UW system releases two investigation reports in relation to former professor Joel Elgin

Photo+by+Carly+Rundle-Borchert.+

Photo by Carly Rundle-Borchert.

Sam Stroozas, Executive Editor

Chancellor Joe Gow emailed University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students on Wednesday, Jan. 22 that the UW System would be releasing two investigation reports related to a complaint against former UWL professor who was accused of sexual misconduct, Joel Elgin.

Elgin did not pursue a lawsuit to have the reports concealed from the public. Gow is holding an open forum alongside the Title IX Team to discuss the Elgin case and other issues related to UWL. The forum will be Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 3:30 p.m. in 1400 Centennial Hall.

In his email to UWL students, Gow wrote: “I commend the courage of the original complainant and the others who came forward to share their experiences which allowed us to reach the right conclusion regarding Elgin’s employment.” He also encourages students to seek out information by following the sexual misconduct: support, response, and prevention page on the UWL website.  

The first investigative report details Caycee Bean’s experience with Elgin in Spring 2015.  On Sept. 4, 2019, Bean shared her experience on Facebook. On June 21, 2019, Nizam Arian, director of equity and affirmative action at UWL met with Joel Elgin and Kim Vogt, the former dean for the college of arts, social sciences, and humanities (CASSH). The allegations were shared with Elgin, and he did not recall the incident and denied engaging in the behavior, but mentioned that he does have one on one interactions with students for art instruction and mentorship.

Elgin claimed to be “saddened to hear that Bean had an experience that led her to withdraw from the art program and he expressed a desire to convey an apology to her.” Elgin was instructed not to contact Bean. In response to the incident, Elgin was “given guidance on instructor/student interactions to maintain respectful communication and constructive educational environments so as to avoid situations where a student feels their rights are being violated.”

The initial conclusion of Bean’s allegations was that evidence was insufficient to sustain a finding.

After Bean posted her experience on Facebook, the case was re-opened and on Nov. 18, 2019, UW-shared services investigators Christine Buswell and Richard Thal shared their findings with Gow in the documents below. The second investigative report explains in-depth the accounts of Bean, three anonymous students with similar allegations against Elgin, four former faculty members, and two academic staff employees.

The report concluded that Elgin sexually harassed Bean when he led her into a room for a private drawing lesson, asked her to pose, asked her to take her sweater off, commented on her body, and twice began to lift up her tank top.

The report includes that between the Fall of 2015 and the Fall of 2019, Elgin recommended the same wavier Bean received to 314 other students, both female and male.

After Bean posted on Facebook, she had information sent to her from others who experienced similar situations with Bean. In her conference with the media, Bean said 23 individuals had come forward with supporting claims, including a student from 17 years ago. Bean compiled a pattern of experiences that she and others had witnessed while in Elgin’s presence: Elgin complimented the individuals and singled them out as particularly skilled or talented, he waived prerequisites so students could enroll in upper-level courses taught by him, he offered private drawing lessons to students and requested private modeling session from student models, he asked the student to model for him and the modeling occurred in a locked room, he commented on the student’s body, and he touched the student.

Elgin responded to these claims in the investigative report, but also through a statement released from his lawyer where he says he was the victim of this process and that UWL faculty should be afraid of other students making “bogus claims.”

In the investigative report, Elgin denied ever meeting Bean in a locked room, and never made comments towards students or touched them.

An anonymous student alleged in Fall of 2005 that a similar experience happened to her with Elgin. Elgin asked her to model for him and took her to the paper room to undress, she asked Elgin to leave the room while she undressed. During a class, she was wearing underwear and a bra while modeling, Elgin “urged” her to take off her underwear but she said she did not want to. On another occasion, she was entering the drawing studio and Elgin asked her to open her robe so he could look at her body before other students entered the studio.

When she asked Elgin to help her medical illustrations, Elgin led her into a small room and asked her to remove her shirt. When she refused, Elgin said it would be okay for her to take her shirt off because of needing to know where the nipples are when trying to understand the relationship to different parts of the body. A student knocked on the paper room door and she was able to leave.

A second anonymous student was enrolled at UWL in 2013. Elgin again led her into a small room for private drawing lessons but Elgin did not ask her to draw. He started to explain a method that depicts body proportions, and to demonstrate, he touched the student’s torso when her shirt was lifted. The student does not recall who lifted the shirt. Then Elgin started drawing the student but began to put his hands around her waist while caressing her and telling her how beautiful her body was.

A third anonymous student alleged that on Oct. 28, 2016, she and her friend met with Elgin and “auditioned” to be paid models for the art department. Their session lasted over three hours, and Elgin convinced them to expose their breasts and took photos of them. After the audition, the student decided she did not want to model for Elgin’s art class, but her friend decided to continue. The individual who continued to model in the classroom claim that the differences between the audition and the classroom setting were “misleading” and she felt “incredibly humiliated and violated” during the audition. Students are not allowed to film, take photos, or a make any comments about the nude models.

The model for Elgin’s class said, “Joel Elgin was inappropriate and unprofessional. He took advantage of his position of power and prestige in academia to put himself in the situation that he wanted with two nineteen-year-old female students. It was inappropriate and unprofessional for him to make comments about our bodies at all, especially while mostly nude. Most of all, it concerns me that he may still possess whatever images, or footage that he recorded of and me on the camera that he took with him behind the locked doors of a dark closest.”

Susan Timm, an associate lecturer in the UWL art department said, “with respect to other student’s implications, Elgin’s method of talking to a student while drawing is a good way to teach figure drawing, and most art students understand and appreciate that teaching method.”

Kathleen Hawkes, an associate professor in the UWL art department claims she is “a friend of Elgin.” She said she learned that Elgin has made some students feel uncomfortable, but he has been supportive and wonderful for other students.

Binod Shrestha, a former UWL professor said a professor or a teaching assistant should not be alone with a student in a room with a closed-door unless there are windows or glass doors that allow people to be seen.

Bradley Nichols is a professor at UWL specializing in metalsmithing and blacksmithing. Nichols said that a number of students have told him printmaking courses with Elgin are the only art department courses they want to take.

Jennifer Williams, a professor of painting and drawing at UWL says she helps students with needs by meeting in a large studio or after class. She was not aware that Elgin met with students in the paper room. Her opinion is that if Elgin met with students alone in the paper room, “it is not believable that he would forget the encounter even though it occurred in 2015.” She added that the printmaking studio area is referred to by some students as “the shop of love” and Elgin has the following monikers: “Lord of the Print and Beloved Professor Joel.”

Bean shared a post on her Facebook by beginning with, “Follow your gut. I’m so thankful I went public with my incident. I had a bad feeling that I was not Joel Elgin’s only victim and I was right.”

Kendra Whelan, a UWL senior who protested Elgin daily at the Hoeschler Tower said, “I’m glad the reports are being published, and there is a confirmed date and location for the forum. I’m also glad that Chancellor Gow acknowledges that more needs to be done, and I hope he’s prepared to put money where his mouth is. The truth is UWL needs more funding for sexual violence prevention, and he needs to commit to that, too.”

If UWL students have incidents they want to report, please follow this link: https://www.uwlax.edu/violence-prevention/report-an-incident/

The documents below were obtained by the UWL public records office and requested for publication by The Racquet Press.

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