The University of Wisconsin System is looking at possibly tightening its hiring processes, per a recent report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker requested that the UW System take a closer look at its hiring policies considering a recent expose published by the Stevens Point Journal. The article explored the story of a UW-Stevens Point assistant dean who resigned his post after being accused of sexual harassment. He later landed the same job on a different UW campus.
The Stevens Point Journal article was part of a journalistic endeavor to investigate the UW System to see if there was a pattern of sexual harassment or abuse. Both the Stevens Point Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which are connected as pieces of the USA Today Network, asked universities in the UW System to share sexual harassment reports involving professors and teachers or supervisors.
Numerous universities in the UW System did not have detailed records of sexual harassment incidents. In several cases, the personnel files of the accused harassers were incomplete, with no details outlining disciplinary action.
That oversight was part of the problem in the case of Shawn Wilson, the assistant dean at UW-Stevens Point. Part of Wilson’s job involved sorting through complaints of sexual or behavioral harassment on campus. Wilson resigned when he was accused of sexual harassment by the employee of a university vendor but was later hired to the same position at UW-Eau Claire. Officials at Wilson’s new campus investigated his references but didn’t find anything in his UW records about the sexual harassment claim.
In light of issues such as this —and perhaps feeling pressure based on the damning, highly-publicized scandals facing Michigan State University right now—the UW System is considering changes to its hiring and reference check policies. The likely changes would require UW campuses to document allegations or investigations more thoroughly. Specifically, these records would need to include details about the “final resolution” of the allegations, such as whether the employee was found guilty or responsible, and what happened after. This report would state whether the employee was disciplined or fired, or if the employee resigned, like Wilson.
Such a change in documentation policies wouldn’t just affect UW campuses. It could have an impact on outside entities and employers, and on the reference checks they run on potential hires. Say an employer was thinking about hiring someone whose resume includes a past job with a University of Wisconsin school. They might order a reference verification check through backgroundchecks.com to learn a bit about the integrity, character, work ethic, and dependability of the candidate at hand. With a more substantial and consistent documentation policy within the UW System, reference checks of those employers would be more likely to reflect the truth.
The UW System Board of Regents will discuss the new policy at a forthcoming meeting.