MADISON, Wis. — In what she asserts is the latest example of administration-led harassment and retaliation, University of Wisconsin-Platteville whistleblower Professor Sabina Burton was ordered to clean out her office while the institution’s police chief stood by.
Burton, who has accused administrators of discrimination, intimidation and retaliation, could lose her position as associate criminal justice professor, pending the outcome of an investigation.
Meanwhile, Burton this week filed a federal lawsuit against administrators, university grievance board members and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, alleging violations of her due process rights connected to previous disciplinary actions.
Earlier this month, Chancellor Dennis Shields in a letter advised Burton that he was “initiating the dismissal process.”
“As a result, I am instigating an investigation. I will provide further information about the investigation as soon as possible,” Shields wrote. “I expect you to give your full cooperation to the investigator.”
Burton was told to remove her possessions from her campus office. She did so Tuesday evening, under the supervision of the law enforcement official Burton has accused of threatening her.
“It was absolutely ridiculous to have the chief there tonight. They treated me like a criminal,” Burton told Wisconsin Watchdog in an email. “The locks were already changed out.”
The investigation comes a little over a month after Shields dismissed another complaint against Burton, noting the “complaints do not warrant disciplinary action or further investigation.”
In that probe, Shields hired a private investigator to question Burton at her home. Burton provided evidence showing the allegations made against her were false and told Wisconsin Watchdog the probe was a means to push out a vocal critic of Shields’ administration.
The latest complaint against Burton was filed by outgoing Interim Provost Elizabeth Throop and Melissa Gormley, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Throop, who is leaving for an administrative post at Frostburg State University in Maryland following the spring semester, is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Burton previously filed against the university.
The case is now at the appeals level after a lower court said Burton’s case did not meet standards laid out by civil rights law. Burton alleges Throop repeatedly retaliated against her after the professor tried to help a female student who said she was sexually harassed by a male criminal justice professor.
Shields, who has been criticized by faculty and students for his handling of other misconduct allegations, informed Burton that if the administrators’ allegations are true, they would warrant “Burton’s dismissal.”
Among other offenses, the complaint alleges Burton behaved “unprofessionally,” including “involving students into your personal concerns.”
The chancellor asserts Burton has broken the trust with her colleagues. Administrators complain about a website Burton and her husband, Roger Burton, operate. They charge that universitycorruption.com includes confidential personnel information in the form of audio recordings and transcripts. Burton says she has invoked her right under Wisconsin law to record Criminal Justice Department meetings as evidence for her case. Her website includes a raft of court documents, including depositions.
Burton counters that she “never acted badly at work in any way,” that she was “always civil” to her colleagues. Any of her complaints or grievances were done in writing, she said.
“I never communicated to my students in class or via email about my case. I was always professional at work,” the professor said. “That is why Shields, Throop and Gormley couldn’t include such allegations in the January 2017 complaint against me. So why would they treat me now as if I was unprofessional at work? For no other reason than to humiliate and harass me? To make it seem to others that I am a problem?”
In late November, Burton alleged that UW-Platteville Police Chief Joe Hallman intimidated her on her way to class.
“(H)e said something to the effect, ‘You make people very uncomfortable. People feel threatened. Be aware of that,’” Burton recalled.
Hallman told Burton he had read Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative stories on allegations of misconduct and retaliation at the southwest Wisconsin university. She told him, “Well, I have been made uncomfortable for years. I was threatened. Nobody here cared or came to my help, so what do you mean?” Hallman didn’t answer, Burton said.
The chief said his intention was simply to introduce himself, not to threaten or to intimidate.
During the “brief” walk, the chief said he did mention that he has had “other colleagues in the Criminal Justice Department contact me and express concerns over some of the ongoing issues.” Hallman did not specify what he meant by “issues.”
“In telling her that, I was simply trying to convey that I am available if needed. My mission here is to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, faculty and staff, which I do not take lightly,” Hallman said.
Burton has filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In July 2015, the EEOC issued Burton a right-to-sue letter related to her second EEOC complaint on retaliation and discrimination. The agency determined there are grounds for a discrimination claim.
The professor alleges she has been repeatedly retaliated against over the past four-plus years simply because she has engaged in protected activity under federal law. The lawsuit filed this week alleges the university’s grievance committee refused to hold hearings regarding her complaint alleging a disciplinary letter issued by Throop was factually incorrect and included rebukes of protected activity.
UW-P and UW System officials have declined to comment on the move to dismiss Burton.
In his letter, Shields wrote that he has consulted with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate. The chancellor asserts — before his investigation has been completed — that he has “found that substantial harm to the institution may result if you are continued in your position.”
“I am therefore relieving you of your duties immediately,” he wrote. “Your pay will continue until a final decision is reached by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.”
Burton said she is being punished for standing up.
“The administration just couldn’t stand the fact that I was still on campus and holding them accountable for their corrupt business,” the professor said.
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