Try 3 months for $3
UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow greets UW System president Ray Cross

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow greets UW System President Ray Cross before a Board of Regents meeting last month where they denied Gow a raise.

Nearly three-fourths of the emails sent to the UW-La Crosse chancellor in the month after a porn star spoke to students as part of the university’s Free Speech week expressed support for the chancellor’s speaker selection.

That’s according to the nearly four dozen emails obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal through the state’s open records law regarding an episode that attracted national media attention, led to a letter of reprimand from University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross, prompted an audit of Chancellor Joe Gow’s office’s discretionary fund and denied him a pay raise.

An email Gow sent to porn star and sex educator Nina Hartley three days after receiving Cross’ letter scolding him for exercising “poor judgment” reflects just how much he stands by his invitation.

“This is without a doubt the most original and thought-provoking presentation I’ve seen in my 12 years at our university,” Gow wrote to Hartley on Nov. 9.

Hartley delivered an optional lecture titled “Fantasy versus reality: Viewing adult media with a critical eye” to a reported 75 attendees on campus Nov. 1. Her lecture sparked about half a dozen op-eds in the La Crosse Tribune, including one by Gow, and headlines from national media.

Included among the 200 pages of documents released to the State Journal is a terse note Cross wrote to Gow in the days after the media attention.

“I just received a copy of your Op Ed (you didn’t share it, others did) — I am not pleased. Your defense of your actions is just makes things worse,” Cross wrote.

On Nov. 11, Gow issued an apology for “the sensationalistic media attention (UW-La Crosse) has received as a result of a speaker I brought to campus.” The statement did not apologize for inviting the speaker.

Cross, who received the statement in advance of its release, told Gow that he was “comfortable” with the message, according to a newly released email.

Emails, calls, texts

Gow received emails related to Hartley from nearly 50 individuals, including students, staff, faculty, alumni, a former Regent, and an emeritus dean of UW-Madison’s College of Letters and Science in the month after the Nov. 1 speech.

Of those, 33 messages expressed support for Gow’s invitation to Hartley and 13 came from disappointed or outraged individuals who used subject lines such as “disappointed alumni” and self-descriptions such as “irate taxpayer.”

Other comments came through different types of communication. Jane Morgan, UW-La Crosse director of alumni relations, sent a note to Gow informing him that she received calls and text messages from concerned alumni that were not represented in the university’s records release.

Morgan forwarded a note to Gow from alumnus Andy Ellingson, who wrote: “Rest assured your association won’t get a dime from me. I could win the Powerball and I wouldn’t give (UW-La Crosse) a dime.”

Another angry alumna, Sharon, whose last name was withheld, wrote that she would stop donating to the university after 27 years of doing so.

But the majority of email senders stood behind Gow.

A UW-La Crosse student whose name was withheld wrote that she transferred to the campus last spring and Gow’s invitation reinforced that it was the right decision for her.

University library services assistant Liz Bass wrote along those same lines: “Porn is pervasive in our society via the Internet, and to not shine a light on it through open, rational discussion means it remains in the dark, secreted away to be manifest in unhealthy and often injurious ways. Thank you for trying to bring this darkness into the light.”

Alumnus Matthew Dockter acknowledged he personally wouldn’t be interested in listening to Hartley speak, but applauded Gow for providing a forum for someone outside the mainstream.

“That’s the Wisconsin Idea in action,” he wrote.

Three others asked for Gow’s resignation.

“I am seeing these snowflakes graduate with a head full of mush, heavily indoctrinated with garbage about socialism and liberal thought,” Alumnus Chris Mikula wrote. “If (UW-La Crosse) is suppose to be an institution of higher learning where varying ideas and views can be shared, then why not invite someone like a Ben Shapiro to speak on campus? … Explain to me how a porn star is helping these students build resumes and better their interviewing skills.”

Shapiro’s appearance on another UW campus, along with other conservative speakers interrupted by protesters at college campuses across the country, led the UW System Board of Regents to pass a free speech policy in the fall of 2017.

Gow invited Hartley as part of the university’s inaugural Free Speech week, which he created in response to a July 2018 memo from Cross encouraging chancellors to find ways to encourage and protect free speech. One of the memo’s suggestions was to hold a Free Speech week.

Gow personally reimbursed the $5,000 speaker’s fee amid the public outcry. The fee initially came out of his office’s discretionary fund, which is supported by interest earnings and vending machine revenue.

UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi said Friday the auditors are still conducting the review of Gow’s discretionary fund.

Another speaker

The campus speaker controversy at UW-La Crosse will likely continue in the spring semester when an anti-pornography group speaks in late February.

Gow initially announced he would bring Fight the New Drug as a counter-speaker to Hartley. He then found out a Christian student group known as Cru had already received $2,400 from the university’s student government earlier last fall to bring the group to campus.

Luke Rickert, Cru’s La Crosse area director, characterized Fight the New Drug as a nonreligous, nonpolitical group that will speak at the campus’ student union at 8 p.m. Feb. 7.

“With the epidemic of pornography plaguing the college scene, we’re trying to address that in a way that would not only speak to those of Christian faith, but also those of a non-Christian faith who are wrestling with the effects of pornography,” Rickert said.

Rickert said he expects more than 75 people to attend, in part, because the group plans to promote it, unlike Hartley’s speech, which Gow decided not to include on the university’s events calendar nor to publicize to media outlets.

Emails show several people have already reached out to Gow unhappy with the speaker selection.

“Fight the New Drug relies on research that is not backed by credible science,” assistant professor Elizabeth Humrickhouse wrote to Gow.

Humrickhouse pointed Gow toward a letter written by eight neuroscientists and one psychophysiologist who said Fight the New Drug is “systematically misrepresenting science” and disregards the scientific method.

Gow wrote back: “It appears that this organization is not without controversy, and this makes me all the more eager to hear what they have to say.”

Gow said in an interview that Fight the New Drug was just another example of the importance of free speech. He encouraged people with concerns about the group to attend the voluntary event. He also lamented that he would be unable to attend because of a Regents meeting scheduled in Madison the same day.

“Listen critically, ask good questions, make up your mind — that’s what we’re here to do as a university,” he said.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
9
5
4
4
9

(29) comments

lutefisk

Gow has coat the uw system alot of money..he was writren up twice and this is the 3rd. He was sued and the uw system wants him gone

caretoomuch

Sounds like Old Homey and Gow had a great night with the Stormy Daniel co-worker. That is their story and they are sticking to it!

Rick Czeczok

I wouldn't worry about that old buzzard much. He has been caught at so many lies on this board that I lost count. He is a socialist activist, and not a very good one at that. What I wonder is how he is able to use words on this board, that others get blocked, hhmmm, tribune writer maybe. I would like to get that one explained to me. Example; I had to use the word prostitute, as they wouldn't allow me to use word Hook-er, but it runs right through with him. HHMMMM

Redwall

Oh, Oh, Better change the title on the article to " Eight out of Nine People Posting on the Tribune Website are Not Supportive of Gow and Tribune"

lutefisk

You have to be a total idiot to think this statistic holds any water whatsover

LocalObserver

In other news: Trump cabinet members tell him they support him, Packers players told McCarthy he was a good coach, and local teacher's students tell her she's smart. Sheesh. You think a bunch of students and faculty are going to email the Chancellor and criticize him directly? For a university employee that would be a recipe for losing your job.

oldhomey

Well, people who have to face that sort of dilemma have a big option, Local. They can remain silent. And when Trump's time comes, he will find the silence from his hand-picked cabinet members to be deafening as he is carted out the door. You suggest the support shown for Gow was brown-nosing. I would suggest that there is no evidence of that, that it seems to be spontaneous support for an outstanding educator.

LocalObserver

You missed the point completely. The article implies that there is overwhelming support on campus for Joe Gow. My point is that this is an erroneous conclusion because people who DON'T support Gow are not likely to put their name on an email telling him so.

canman

When you don’t and won’t listen to your boss, you will lose. According to Cross, this wasn’t an isolated incident of Gow not doing as expected. Whether Gow feels he was right or if he was wrong doesn’t matter, he didn’t do what he was expected to do, he knew this and is reflected by how the talk was advertised.

oldhomey

If the state university system begins to issue a by-the-numbers kit that its administrators must adhere to in their decision-making, you will fulfill your imagination of all government employees being unimaginative laggards. They are not, and that is why we have smooth running governmental institutions serving the public well. That should be especially true of our educational institutions. Are you a cowering cipher, putting your time in, hoping that you get through to your pension?

canman

If you disobeyed your boss you would have lost your job, you may not like the bosses policies, this is why Gow was reprimanded. As for being a cowering cipher, when an issue comes up I discuss it with the powers to be as not to give my company bad press over nonsense. We come to a common sense solution that solves the issue.

gb506

Having sex with strangers on camera for money isn't something normal people want their children to do, and by inviting the "p@rn star" Gow participated in the normalization of aberrant and harmful behavior. Harmful not only to the "p@rn stars" but also to p@rn consumers. Studies show p@rn reinforces unhealthy attitudes and behavior toward women, and it interferes with maintaining healthy interpersonal and romantic relationships. Gow was unwise to bring the woman and a few emails from intellectually challenged people won't change that.

oldhomey

I take it, gb, that you were at the lecture? Was the speaker extolling the virtues of having public sex on camera? Or was she a person who has lived a life that has taught her lessons that young people should hear about sexuality and its limits? Would you give us a little run down on her lecture so that we can join you in your condemnation of what transpired? We need the input from a witness like you who is not intellectually challenged.

Redwall

Almost 10,000 students and employees at UWL. Add concerned parents and there is a group of almost 30,000 people who might have an opinion on this matter.

So the Tribune hatches another Beavis and Butthead math experiment assuming a batch of 40 e-mails, "almost two thirds" of which support Gow, is some sort of scientific representation.

Strange, the Tribune talking up Gow ever since this incident (last week's chapter argued the declining attendance of international students, a trend which started in Obama's 2nd term, was President Trump's fault).

No doubt Gow's supervisor reads these feeble articles. It might occur to the Tribune, if they want to help Mr. Gow, maybe they should stop printing this garbage and let the dust settle.


oldhomey

Gosh, Red, you are SO right! A narrow-minded and officious overseer of the state university system made a poor judgement against a fine educator. Being a person in authority, however, he should NOT BE QUESTIONED! We should all sit back and wring our hands, hoping that he does not make an even more drastic move against Mr. Gow. Best to lay low, instead of speaking truth to power. That should be the mission of newspapers, too.

oldhomey

Good. I am glad to see that Mr. Gow is getting the support he deserves in this incident. If anything, the person who should be fired for poor judgement is Mr. Cross.

I now would like to bring to the La Crosse Tribune a lesson it should learn from this incident. As an experiment, I tried to post this earlier with the following paragraph taken out of the Tribune's story exactly as it appeared. It got kicked back to me for using language unacceptable to the Tribune. Can you find the word it found objectionable in my post but was not objectionable when it used the word in its own story?:

University library services assistant Liz Bass wrote along those same lines: "P*rn is pervasive in our society via the Internet, and to not shine a light on it through open, rational discussion means it remains in the dark, secreted away to be manifest in unhealthy and often injurious ways. Thank you for trying to bring this darkness into the light."

Pornography may be offensive to many, but p*rn is certainly not a racy or suggestive term, it is simply a descriptive one that helps us carry on an informed, intelligent conversation, so I think the Tribune should clean up its list of supposed objectionable language and be a little more sensible about it.

Comment deleted.
oldhomey

Hmm. It would be fascinating to see you break down your analysis of my 6:54pm post in order to come up with conclusion you reached in your 8:16pm post, Ricky.

Rick Czeczok

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA old man, you demand from me, what a joke you are. Must have touched a nerve there.
Now tell us about your trauma you had in your pretend Vietnam war experiences. You lied when you said you were ever in that military much less Vietnam. Crazy old man actually believes his lies. They have mental terminology for your kind pal.

Mr Wizard

Birds of a feather........

Tommy Duncan

This bears repeating: ----> "I am seeing these snowflakes graduate with a head full of mush, heavily indoctrinated with garbage about socialism and liberal thought." ----> I have no problem with the expression of liberal ideas in fair and balanced context that includes multiple points of view, but colleges have become liberal echo chambers.

oldhomey

If this is what you see, Tommy, perhaps you should have your vision tested. Were you at the lecture? It sounds to me like there was a good deal of balanced context in it that made it an outstanding presentation.

Comment deleted.
oldhomey

OMG! Who told you that I worked for Ingersoll, Ricky! I demand to know! I bet it was that hooker you found on line in Rockford last month! Did she lecture you, too??? I think you should listen to her. They tell me she has a heart of gold, and she might turn you life around. I wouldn't want to suggest you have a heart of stone, old buddy. Styrofoam, maybe? Certainly your intellect seems, well, very much lightweight and unable to retain much, though it seems to buffet your mind from being hurt. Obviously it accounts for your insane laughter when no laughter is called for.

Rick Czeczok

Nice try Gow, this is a mess you will never live down, and will be what you are remembered for. Please find another job somewhere else.

Goldenyrs

This from a person who thinks he is the people police. Over and over this person thinks he's clever. He's not.

Rick Czeczok

Oh that hurts. Good bye.

oldhomey

You may well be right, Ricky, but in a way that will redound exactly opposite of the reasons that you suppose. He will be remembered as an outstanding, dedicated and courageous educator who did what he thought was right, not merely acceptable.

oldhomey

By the way, Ricky, why are you always so angry and negative? Why don't you try to see the good in the world? I thought you were going to relax and refill your spiritual soul during the holiday season, but hear you are, back being as mean and nasty as ever.

Rick Czeczok

Can you ever come up with anything on your own. These are the same things I asked you about and so now you wait a week, and then repeat it back to me. Your so clever.

oldhomey

Well, gosh, Ricky, you sure know how to tell the world how you are totally unaware when you are being pimped!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe or log in to continue.