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University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow has been scolded by his boss for discreetly booking a porn star to speak on campus earlier this month.

Joe Gow


Ray Cross


Nina Hartley


The embattled chancellor, however, is standing his ground.

In a Nov. 6 letter of reprimand addressed to Gow, UW System President Ray Cross wrote that he was “deeply disappointed by (Gow’s) decision to actively recruit, advocate for, and pay for a porn star” to visit campus, and said he would be scrutinizing the chancellor’s spending.

Cross also expressed frustration that he learned of the visit not through Gow or school officials, but through media reports on the event and the backlash.

“While I understand and appreciate your commitment to freedom of expression and public discourse, as Chancellor, you need to exercise better judgment when dealing with matters such as these,” Cross wrote in the letter, obtained by the Tribune on Wednesday. “In light of my prior cautions about your interactions with the media and your need to hire a public information officer, this should not have happened.”

Gow has staunchly defended his decision to book Nina Hartley, a longtime adult film actress and sex educator, citing the UW System’s Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression policy.

“I think we see things differently,” Gow said of the president’s letter on Wednesday. “I think the free speech policy is very clear that each chancellor is responsible for implementing that policy, and I took that seriously and did my best effort on this. I was approaching things from a very pure, free speech perspective.”

On Nov. 1, Hartley, 59, spoke to about 70 students and staff members at Centennial Hall. She touched on everything from female empowerment and consent, to the importance of distinguishing porn from reality.

While Gow celebrated the visit as an example of free speech, members of his own campus questioned whether it was moral for a porn star to visit campus, and why the event had been kept under wraps. Hartley’s appearance was not promoted on the university’s online events calendar and was not made known to the press.

Initially, Gow refused to budge from his position. Then Cross’ letter landed on his desk.

“I’m writing to let you know how sorry I am for the sensationalistic media attention UW-L has received as a result of a speaker I brought to campus to help us celebrate Free Speech Week,” he wrote in a subsequent letter to students and faculty. “Regrettably, in many media headlines and accounts, the speaker’s profession completely overwhelmed her message. I admit that in inviting her to present at our university I was naive about this possibility, and I have learned much from it.”

Gow also agreed to personally compensate the university for Hartley’s $5,000 appearance fee, and to book a speaker from an anti-porn organization.

But all that was before the chancellor doubled down on Wednesday, further evidence that the Gow-Hartley media storm is not blowing over.

In his letter of reprimand, Cross said he fears the unwanted attention might detract from UW’s budget request and capital plan.

He called for a four-year retroactive audit of Gow’s discretionary fund — the one originally used to pay Hartley — and warned that Gow might not receive a raise this year. His salary is $220,000.

The unflattering spotlight on Gow has come at an inconvenient time for the university.

On Dec. 6 and 7, UW-L is hosting a meeting of the Board of Regents, traditionally a chance to highlight positive developments on campus.

Regents will also discuss pay raises for chancellors during the visit.

Kyle Farris can be reached at (608) 791-8234 or Follow him on Twitter at @Kyle_A_Farris.


Kyle Farris reports on education for the La Crosse Tribune. Reach him at (608) 791-8234 or

(28) comments

Landon Turcotte

Chancellor Gow was in a tough spot regardless. If he would have chosen to make a public announcement prior to the appearance, there would have been an uproar from one segment of the population. The "easy" answer would have been to not bring in an adult film star. The problem with that, however, is that in today's society there is a blatant reality that pornography is a part of our culture. This is the type of different perspective that one can get at a university. As a proud UW-L grad, I would tell a parent that would be so egregiously offended by UW-L hosting an event like this to let their child decide where to go to school. When I was enrolled, there were several guests that presented their viewpoints through a religious lens. No outrage at all. I find that sort of ground to be silly, but I certainly never felt offended by their appearances. There may very well be serious consequences down the road, undoubtedly rooted in a political atmosphere, but I pose this question to you all: In today's world, with the preponderance of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape, coupled with the certainty of pornographic material with the tap of a finger, when IS the "right" time to have this sort of discussion? Frankly, those that respond with a resolute "NEVER" wish to live in an alternate reality, one that displays an incredible lack of enlightenment and progressivity. The politicians that will undoubtedly stock this event in their quiver of arrows designed to change the UW system for the worse are doing a disservice to our populace. This entire situation appears to be nothing more than outrage over a segment of society demonized by some, while patronized by many. If Gow violated rules in place, there should be consequences. However, this event should, hopefully, bring about an adjustment to the rules to allow for an institution of higher learning to engage students in different perspectives without having to feel the need to be secretive from the single-minded and obstreperous among us.


I couldn’t have said it better.


I agree - Gow was RIGHT - and I commended the guest who presented a rebut to all the uproar. Narrow minded believers of legend and mythology can't move on for some reason - it is called CONTROL of the masses.


"... If he would have chosen to make a public announcement prior to the appearance..."
The appearance was hardly a secret. The media were in attendance and the talk was well attended. Nobody was hiding anything. But stick to that narrative, since it fits what the prudes want to believe--that sex is shameful and that those crafty liberals needed to hide the meeting because of their shame.


So much better to hide away lust and human feelings. Oh yes, the puritans had it right. Turn animal feelings into guilt and shame and perversion. Oh yes, by all means hide it away and pretend it doesn't happen, even as the industry booms and local hotels sell it as pay per view and your president dabbles in it.


No, just dont try and pay for it on our dime.


Your dime? Did you pay student fees, D-bag?


Why not have Gow, simply beheaded, in the Student Union Commons area, on a Friday @ high noon and thereby, put this matter, of extreme controversy to rest?
It is so good to know America"s puritanical gig ....has never ended.


Wonder what other incidents that Gow was involved in that Cross had to previously caution him about. When you go against your boss, you will lose.

Mr Wizard

I mean, c'mon Joe, you didn't think that you were going to be able to pull this off on the QT did you? You must be educated way beyond your intelligence. I hope you at least got a little tutorial in the coat room for your five grand.


You're just a real pervert, aren't you, Whiz?


Why hasn't anyone published and interview the students that attended her presentation? That would be enlightening to find out what they came away with.

informed and educated


informed and educated

“In light of my prior cautions about your interactions with the media and your need for a public information officer, this should not have happened.“. This means Gow is an embarrassment to the UW System and Cross has shared concerns in the past. This is more about the hiding and secretiveness and not ”Nina”.


Young people don't go to college to be shielded from real life. Pornography is certainly shameful but unfortunately it's part of that life. I really don't know if inviting a porno star to speak was right or wrong. It is questionable but trashing Dr. Gow is way over the top. Sometimes I wonder if those at the top have any common sense. Having a PhD doesn't mean a person is smart. I know that first hand.


"Pornography is certainly shameful..." THIS is precisely the message that Ms. Hartley was trying to counter. There is nothing shameful in normal human sexuality. Prudery only does damage to people.

Bill Payer

It's not free speech or exposure to different viewpoints that are the issues here. Hopefully the kiddos did learn a lesson from this. Gow knew paying a p*rn star was going to be perceived badly, that's why he hid Hartley's talk from the media until afterwards. Perception is reality, especially when it comes to funding, and Gow has stepped in it big time. I can't believe he was that naive. Some parents will now question sending their kids here, which certainly doesn't help in an already competitive recruiting atmosphere for WI high school students. And some politicians will use this to push for less autonomy and reduced funding to UW schools. Not to mention the tone deafness of bringing in a p*rn star during this #MeToo era.. I mean, didn't he bounce this idea off anyone else first? There's no way this was going to turn out as a positive.


"...that's why he hid Hartley's talk from the media..." Here's another bunch of BS from the wingnuts. Gow didn't hide anything from the media. The media were, in fact, present at the lecture. Here's the link to the article from the Tribune. Unfortunately because of the Tribune's stupid filtering system, you have to remove the "*" from the URL.*rn-p*rn-star-nina-hartley/article_551c4f2b-6b53-56d1-9d2b-a88067397085.html

informed and educated

You are 100% correct. Cross is not upset about the speaker per se, he is upset, rightfully so about the secretiveness and Goe hiding it from people on campus and not openly sharing the speaker coming to campus. If this is a freedom of speech event, where was his freedom to share the speaker coming to campus . He intentionally held the information because he knew there would be some that disagreed with the topic. BUT, the issue the system has is the way in which he handled this. Not about freedom of speech. Gow is manipulating the rhetoric to play in his favor, so he can be seen as the victim. Sick


Nonsense. If this was hidden from the public then why was the newspaper in attendance? Why was there a crowd of people there?


Good grief! So much for free speech and freedom of expression. Since the state contributes such a miniscule portion of their budget, UWL shouldn't have to ask permission of the overlords to schedule a speaker.

informed and educated

There is a process to follow and he did not and was secretive. Fishy!


So Joe G gets a reprimand on November 6 and sends a letter to Tribune apologizing for the p*rn star. Are really supposed to believe the apology is sincere? The letter is a CYA move and was probably a requirement from the UW system in order to keep his job.


I always thought the University was the place where you were exposed to all views. You take it all in and come to your own conclusions. This whole thing should be an embarrassment and not because of the speakers previous vocation. Should the "kids" be exposed to limited views? Shameful for a place of learning.


slider...I think five thousand dollars from Gow's personal bank account is sincere enough. What do you want, blood? Some people will never let him live this down and keep harping on it, like kicking a dead horse. Its done, let it be, and worry about much more important things in life.

informed and educated

He was asked to repay it. This was not his idea.


where did you read he was asked to repay it. And who asked him, if that is true? Asking is not the same as requiring. He didn't have t do it.

informed and educated


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