UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone has declined to be interviewed by a Media Milwaukee student journalist about sexual harassment and assault on campus following two weeks of investigative reporting into such cases at UWM, choosing instead to respond with a campus-wide update.
The email headlined “Chancellor’s Update: Efforts to Combat and Prevent Sexual Harassment and Misconduct” went out on Jan. 10, shortly after a new Media Milwaukee story on the topic was published about campus police. The same update was placed on UWM’s website. Minutes after receiving the email, a Media Milwaukee student journalist emailed Mone to ask:
“Do you have any time [Thursday] or Friday for an on-camera interview regarding sexual assault and harassment prevention at UWM? I just finished reading your update on efforts to combat and prevent sexual misconduct.”
Mone responded: “Thanks for your invitation for an interview. I will decline, noting that my statement represents my position on this matter.”
In-person interviews with top officials are important for journalists because they allow for questions, as well as follow-up questions, to be asked, which a written statement does not.
The student journalist also asked Mone for an interview in an email on Dec. 27, 2017 before the students’ first story ran on Dec. 31. She wrote both Mone and Provost Johannes Britz: “I’m working on an investigative story for Media Milwaukee about the recent sexual harassment policy change here at UWM. I was wondering if either of you had any time this week (so Thursday or Friday) for an in-person interview.” Neither responded before the story first ran, although Britz later granted the students an in-person interview. An automated response was generated to the student email.
The statement released to the campus community from the office of Chancellor Mone and signed by him provides an update on his efforts to combat and prevent sexual harassment and misconduct on UWM’s campus.
The statement refers to UWM’s Guiding Values and how “sexual assault and sexual harassment are directly contrary to this value.”
“Dear Faculty, Staff and Students,” the email begins. “Recent nationwide news coverage regarding sexual harassment, and as of last week, local coverage about UWM, demonstrates the need for vigilance and continued attention to this important topic. UWM maintains its stance of taking sexual harassment and misconduct seriously and its commitment to ongoing actions to provide an environment free of such behaviors.”
The Mone email to campus came just moments after student journalists with Media Milwaukee published their latest in a series of stories exploring sexual harassment and sexual assault accusations made against faculty and staff on campus. Student journalists previously reported that 37 professors or staff were accused in complaints at UWM as listed in a chart that Media Milwaukee received from the university for years 2013 to 2017. The journalists asked for 20 years of data. The students also wrote a story exploring UW System oversight on the topic.
Open records requests remain pending for critically important information such as: UWM complaints and decisions regarding a powerful employee once investigated by police in a case that did not result in arrest or charges, and the amount and number of monetary settlements by UWM in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases.
In his statement, Mone wrote: “Our Office of Equity and Diversity Services (EDS) is available for faculty, staff and students to discuss concerns and file complaints. While even one allegation of sexual harassment or misconduct is too many, EDS data show that formal complaints of sexual harassment and assault have decreased at UWM every year since 2014. In the last five years, there were 40 complaints involving 37 instructors and supervisors. In most cases, the investigation found no violation. In 11 cases in which a violation did occur, appropriate discipline was taken. Most of the violating faculty and staff were terminated or have left the university.” This is the chart that UWM has provided to Media Milwaukee:
Media Milwaukee has also found that, in at least two cases against UW-Milwaukee police officers, Provost Britz overturned EDS decisions that had found alleged evidence of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. He, not Mone, has the final say.
The Mone statement says, “Media coverage on sexual harassment and misconduct will likely continue due to the importance of these issues and given that media inquiries have been made about all UW System institutions. For such inquiries to UWM, we will provide responses consistent with the law, which sometimes requires notice to the subject of the requested information.” The Woznicki notices to which he refers, if sent, would allow employees the option to contest release of the information in court.
He added: “I am committed to maintaining a safe and supportive environment for our students and employees. We will not tolerate behavior that runs counter to our values and puts our community at risk. Below, please see links to information sources and support services for employees and students. Thank you for contributing to an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and safe.”
Since launching their investigations into sexual harassment and sexual assault, student journalists have interviewed Equity and Diversity Services Director Nelida Cortes and Provost Britz and received responses from Senior Director of Integrated Marketing & Communications Michelle Johnson, among other interviews. They have received multiple written responses from open records custodian Julie Kipp. Johnson released a written statement on behalf of the university after Media Milwaukee requested an in-person interview with UW-Milwaukee Chief of Police Joseph LeMire. LeMire did speak briefly with a student journalist in person. Britz would not agree to a request to go on camera, but he did sit down with student journalists for the in-person interview after the first story ran.
-Student journalist Talis Shelbourne submitted some of the open records requests described in this report