The University of Wisconsin-Madison political science department will make its students aware of sexual misconduct allegations against state Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, as his office seeks to hire interns for the spring semester.
A job posting from Zepnick's office was forwarded to all UW-Madison students majoring in political science Friday morning. Zepnick was disciplined by Assembly Democratic leaders in December after two women accused him of kissing them without their consent at political events in 2011 and 2015.
"We receive many such messages and routinely forward them to our majors. This is the first time that we have faced this kind of situation," said political science department chair John Zumbrunnen in an email. "Student safety is of course an important concern for us. In this case, we'll be reaching out again to our majors to make them aware of the media coverage of this issue ... so that they can make informed decisions."
Legislative internships are not paid positions. According to the job posting, interns in Zepnick's office would be "responsible for many tasks" including database management for constituent outreach, constituent relations and case work, press release and correspondence writing and potential research projects.
"This is a great chance for students to learn more about government while increasing their writing skills, building connections, and genuinely helping people through community outreach," the email read.
Zepnick had previously employed one full-time staffer and one half-time staffer. Assembly Democratic leaders reassigned the half-time staffer to another office after the allegations against Zepnick were reported.
Leadership cannot control whether Zepnick hires interns, said Aaron Collins, spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
Hintz and his colleagues "took every action possible" to discipline Zepnick, Collins said. The lawmaker was stripped of his committee assignments and is no longer participating in closed Democratic caucuses.
"Our leadership has taken action," Hintz said in an interview last month. "We thought Josh should resign. I acted decisively to remove him from his committees and take away his staff. He's no longer caucusing with us."
Hintz was joined by several other Democratic lawmakers and Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning in calling for Zepnick's resignation.
Both women who shared their stories requested anonymity, citing concerns with their current careers. One, a former legislative aide, no longer works in Wisconsin politics. The second, a former Democratic Party of Wisconsin staffer, still does. Neither worked for Zepnick directly.
Their allegations were corroborated by friends and co-workers who said they were told about the incidents at the times they occurred.
Both women described Zepnick drunkenly kissing them. One said she does not recall whether his lips landed on her mouth or her cheek. The other said she turned her head to avoid his mouth meeting hers. Both women described feelings of dread and unease over having to interact with him professionally afterward.
Assembly Republican leaders at the time called Zepnick's behavior "reprehensible" and "unacceptable," and said he must decide what is best for his constituents and the Legislature.
Zepnick has said he will not step down. He said he regrets his behavior, but is being treated unfairly by those moving to punish him.
In an interview on Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV last month, Zepnick said of the allegations against him, "It happened and I regret it, and it wasn't intended to cause anybody any harm." He had previously said he had no recollection of the incidents, noting that both occurred before he became sober after years of "irresponsible drinking."
Zepnick did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the internship posting.