A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor who was accused by a student of sexual misconduct has decided to resign rather than face possible dismissal, Chancellor Joe Gow announced Tuesday.
Joel Elgin, former chair of the art department, has been on leave since September.
In a message to campus Tuesday, Gow wrote: “Rather than respond to a recently-completed investigative report into sexual harassment allegations, Elgin has indicated he is leaving UW-L. I had scheduled a meeting earlier today to provide Elgin his legally required opportunity to respond to the conclusions in the investigative report. Through his attorney, Elgin cancelled our meeting. He received a copy of the investigative report on Friday, November 22nd, and the meeting he declined earlier today would have been his opportunity to tell his side of the story.
“I am eager to share the investigative report with you. I found it to be thorough and compelling enough to move the process of dismissing a faculty member to its next phase. I ﬁrmly believe the testimony of the individuals interviewed by the investigators and I thank them for their courage in coming forward to tell us about their experiences with Professor Elgin. On behalf of our university, l apologize to them for what they have been subject(ed) to.
“I think that once you read the investigative report you will understand why I feel the way I do.”
Questions about UW-L’s handling of sexual misconduct investigations have hung over campus since Caycee Bean, a senior at the school, aired her accusations against Elgin in a Sept. 4 Facebook post.
Bean wrote that Elgin had made comments about her body and attempted to lift her shirt during a private drawing lesson. The interaction ended, she said, when another student jiggled the doorknob and tried to enter the locked room.
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Bean shared her story with UW-L officials in the spring, she said, and waited for updates on the investigation. When the university failed to contact her, Bean went public with her accusations and with her frustrations about how the case was handled.
In a statement responding to Bean, the university said the original investigation had failed to establish that Elgin violated university policy, but that the case would be re-opened and referred to UW System investigators.
The length of the investigation, paired with Gow’s reluctance to discuss sexual misconduct and university policies pertaining to it, triggered student protests and calls for transparency.
At an open forum on campus recently, Gow was peppered with criticism from students who said they no longer feel safe or supported on campus.
"Students are scared to be on this campus. We don't know if we can go into office hours with our professors," said senior Kendra Whelan, who has led the protests at Hoeschler Tower. “Why should we trust you to be our chancellor when you clearly are incapable of having these tough conversations that we need to be having? Why should we trust you to continue to fumble through this conversation?”
Gow argued that, by holding a separate forum on the topic, he could inadvertently give people accused of sexual misconduct the ammunition they need to challenge his rulings and the integrity of investigations.
"On a sexual misconduct situation, there will not be much transparency," he told the crowd. "I think you can appreciate that."
Bean has written that she and her family had conducted their own investigation into Elgin, in addition to complying with UW System investigators.
Through that work, she wrote, Bean connected with more women who told similar stories about Elgin. Bean submitted these claims to investigators, with the women’s permission.
“In our first two days we came up with more evidence against professor Elgin than UW-L did in their first (6-month long) investigation,” wrote Bean. “Although my case hasn’t been the easiest, I still encourage other sexual violence victims to come forward with theirs. Holding your predator accountable is the only way we can prevent it from happening again.”