On Wednesday, Sept. 11, Student Association had Chancellor Gow come in as a guest speaker. The first question he received was in reference to the bill Rep. Murphy proposed, where two consecutive student-referendums for the approval of student-fee-funded building projects on UW-System campuses would be necessary. This legislation would put funding for the remodeling and building of new residence halls, and additions to the Prairie Springs science center in jeopardy.
Murphy’s policy states that 50 percent of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student body would need to be in favor of these new buildings in two different voting terms. In order to do so, however, there would need to be a higher voter turnout. In the most recent campus elections this past April, only 18 percent of the student body voted, which was the highest rate of participation in the last five years.
The funding based on these circumstances would make it “Impossible to build any new facilities or additions,” according to Gow. The project Gow is most eager to pass against this bill is a new area for student housing, which is hopefully to be located on the property recently acquired by the university across the street from the Whitney dining hall.
The concern for more student living comes from what Gow referred to as “over-flowed housing.” UWL has struggled with this by having to place either three students to a two-person dorm or five or more students into converted sleeping quarters out of underused dorm lounging areas.
Gow said, “We would rather not have that. We have been asking for permission to build a residence hall, and if this bill were to be passed the difficulties would be several.” Funding for these remodels, which student fees would cover only 50 percent of the way, would need to be found somewhere else in order to accomplish the proposed projects.
Gow was questioned on behalf of the Native American Student Association (NASA) and Sen. Hook, on a land recognition statement from UWL to the Ho-Chunk Nation. Sen. Hook stated that the land that UWL is settled on was once stolen from the Indigenous people of the area, believing that they are subject to a statement on the matter.
Gow, however, felt differently, saying that a statement from the university would be “historically inaccurate.” Gow said, “If you read about the Ho-Chunk indigenous people who lived here, they were tragically and brutally moved off these lands from about 1840 to 1860. Our university doesn’t come along until 1909; this land was sold to the state to establish a school. To say that we occupy this land is to give a false impression that the University took the land.”
Following this past week’s sexual misconduct allegation against the Chair of the Art Department Joel Elgin, Gow was questioned on whether or not he believes the policies put in place here are adequate enough to protect students against harassment.
“I do,” said Gow, mentioning that sexual assault is a direct violation of UWL’s harassment policies. Gow continued, “In a judicial process, you have to have standards and rules. There are processes for many things, but the one thing that seems to be very central is due process, and then some kind of judgment on the evidence.”
When allegations are thrown, it is the University’s responsibility, according to Gow, to find a “preponderance of the evidence, so that its more likely than not that it happened” until the defendant is proven innocent or guilty.
Gow said that the only form of evidence, in this case, “is stemmed out of memory,” while admitting the human resource department’s negligence on notifying the victim of her report’s status. The UWL HR department took six weeks to communicate with the victim on her claim’s status, which according to Gow “should have never happened, and I am very sorry that it did.”
Gow explained also how his responsibilities as Chancellor entail being the voice for more information and due justice once new information is uncovered: “This gets very challenging, and basically there was new information that was in the best interest for everyone to have this case re-opened.”
Gow was asked to clarify his statement on the issues with the human resources handling of the situation, to which he explained that the amount of time HR took to notify the student of their claim’s process through their system was found to be “untimely.”
“I talked to our people and I let them that they cannot ever let that happen again because a person will feel like they don’t care about them,” said Gow. “Our people didn’t have time to get back to the person over the summer and let them know we investigated everything but were unable to find any evidence to corroborate the charge, and that’s wrong. You should tell people as soon as you can.”
Gow allowed himself to approach this with a student perspective as well, placing himself inside the frustrations that many students at UWL are feeling, by saying “Now with that said, it’s challenging; I know people want answers, right away and very soon; and all of us are wondering what’s going to happen here. I feel that way, and I’m in the middle of it. I’m telling my people to give me what we know, to get this where it needs to be and to have justice because it doesn’t feel very good now does it? To have this cloud of uncertainty, with people speculating and all these things going on, but we also don’t want to rush to judgment.”
Gow expressed that this case still has a long journey and how it would be forceful to conclude Elgin guilty. “That would be wrong, we don’t know that yet. This investigation is going until we can see evidence and see what we think of that. We have to be patient, but I can assure you that justice will be served in this case,” said Gow.
On a follow-up question, Gow was questioned on whether or not he thought this investigation was closed prematurely before it’s re-opening, “I don’t think the case was concluded prematurely, they did a thorough job. It was the notification piece where the error occurred. If someone came forward and said that they have more information that we didn’t have before, we would certainly like to hear from them,” said Gow.
Sen. Fiegel continued the topic by asking Gow if he has investigated how other universities have gone about these issues, as far as how he aims or plans to handle this. Gow explained how these situations, which are found commonly on University campuses, are “never actually the same.”
One example Gow used to back this claim was the recent situation in Madison, where a Wisconsin Badger football player was declared innocent after being accused of sexually assaulting two women in his apartment last April:
“That is a really complex situation because it was tried in two different venues: one was the student’s judicial process through the university, and the other a criminal court; and they came to two very different conclusions,” said Gow. This doesn’t really inform our situation; we have to work with what we have. The most important thing is the safety of our students, and the integrity of our rules, our process; that is what is guiding us.”
In response to these allegations and their judicial process, the Student Association decided to propose a resolution to support survivors of sexual assault. The proposal, authored by President Sita Agterberg, passed. It recognizes that “sexual violence is a prevalent issue at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse” as well as statistics which state that “1 in 5 women and 1 and 16 men have experienced some form of sexual violence during their undergraduate career.”
The resolution assured sexual assault survivors that they have the right to feel “empowered and supported by their peers,” as well as the decision to file a report without any judgment or influence.