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UW-Madison’s Chancellor Under Fire for Handling of Scandal Involving Sexual Harassment, Sick Leave


Criticism of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s chancellor has escalated, with two lawmakers considering hearings to further delve into his role in a scandal involving sexual harassment and sick leave.

Groups representing students and university staff also lamented the negative attention that the scandal has brought on the school and said it could have been handled better by Chancellor John Wiley.

They spoke one day after a 41-page report laid out the missteps involving Wiley’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against Paul Barrows, the former vice chancellor for student affairs, and Barrows’ seven months of paid leave after his resignation.

The report by Susan Steingass, a former judge and UW law professor, concludes that Barrows sexually harassed two employees he supervised and used poor judgment in having a relationship with a graduate student.

It says that Wiley allowed Barrows to use sick leave — when he was not ill and looking for other jobs — to continue earning his $192,000 salary for seven months after his resignation. Wiley said in public that Barrows was sick. Behind the scenes, he prevented Barrows from returning to work, the report shows.

The report shows Wiley dismissed allegations of sexual harassment against Barrows as “old and stale” and misled the public about the reason for Barrows’ resignation. Then, Wiley helped Barrows try to find jobs at other universities before making him a counteroffer that kept him at UW-Madison as his $150,000 per year consultant.

Seven months after receiving a memo warning that Barrows’ “sexual conquests and pursuit of female students are quite prevalent,” Wiley confirmed some of the allegations were credible and demoted Barrows for a second time.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, the chair of a committee that oversees the university, said she is considering holding a hearing.

“That is very troubling and clearly that is inappropriate,” said Harsdorf, R-River Falls, referring to the way Wiley handled the sexual harassment allegations. “A great deal of public confidence has been eroded.”

Barrows’ lawyer, Lester Pines, said the allegations that Wiley used to demote Barrows are not true. He said Wiley “to this day has failed to invoke any of the formal processes … to conduct an investigation of any of these allegations.”

UW System President Kevin Reilly last week reprimanded Wiley for breaking policy on sick leave, but Wiley escaped punishment for any missteps in handling the sexual harassment allegations or misleading the public.

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said the labor committee he chairs will hold a hearing into the matter next month, saying he had several questions about Wiley’s actions.

“The chancellor really got a slap on the wrist for breaking the laws of the state of Wisconsin and administrative rules,” he said. “To simply say he’ll have to do a term paper on why it won’t happen again is just not enough.”

Wiley said that he remained loyal to Barrows, his friend, but “it became apparent to me … that my trust in Paul was misplaced.” He tried to help him find jobs because he “had no interest in ruining his career,” he said in a statement.

Wiley was unavailable for comment, a university spokeswoman said.

At the moment, Wiley’s job does not appear in peril. He still enjoys widespread support from the UW-Madison faculty, UW System President Kevin Reilly and the UW System Board of Regents.

Even as he sent him a letter of reprimand, Reilly praised Wiley for effectively overseeing the campus of 40,000 students and 16,000 employees. Wiley, an electrical engineering professor, has been chancellor since 2001.

Kathi Kilgore, a lobbyist for Academic Staff Public Representation Organization, which represents advisers, researchers and other UW System staff, said her organization was not “prepared to criticize Chancellor Wiley directly.”

“We do have concerns with how some of the personnel decisions were handled by the university, and they reflect poorly on all of us,” she said.

— Associated Press

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