College Chancellor Fired Over Videos
On Wednesday, January 26, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire Joseph Gow, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
This decision came as a surprise to Gow, who had already announced his plans to step down in the spring and return to teaching as a tenured communications professor. However, the Board of Regents was prompted to take this drastic action after discovering sexually explicit videos that Gow had produced and filmed with his wife.
Gow, 63, had served as chancellor for 16 years and was the second-longest-serving chancellor in the university's history. His goal upon taking office in 2007 was to leave a positive mark on the university and be remembered as someone who stuck to his values and implemented effective strategies. However, his termination has now sparked a debate over the extent to which employers can punish or marginalize employees for legal behavior they engage in their private lives.
In a statement, university officials used strong words such as "abhorrent" and "disgusted" to describe Gow's actions, with University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman stating that his "specific conduct" had brought "significant reputational harm" to the university. Gow, on the other hand, argues that the videos in question were produced in his private time with his wife, Carmen Wilson, and therefore, do not violate any university policies.
Gow's case raises concerns about the infringement of personal freedoms and the boundaries of academic freedom. As a tenured professor, Gow is protected by the university's policy on academic freedom and freedom of expression, which states that the university must not attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions that they find offensive. However, the regents' decision to fire Gow implies that the university has the right to dictate and control the personal actions of its employees.
The nature of the videos in question is also under debate. While some may argue that they are controversial and inappropriate for a university chancellor, others defend them as legal, consensual, and a form of free expression.
Gow and Wilson's videos can be found on adult websites and social media platforms under their pseudonyms "Sexy Happy Couple" and "Sexy Healthy Cooking." They argue that their content is not harmful, violent, or illegal, and they have the right to pursue their hobby without facing consequences at work.
This is not the first time that Gow's ties to the adult film industry have caused controversy at the university. In 2018, he was reprimanded for inviting adult film actor Nina Hartley to speak on campus. Despite his intentions to promote free speech, Gow received a formal reprimand and was denied a pay raise. This incident and the recent termination have raised concerns about the university's tolerance for diverse perspectives and the potential impact this may have on academic freedom.
While some have criticized Gow's actions and celebrated his termination, he and his wife have received overwhelming support from across the country. They argue that their videos and books on sexuality and relationships, which they have written under pseudonyms, are covered under the university's free expression policy. The ongoing controversy and potential legal action against the university may have far-reaching implications for other employees who engage in legal but controversial activities outside of work.
The university system's policy on academic freedom is intended to protect individuals from censorship and discrimination based on their personal beliefs and behaviors. However, Gow's case raises questions about how far these protections extend and whether personal freedoms can be restricted and infringed upon by employers.
As the Board of Regents meets again on Friday to discuss Gow's employment, the outcome of this case will have a significant impact on the future of academic freedom and freedom of expression at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.