At least seven, and potentially up to 10, students or employees at UW-Whitewater say they were sexually harassed by the husband of former chancellor Beverly Kopper, according to records from a University of Wisconsin System investigation released Friday.
Investigators found no direct evidence that Kopper knew of husband Alan “Pete” Hill’s behavior toward women — despite the large number of complainants suggesting his behavior toward women was “pervasive and well-known” with some employees taking steps to protect one another from him.
Some current and former employees brought up serious concerns with Kopper’s leadership ability and the culture she created on campus, raising questions about whether Hill worked around his wife’s blindspot to engage in the alleged behavior.
Kopper’s attorney, Raymond Cotton, said the report is “rampant with speculation” and reflects “no more than a preconceived conclusion in search of supporting evidence.”
But the chief of staff for a state lawmaker took aim at UW System President Ray Cross for striking a “sweetheart deal” that keeps Kopper employed on campus.
Last June, UW System officials banned Hill from campus and stripped him of his ceremonial title after two investigations found three women complained about his behavior.
Kopper waited 84 days after hearing her husband had been banned from campus to inform the university of the news. Her announcement came the same day UW System officials released records on Hill to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which broke the story.
Kopper’s attorney said she released a statement when she had permission from the UW System to do so.
Hill, who previously denied wrongdoing, did not respond to a request for an interview by the two investigators last fall. Bob Kasieta, Hill’s attorney, did not return a phone call Friday from the Wisconsin State Journal.
Following media reports last fall, more victims came forward with episodes they say occurred on campus or at university-related properties, such as the chancellor’s residence.
In one victim’s recounting, a woman described Hill sliding his hand up her skirt. Others say he invited them to discuss career advancement at off-campus locations. One woman recalled Hill touching her shoulder and rubbing down to her bottom.
Two investigators interviewed 28 people and found no evidence that Kopper interfered with the investigation nor that she retaliated against women who claimed Hill harassed them. However, some witnesses said they perceived some of the chancellor’s actions as efforts to silence the women.
Kopper accepted her husband’s denial and took no steps to inform herself further about the allegations, chalking them up to grudges against her, not him, the report said.
Kopper’s attorney pushed back on this characterization, saying to look into the issue further would have been perceived as interfering with the investigation. He said Kopper consulted with UW System attorneys at all appropriate times to be sure she was fulfilling her obligations.
Investigators failed to find public acknowledgment by Kopper of the pain Hill’s alleged behavior caused students and employees.
“During the interview she commented only on the effect it has had on her,” investigators wrote.
The 18-page report and nearly 850 pages of attachments found no evidence that Hill completed sexual harassment awareness training, nor was Kopper aware if he did.
Because Hill was an unpaid employee, it was unclear whether the requirement applied to Hill, at least when Kopper took the reins as chancellor in 2015. The first woman came forward with allegations in 2017.
The chancellor’s office intervened to seek an exemption for Hill from training in 2018, according to a witness who spoke to investigators. The university’s human resources office then removed Hill from the list.
The report paints Kopper’s chancellorship as one filled with turbulence, micromanagement and a close inner circle where many employees felt left out and worried they would lose their jobs in reaction to minor mistakes.
Former administrators, in interviews with investigators, brought up backlogs of campus vacancies because Kopper insisted on signing off on positions, even custodial staff. People with decades of institutional knowledge retired early.
One person interviewed said UW-Whitewater earned a reputation as a top workplace under the previous chancellor, but the ranking fell from 6th to 66th in the span of a couple of years under Kopper. Then the university removed itself from the workplace survey, according to the report.
Several people said Kopper did not understand budget documents.
Cotton said the report resorts to a performance evaluation, which Kopper was not provided a chance to respond to and went outside the investigation’s scope. He cited a January 2018 letter in which Cross praised Kopper’s budgetary skills.
Not everyone interviewed had a problem with Kopper’s management style. One person said she is “thoughtful,” “expects compliance” and raised the university’s graduation rates. Another called her a “phenomenal leader.”
Time of transition
The investigation closed in mid-December, the same month Kopper announced her resignation as chancellor.
She continues to draw from her $242,760 annual salary while preparing to teach on campus next fall. Her salary will be reduced to $118,308 in August.
The “golden parachute” Kopper received before the report’s public release raises questions about Cross’ decision-making, said Mike Mikalsen, chief of staff for state Republican Sen. Steve Nass, whose district includes Whitewater.
Nass also took issue with how UW System officials “dumped” the report on Good Friday for an investigation that wrapped up before Christmas, Mikalsen said. Nass intends to send a letter to the UW System Board of Regents requesting Kopper’s employment be rescinded.
In a statement, UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said Cross immediately called for investigations and aggressively acted on the information when allegations were made. After reading the most recent report, Cross “counseled” Kopper to resign.
“She did, and the report speaks for itself,” the statement said.
Pitsch said the System is taking a national role in fighting sexual misconduct, pointing to a new policy requiring the documentation of sexual harassment allegations in employee personnel files and the sharing of those files with other UW campuses and state agencies during the hiring process.
UW-Whitewater is in a state of transition with the impending departure of its provost, Susan Elrod, who took an out-of-state chancellor position.
A search committee charged with finding Kopper’s successor intends to select someone by the end of the semester in a process some faculty members have described as “rushed.”
In a campuswide letter addressing the records release, Cheryl Green, interim Whitewater chancellor, wrote, “As our university navigates this situation, I hope we can focus our attention on moving forward and the healing process for all concerned.”