UW-W chancellor’s husband banned from campus

{child_byline}By Christine Spangler

{/child_byline}

WHITEWATER — The husband of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper has been banned from campus after an independent investigation found that sexual harassment allegations against him had merit.

Kopper said in a public statement Friday that the UW System has ended Alan L. “Pete” Hill’s honorary unpaid appointment as associate of the chancellor. In addition, he is restricted from attending UW-Whitewater events and banned from both the UW-Whitewater and UW-Rock County campuses, which recently merged.

“I fully supported and cooperated with UW System’s investigation,” Kopper wrote in a letter posted on UW-Whitewater’s website.

“It was determined that the allegations had merit,” she added.

Regarding the UW System’s June 22 ruling, she added, “I supported this decision and put it into effect immediately.”

As associate of the chancellor, Hill frequently was asked to fundraising, athletic and alumni events, mainly in a ceremonial capacity.

According to documents received in an open-records request by the Daily Union, Hill allegedly had sexually harassed at least three female employees since his wife became chancellor in 2015. Three women formally filed complaints.

One was investigated by an independent investigator hired by the UW System in the fall of 2017. Hill was found not responsible in that case, but he was directed to take sexual harassment training.

In that case, a former student had alleged that in April of 2017, Hill “grabbed her butt” on several occasions while she was working at the chancellor’s home in a professional capacity.

“He has touched/rubbed other female students’ shoulders. He would get very close to them and state how pretty they are,” the investigative report stated.

The woman said she was “sure other student workers have observed this behavior, but are afraid to speak up about it,” the report said.

The second complaint was lodged this past April and an independent investigator again was brought in. During the course of that probe, a third women came forward with allegations.

The second accuser, a female employee, said that earlier this year, Hill squeezed her knee beneath the table under the tablecloth as she sat between him and Kopper at a table during an event.

According to the investigative report, “not less than three times Mr. Hill grabbed her knee under the table and tablecloth. In reference to ongoing work matters under discussion, he made some type of conversational point like ‘I can help you with that,’ squeezing her knee each time.”

The woman told investigators that Kopper could not have known about her husband’s actions because she was sitting on the other side of her. The employee said she left the event early because she felt uncomfortable in the situation.

The same woman said that Hill would call her “babe,” “sweetie” or sweetheart” instead of her name when they encountered one another.

She also reported two other incidents, both of which took place in 2015. In the first, Hill entered her office, shut the door and walked around her desk to where she was.

“He proceeded to give her a ‘full-body’ hug, which she reported as lasting ‘too long,’ and whispered something in her ear. Whatever he may have said was unintelligible or is unremembered,” the report stated. “He then stepped back, made some small talk about work and left her office.”

Within days or weeks of that incident, the woman said, she was passing a room where Hill was seated at the conference table reviewing documents. He reportedly waved her in and as she entered, he stood uncomfortably close to her, “invading her body space.”

“He took her face in his hand and leaned in for what (the woman) thought was going to be a kiss on the mouth. She turned her head quickly and Mr. Hill kissed her on the cheek, again whispering something in her ear,” the report said.

The woman told the investigator that neither she nor her husband told anybody about the 2015 incidents, as they were afraid of retribution that would jeopardize her job.

The other employee who came forward during the second investigation said that, at an official function in February 2018, Hill put his hand on her lower back, pulled her closer to him and whispered a comment in her ear about her appearance: “You look really good, (her name).”

“She said he used a ‘low and sexual’ voice, and it made her very uncomfortable,” according to the report.

The woman said Hill used to call her “babe” and “sweetie,” but had been more professional recently.

She reportedly told the investigator that she did not report the incidents because she thought her job would be in jeopardy and she needed health insurance.

In addition, the report stated that two additional females, one current and one former UW-Whitewater employee, were approached for comment on their reputed experiences with Hill. However, neither was willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation and ruin to their careers.

In its conclusions, the investigative report said that Hill did not express remorse or take responsibility for inappropriate treatment involving a female colleague.

“Indeed, he did not appear to have much understanding of why this behavior would be inappropriate,” the report stated. “He didn’t remember the specific instances of making advances ... and only said he ‘probably’ used terms like ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ to address professional colleagues.”

The report acknowledged that in a smaller milieu where people are familiar with one another, greeting hugs might be more common than handshakes. It also said that, by all accounts, Hill is a tactile person who frequently hugs rather than shakes hands with both men and women in professional gatherings.

“He himself said that he greets alumni the same way he greets colleagues (‘I don’t discriminate’),” the report said.

However, it continued: “This does not explain walking into a female colleague’s office without invitation and giving her a long bear hug, or kissing her in a conference room. It doesn’t explain touching a female colleague and making a suggestive comment about her appearance. And no informal standard of professional behavior encompasses grabbing a woman’s knee under the tablecloth.

“No one changes behavior that is unacknowledged, and there is no indication that Mr. Hill acknowledges his behavior. Furthermore, there appears to be some pattern to this behavior, as (name of one accusor) is not the only person to have been subjected to it. It is unlikely that Mr. Hill can or would amend his behavior to comport with the needs of the employer,” the report concluded.

Hill’s attorney, Robert J. Kasieta, stated in correspondence with the investigators that his client “vehemently denies any wrongdoing.”

In a letter dated July 24, 2018, to Quinn Williams, UW System Administration general counsel, Hill wrote, “I do disagree with the statements and definitely with the report’s conclusion. I unequivocally state that I have never sexually harassed or created an unprofessional work atmosphere; I base this on my over 35 years of professional experience and understanding of HR (human resources) policies and procedures.”

He went on to note that he did compliment a woman on her appearance, but it was meant to personally praise her (remainder of sentence is redacted).

“In fact, I have complimented men on weight loss, as well, through the years,” he continued.

Hill added, “It would not serve any of us well for me to provide a full set of rebuttals to the report at this time, but I can assure you there are many.

“Nevertheless, I already have begun to comply with the report’s recommendations and will continue to do so, based on my respect for your leadership and because I care deeply for my wife, and want to help her, myself and the university at this important time.”

Kopper said in her Friday morning post that she felt it was important to “share with you a difficult situation for me personally and professionally.” She noted that, “although we typically do not discuss personnel issues publicly, I feel it is important to make this one exception and I have UW System’s permission to do so.”

The chancellor continued: “As chancellor, my top priority has always been and will continue to be ensuring that UW-Whitewater is a welcoming campus for all and that students, faculty and staff have a positive and safe environment in which to learn, live and work.

“As you can imagine, this is a challenging and unique set of circumstances for me as a wife, as a woman, and as your chancellor,” Kopper wrote. “As your chancellor, I have worked diligently to ensure each of you has the supportive environment you need and deserve in which to do your amazing work.”

The 16th chancellor at UW-Whitewater, Kopper said that she remains “deeply committed to serving you and continuing the work of our university to provide our students with an education that is truly transformational and to make a difference in our communities, the state, nation and the world.”

UW System President Ray Cross also issued a statement.

“Chancellor Kopper immediately implemented the recommended actions from our independent investigation,” he said. “I am confident the chancellor will continue to make the well-being of the UW-Whitewater campus community a top priority. As with all of our chancellors, I know Chancellor Kopper shares our commitment to ensure that University of Wisconsin System campuses are welcoming and secure places to live, learn and work.

“In the UW System, it is one of our primary responsibilities to provide students, faculty and staff with a safe educational and work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment,” he concluded.

Hill formerly was vice president for commercial insurance at Lincoln Savings Bank in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Kopper came from Northern Iowa University to UW-Whitewater in 2010 to become provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

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