The UW System has a record of only one sexual harassment complaint against faculty or staff from UW-Milwaukee in the last 20 years, despite the fact that UWM’s own records show there have been more than 30 cases of alleged sexual harassment at UWM in the past five years alone.
The UW System and the Board of Regents have oversight over UW-Milwaukee and other universities, and, in 2014, UW System President Ray Cross formed a UW System Task Force on Sexual Violence and Harassment to “strengthen the UW System’s capacity to better coordinate system-wide efforts on sexual violence and harassment prevention and education.”
However, when asked about UWM’s sexual harassment numbers in an open records request, the UW System responded that it only had records of one case in two decades. Furthermore, the system’s annual reports contain numbers of sexual assault – statistics which are closely tracked under federal and state mandate – but not for sexual harassment cases. (Media Milwaukee has also asked the System for UW-Madison’s numbers and has not heard back on that point.)
“We have checked our records,” the email from UW-System Interim Executive Director Jess Lathrop read, “and are aware of only one sexual harassment complaint involving an individual from UW-Milwaukee in the past 20 years. That case was in 2010 and was settled for $10,000.” (Media Milwaukee has now submitted an open records request for the names involved in that settlement, an open records request which is pending.)
Student journalists are also having a difficult time getting an answer to this question: How much money has UW-Milwaukee paid out in sexual harassment and sexual assault settlements over the past 20 years? Is it more than the $10,000 recorded by the UW System?
UWM has now formally acknowledged that the university doesn’t have a responsive document which can answer that question and anticipates having to charge student reporters “location costs” to figure it out. The student journalists have also learned that individual campuses have authority to make monetary settlements in some cases, without needing the UW System’s approval.
How can the UW System only know of one case when UWM’s own records show 32 cases of alleged sexual harassment? (The others in the 40 overall cases on a list previously provided by UWM to Media Milwaukee were sexual assault allegations and three were discriminatory comments for alleged sexist remarks. The 37 number derives from all cases coded either sexual harassment, sexual assault, or both.)
Media Milwaukee sent a list of follow-up questions to UWM spokesperson Michelle Johnson and Lathrop on January 4, asking both to explain the discrepancy in numbers. Namely: Why are the numbers different? How can the UW System not be aware of so many cases?
Johnson indicated that the System might respond for both. Media Milwaukee told both Johnson and the UW System a response was needed by Thursday night and then extended the deadline twice. No response was received from either before the story ran at that stated third deadline. Several hours after the story was published, Johnson responded to the student questions and said she was also doing so on behalf of the UW System.
In the same inquiry, the student journalists also had asked a series of other questions.
To the UW System: Are UWM and other UW schools mandated to report sexual harassment cases to the UW System and/or the Board of Regents? Does the UW System and/or the Board of Regents have to authorize every settlement for sexual harassment from UWM and other UW schools? Is it possible that there are other monetary settlements for sexual harassment that are handled only at the UWM level that the UW System is not aware of? And if so, is that appropriate?
To UW-Milwaukee: Does UWM not report sexual harassment cases to UW System? If not, why? Do you report these numbers to anyone on a regular or semi-regular basis? And if so, who? Does the UW System have to authorize every settlement?
When asked whether UWM does not report sexual harassment cases to the UW System, Johnson responded, “UWM reports sexual assault allegations to UW System. Each UW institution has its own legal counsel to handle sexual harassment cases and other matters, often in consultation with UW System legal counsel.”
The student journalists had asked the UW System for complaints, not just settlements, but Johnson said, in explaining the discrepancy in numbers, that the UW System’s single record of a complaint and settlement was “a settlement of an external complaint, which is different than the institutional complaints made to the Office of Equity and Diversity Services.” That office is located on the UWM campus and is charged with investigating sexual harassment accusations (the provost has the final say). She didn’t explain why the UW System keeps no record of the institutional complaints made to EDS.
Who does get told about those? UWM’s vice chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement receives “a monthly update on complaints made to that office,” said Johnson (that’s despite the fact that UWM was not able to produce the numbers of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints going back 20 years, providing only five, after an earlier student open records request). She continued, “In addition, a respondent’s dean/division head, the provost, and the vice chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement are notified of all new EDS complaints and their outcome. Our focus is on supporting students and ensuring that students making complaints receive the help, support and services that they need.”
However, she acknowledged that the UW System/Board of Regents may not learn of all monetary settlements in sexual harassment cases, either. Asked if the UW System has to authorize every settlement, she said, “For claims filed with administrative agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, individual campuses typically consult with UW System legal counsel before settling any claims but retain the authority to make settlement decisions.”
That leaves the obvious question: How many more monetary settlements has UWM paid out in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases, if any? However, it’s proving difficult to get that answer.
More than a month after an open records request was first filed to obtain the settlement numbers from UWM, the university said that it also doesn’t know, without undergoing a costly search, whether it has a document containing the total number of settlements over the past 20 years, Media Milwaukee’s investigation revealed.
Because electronic records for settlement data only exist for the past 13 years, according to Public Relations Custodian Julie Kipp, Media Milwaukee has since amended its open request records to that time frame.
Media Milwaukee has yet to receive any settlement numbers from UWM.
This all comes on the heels of last week’s investigative story in which Media Milwaukee confirmed that there are 37 cases of professors and other staff members at UW-Milwaukee who were accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the past five years.
After Media Milwaukee published its initial findings, even though the student journalists had requested outcomes of cases early on, the university revealed that most of the accused in the 11 cases that resulted in a violation found by the provost were fired or left the university. The university had initially provided the students with a column indicating violation or no violation outcomes for each case but further revealed to Fox 6, after the Media Milwaukee story ran, that most of those 11 cases resulted in termination/and or those people leaving the university. Asked for details on that, the university provided this updated chart:
In a reply to Media Milwaukee journalists’ request for aggregate settlement figures and amounts for sexual harassment and assault cases for the past 20 years, Kipp replied by admitting that UWM does not track these figures in a “central repository” and said that putting together a complete number for the past 20 years would incur “location costs” to pay for searches through multiple offices.
Thinking the university might easily know such a number, Media Milwaukee student journalists originally asked UWM’s top PR officials for the amount and number of settlements, but they were told they needed to file open records requests with Kipp. On Nov. 27, student journalists wrote UWM PR, “How many monetary settlements has UWM and or the Board of Regents or agents working on UWM’s behalf made as a result of/to settle sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints at UWM in the last 20 years, and what was each amount? We are looking for aggregate numbers here and monetary dollar amounts.” They then filed an open records request with Kipp as instructed.
“In order to adequately respond whether such a responsive record exists,” Kipp’s January response to that request read, “location costs would be involved possibly involving the Office of Legal Affairs, central HR, and School/College/Division HR offices as UWM’s organization has changed a number of times over the last twenty years.” Her response came shortly after the students published their initial findings.
The students asked for a specific cost estimate for location costs.
Later in the day, Kipp sent an email update noting, “[We are] still working on an accurate estimate of costs,” and adding, “It might be possible to conduct a search at much lower cost if you are willing to limit your request. To be clear, you are under no obligation to limit your request.”
Media Milwaukee investigators limited the request the same day and have yet to hear back.
Task forces and reports, but no numbers
The UW System’s rhetoric has indicated a growing concern about the topic of sexual harassment in recent years, making the lack of numbers even more curious.
In its annual sexual harassment report, the UW System stressed: “As part of their compliance with the statute and their education mission, UW System institutions are…continually updating and improving the scope and quality of information provided to students…” But it doesn’t compile sexual harassment numbers despite voluminous documents articulating programs and concern; sexual assault statistics are mandated by the state and federal government, and those are provided.
The reports say state law requires the System to report “on the methods each UW System institution uses to disseminate information to students on sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
While UWM’s campus security reports list sexual assault numbers, they too have no statistics on the rate of sexual harassment.
The System’s sexual harassment task force lists its purpose as: “Recommend assessment instruments to measure the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses. Assess attitudes, raise awareness and evaluate policies and practices. Foster partnerships with communities and schools to increase awareness and prevent sexual violence and harassment.” That task force was instrumental in pushing a change in policy that is currently winding its way through top faculty committees at UWM; it would change the university’s consensual relationship policy, which currently says that the university cannot regulate relationships between students and professors/staff and bosses/subordinates, although the superior is supposed to report the relationships to higher-ups and remove any conflicts of interest.
After Media Milwaukee journalists filed the open records request for information on sexual harassment settlements, they also filed an open records request with the UW System seeking the names and documents behind the single UWM sexual harassment settlement in its records:
“Our request is for the name of the person accused in the settlement, the name of the recipient of the settlement [and] the name of the individual and/or entity who paid the settlement.”
The response was rerouted from Jess Lathrop, who provided the original sexual harassment settlement numbers from the UW-System to UW-Milwaukee’s Chief Legal Counsel Joely Urdan and eventually, Public Records Custodian Julie Kipp.
Kipp has responded to acknowledge the request, yet has yet to respond with the information requested.
Although the World Health Organization recognizes sexual harassment within the definition of sexual violence, UW-Milwaukee’s report acknowledged that it mandatorily discloses sexual assaults to the DOJ (pursuant to the Clery Act), yet did not mention the reporting of sexual harassment.
Sexual assault is closely tracked. In its 2016 executive summary, the UW System wrote, “Reporting of sexual assault by acquaintances on a UW System campus has risen from 39 incidents in 2005 to 108 in 2016. Reported assaults by stranger perpetrators on campus is comparably lower.” There are no charts with similar numbers presented for sexual harassment to allow for a university-to-university comparison or a sense of the problem’s scope.
The Clery Act, renamed after Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986, requires colleges and universities to disclose sexual assaults to the police. According to the 2016 UW-System Annual Report on Sexual Assault and Harassment, “UW System Administration and each institution’s Clery Act team are working together to strengthen Clery Act policies, protocols, training, and practices to ensure campus communities are safe and welcoming to students and employees.”
However, the report’s omission of sexual harassment rates at UW-Milwaukee makes UWM’s level of safety more inaccessible to the public. Even the inability to disclose how many relationships involving power-differentials occur on campus prevents the public from estimating how many situations of potential sexual harassment exist.
For example, when Media Milwaukee journalist made an open records request for the number of consensual relationships reported to the dean – as required under the old consensual relationships policy – it was revealed that the university does not track these aggregate figures.
“After speaking with the UWM Equity and Diversity Services and Human Resources,” the email response read, “there is no responsive document to your request for ‘the number of consensual relationships between students and faculty which were reported to the appropriate authority (such as dean or provost/decision head) per UWM policy in the past 20 years.’”
State taxes make up 18% of $118 million of UW-Milwaukee’s budget, while 28% or $187 million comes from student tuition, according to UWM’s Budget in Brief overview.
The latest rounds of responses to Media Milwaukee’s open records request for settlement data has come after weeks of waiting to find out how much taxpayer money has been spent on settling sexual misconduct cases at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
It also came despite the chancellor noting in his 2017 letter for UWM’s “Budget in Brief” report, “It is absolutely critical that we share how we use the investments we receive from students, the state and its taxpayers, and all who support UWM.”
-Jennifer Rick contributed to this report. This story was updated with Johnson’s statement, which was provided after the story first ran. It was also updated to state that the university provided five years of information about complaints and whether a case ended in violation or no violation, as the embedded chart in the story showed.