The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

Inside the high-stakes hearing on Joe Gow’s future at UWL

The Racquet Press
Joe Gow and Carmen Wilson enter hearing. Photo by Isabel Piarulli.

Last Dec, former University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow was dismissed from his position by the UW Board of Regents following the discovery of his appearance in pornographic content. Today, June 19th, Gow represented himself in a disciplinary hearing to keep his role as a tenured faculty member.

The story of the former chancellor’s dismissal sparked local news station interest immediately, but well beyond Wisconsin his dismissal was covered by prominent news sources around the world such as CNN, NBC, and The London Times.

“We think it is very important that everyone knows what is going on,” Gow said in an interview with WKBT News 8 Now as he explained his openness to press coverage and his choice to open the hearing to the public.

The hearing at the Omni Center in Onalaska was unusual for the hearing committee, composed of nine tenured UWL professors and members of the faculty senate. Five of these members, Alan Bigel, Grace Deason, Anne Galbraith, Joan Bunbury and Ken Graham, were selected to participate in Gow’s disciplinary hearing. Anne Galbraith leads the five-member committee.

An unusual hearing as disciplinary measures are usually taken up in closed session, however, Gow who is subject to dismissal has the right to request the hearing be in open session. When asked if an open session remained his preference Gow responded, “Oh yes.”

On March 29, 2024, UWL Interim Chancellor Morgan issued a written statement of charges against Professor Gow, which she alleges constitutes just cause for his dismissal from his tenured professorship. The role of the hearing committee is to assess whether UWL establishes just cause to terminate Gow’s tenured professor position based on iChancellor Morgan’s statements and the university attorneys’ presentation of the case.

Wade Harrison and Jennifer Lattis, UW System attorneys, represented UWL. Gow represented himself and was accompanied by his wife, Carmen Wilson.

In the university’s opening statements, Harrison explained why this is a unique case. “The vast majority of material facts are not in dispute, not credibility in dispute. Dr. Gow, through books, interviews and other media has admitted to much of the underlying conduct that is given rise to this situation,” said Harrison.

Unique in another way, Harrison described, because of the nature of higher education and Gow’s “backup” position as a tenured professor following his position as chancellor. “In most employment settings, if someone were fired from being the CEO for engaging in this conduct, the employment relationship would come to an end,” Harrison said.

Harrison said Gow’s “refusal to participate” in the investigation was unique and classified this act as “insubordination.”

In Gow’s opening statement, he first thanked the hearing committee for coming to the hearing on a national holiday, Juneteenth, and explained he had asked to hold the hearing in late May when the members were still on contract. “Interim Chancellor Morgan told me that this was the only day that all the members of the committee were all available,” said Gow.

He addressed the crowd of around 75 people and also thanked them for coming to witness what he called an “extraordinary event.”

“We respect that many people do not wish to view sexually explicit material so we were clearly disappointed to see that the prosecution in this case has entered into evidence sexually explicit images from our videos,” said Gow.

Gow strongly criticized the prosecution’s case, even accusing the UW System of placing falsehoods in the investigative report. The report talks at length about how computers returned to UWL from Gow had information deleted from them, Gow countered by stating the computers were “seized” from his office.

Outside law firm Husch Blackwell and business consultancy firm, FTI Consulting have been hired by the university to investigate. Gow brought this up in his opening statements, he said, “I wonder how the hardworking taxpayers of Wisconsin will feel when they learn just how much state money is being used to silence a single tenured UWL professor in the twilight of his career.”

Gow labeled the university’s move to revoke his tenure a “conspiracy”. He called the charges against him “bogus” and argued they exceeded the scope of the hearing, which is meant to address his tenure.

“They raise the question,” said Gow. “Do faculty have the right to engage in free speech in their personal lives?”

On the first day of the hearing, there was only enough time for the UW System to call their five witnesses.

The first was Jerry Bui, managing director of FTI Consulting. Bui was hired to examine forensic images on three Apple devices. Two of the devices were used by Gow and one by Wilson. Bui answered questions from Harrison and then Gow in a cross-examine.

The second witness was the Chair of the UWL Communications Department and Professor Linda Dickmeyer. Gow would teach classes in the communications department if he remains tenured. Dickmeyer explained that Gow had been invited to classrooms in the past by professors to “co-teach”, but it hadn’t gone the way professors had anticipated.

“It became pretty clear that he [Gow] wasn’t interested in the content of the class and it was really just an opportunity for the chancellor to come in and visit with students,” Dickmeyer said.

Dickmeyer explained Communication Studies Department (CST) 110 class would be best suited for Gow if he were to teach. This is a general education credit class comprised of usually first-year students. It concerned Dickmeyer that Gow would not be able to follow the syllabus.

With the captive audience Gow would be teaching to, Dickmeyer is also concerned he would discuss his experience with sexually explicit content. “That is not the place for him to discuss what he does with his hobby,” she said.

The third witness was the Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer for the Universities of Wisconsin Daniel Chanen. Harrison asked Chanen whether it made sense to hire an outside firm to do the investigation to which he responded “Yes.”

To Gow’s surprise, Harrison called Gow as the fourth witness. This surprising request caused some confusion, but Gow eventually agreed. “I don’t want to appear to be dodging this,” said Gow.

Harrison asked if it was true that Gow never made himself available for an in-person interview with investigators upon iChancellor Morgan’s request. “I was preparing to make myself available,” said Gow. “But they decided to end their investigation before I had the opportunity.”

Harrison questioned Gow about whether the statements he made in his book, Monogamy with Benefits, are all true. This question comes from a sentence in the book which reads, “All events described are true”. Gow does not stand by this statement and reflects that the words should have said, “based on a true story” an act of creative nonfiction.

“Some things are capital-T true and other things are not,” Gow said.

The last witness was iChancellor Morgan. Morgan believes Gow should have his tenure status revoked due to concerning behavior that Gow fails to recognize as harmful to the university’s reputation.

“People were really hurt,” said Morgan “The biggest concern in most people’s mind was that they didn’t want their university associated with Joe and Carmen’s hobby.” Morgan explained how one student asked that Chancellor Gow’s signature be taken off of their diploma.

Morgan said there is not a place she goes as Chancellor where the topic of the reason behind Gow’s dismissal is not brought up. “Besides just the jokes, which are no longer funny, we don’t want to be known as PornU,” she said. “We want to be known for the quality of our academic programs.”

In the cross-examination, Gow asked Morgan if she agreed faculty should have free speech rights consistent with the First Amendment.

“There is a difference between, a subtle difference between, free speech and academic freedom, this is not an academic freedom case,” Morgan said.

In a 2019 Racquet Press article, Morgan shared her views on tenure. “The importance of tenure historically has been the protection of academic freedom of faculty.” In the same article, she said, “Notably, the idea of teaching topics but pursuing scholarship on topics that might make anybody grumpy about what you’re doing.”  

The hearing concluded with Morgan as the university’s last witness and will reconvene June 20 at 9 a.m.

Gow stated to the press after the hearing that on June 20 he hopes to focus on the investigative reports’ dishonesty, in reference to the computers he claims were taken from his office. “I have some material taken by the Freedom of Information Act I requested, text exchanges between the interim chancellor and other officials that will clarify exactly what happened,” He said.

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About the Contributor
Isabel Piarulli
Isabel Piarulli, Executive Editor
Year at UWL: Junior PGPs: She/Her/Hers Hometown: Menasha, WI Major: Psychology and Political Science Minor: Communication Studies Other Campus Involvement: Student Association CASSH Senator, University Centers Admin Assistant, Psychology Club, Pre-Law Society member Future Plans after Graduation: Attend law school Favorite Activity in La Crosse: Visiting Pearl Street Books
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