is this end date merely to allow Kopper to meet a financial milestone or goal of her own (ten years’ time, for example) rather a belief that she offers a genuine benefit to the UW-Whitewater Psychology Department?

What public resources and personnel time (including that of UW-Whitewater staff members, if any) did Beverly Kopper divert and use on her own behalf to maintain her role as chancellor, including lobbying public officials, the press, or trying to generate internal support?

As the UW System has made a deal on the general terms outlined the week of 12.18, has the System done so because no one knows how to handle this matter more wisely, or because this easily-criticized deal is designed to conceal discovery of other incidents – alleged against whatever person – of which this chancellor or other officials may have knowledge?

Letter from UW System president:

[embeddoc url=”” width=”100%” download=”all” viewer=”google”]

Public records as redacted and provided to Journal Sentinel:

[embeddoc url=”” width=”100%” download=”all” viewer=”google”]
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5 years ago

Good morning to you. These are important questions, sorry to say. We have so many talented students. So many of my colleagues work hard all year long to give them the best possible experience. We didn’t need this (no one who experienced this harassment deserved any of it, that is most significant of all). The hard part is that a recusal by Hill from his role at the first allegation is how this should have be handled – that is so obvious that it’s infuriating and depressing at the same time. The rest of these points are important although they all lead to the same place of not enough not soon enough.

Miss D
5 years ago

People need to remember that other women or men on campus might be worried about speaking out if they get harassed. I really don’t think that tea with the chancellor (that is a real thing!!!) makes up for not telling people right away.

A lot of people would rather pretend nothing’s wrong.
It’s really good that the paper published this plus glad you are keeping focused on this issue.

Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas
5 years ago

I haven’t commented anywhere else. I won’t and I can’t. It seems that most people are forgetting that I am a human being with feelings–and a victim of sexual assault in addition to being a public official. I have regrets about decisions I made in the Pete Hill situation, namely that I did not speak out sooner, but I returned to UW-Whitewater as a graduate student the same year Chancellor Kopper became chancellor, a fact that hasn’t been mentioned in hardly any articles. Accusing her husband of sexually assaulting me wasn’t something I was mentally prepared to handle–in addition to the fact that I was dealing with a personal medical crisis. My own diagnosis of the incurable condition that put me in the wheelchair you often see me in now came only a few months after the assault took place.

I came out with my story because I spoke with other victims. They don’t live in the spotlight the same way I have. They haven’t had their relationships examined by citizens they don’t know the way I have. They didn’t get appointed to the city council before they could drink the way I was.

But they did experience the same thing I did with a man abusing his wife’s power to take advantage of them–and I was not going to stand for it anymore.

I am going to continue to take the wrath of the internet as long as I need to because this injustice needs to be called out. UW-Whitewater was my home. They wrote stories of my success, shared about my challenging childhood leading in to a successful academic career and an early passion for civic engagement–to have them now imply I am lying about a traumatic experience is a fall I wouldn’t wish on any other human being.

You ask valid questions here. I hope they find the answers–and I hope the people who failed me and failed others are held accountable.

Reply to  Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas
5 years ago

Thank you for caring about our campus enough to speak out. People who are responding negatively to you don’t offer a positive future for anyone. They are not making life better are not making life better for others. They are not making life better for themselves. It is hard to see where we are going but we cannot continue to ignore wrongdoing like this.

These have been very bad years for too many good people. We need a totally new direction.