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Chancellor of troubled UW-Platteville looking for new job

By   /   February 7, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 13 of 16 in the series 'Troubled' Campus

MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s chancellor is searching for a new job, looking to leave an institution of higher education troubled by allegations of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

Chancellor Dennis Shields is one of three finalists for president of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Last week Shields met with students, staff, faculty, administrators, the Board of Trustees and community leaders, according to a Wright State press release.

Photo by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville

JOB SEARCH: UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields is a finalist for a top administrative position at Wright State University. He presides over a campus troubled by lawsuits, investigations and allegations of discrimination and retaliation.

“I want to be at an institution that is fully committed to the student experience,” Shields told students. “I think institutions like Wright State are the portal to the middle class and a thriving life, much more so than the research ones and Ivy Leagues. We’re educating the masses. If we do our job well, then this country is going to thrive.”

He has served as Platteville chancellor since 2010, and looks to leave amid multiple allegations of wrongdoing as charged by a professor Shields removed from campus last month.

That professor, University of Wisconsin-Platteville whistleblower Sabina Burton, could lose her position as associate criminal justice professor, pending the outcome of of an investigation.

In early January, Shields sent Burton a letter advising the professor that he was “initiating the dismissal process” against her.

“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.”

Later in the month, Burton was ordered to clean out her office while the institution’s police chief stood by.

RELATED: Chancellor moves to fire UW-P whistleblower professor

Shield’s job hunt follows news that Interim Provost Elizabeth Throop is leaving for an administrative post at Frostburg State University in Maryland following the spring semester.

The latest complaint against Burton was filed by Throop and Melissa Gormley, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Throop 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.

Last month, a judge from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Burton’s case. The court learned that the university was moving to fire the tenured criminal justice professor pending the findings of the University Wisconsin System-led investigation. That’s important because the lower court rejected Burton’s claims that she was retaliated against, asserting that while the university did take adverse actions against her, the actions were effectively “petty slights,” noting that Burton received tenure during the four years in which she claims discrimination and retaliation.

Burton said she faces losing her tenured teaching position based on bogus claims fueled by administrative animus.

“That’s material. Those are damages,” Burton said.

The appeals court will take all of the oral arguments and accompanying court documents in the case under advisement, but a final decision could be as much as 18 months from now.

Photo by UW-Platteville

UNDER INVESTIGATION: UW-Platteville Criminal Justice Professor Sabina Burton says the investigation that could lead to her dismissal is the clearest evidence yet that administrators have retaliated against her for exercising her rights.

Meanwhile, there is the messy business of the investigation against Burton, her pending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the university, and a new federal lawsuit against administrators, university grievance board members and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.

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 that grounds exist for a discrimination claim.

The investigation was announced a little over a month after Shields dismissed another complaint against Burton and a counter complaint, 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.

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 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,” and that she was “always civil” to her colleagues. Any of her complaints or grievances were done in writing, she said. And she says she has evidence to definitively refute claims that she shared her secure university email account.

In Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative series, “Troubled Campus,” Burton claims administrators took away a grant, committee seats, and effectively stalled her professional career after she spoke out about the handling of a sexual harassment complaint. She claims she was physically threatened by an acting Criminal Justice Department chairman, was defamed by an instructor, and saw her health rapidly deteriorate in a four-year campaign of harassment and retaliation.

UW-Platteville officials and representatives from the UW System have declined to comment on the personnel matters.

Petra Roter, senior special assistant to the vice president for Academic and Student Affairs for the University of Wisconsin System Administration, was tapped to investigate the UW-P administrator complaints against Burton. She plans to meet with the professor on Thursday, according to an email.

Roter previously served as vice chancellor of Student Affairs for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She also served as co-chair of the UW System Sexual Assault and Harassment Task Force, which just published its report.

Burton said she’s looking forward to meeting with the investigator, and that it will be “a huge relief to be able to speak the truth.”

For now, she misses her classroom and her students. She said the support she has received from UW-Platteville students she sees around town has been incredible.

The criminal justice professor said she is learning as much as she can about counter-terrorism and other policing subjects. She expects to be back in her classroom bringing her expertise to her students.

“I am using this as a kind of sabbatical that Shields has given me,” Burton said. “I want to come back stronger, not weaker.”

Part of 16 in the series 'Troubled' Campus

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.