MacIver News Service | June 1, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – A University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents committee will recommend that the full board side with administration and fire a University of Wisconsin-Platteville professor who blew the whistle on misconduct.
Last month, the Personnel Matters Review Committee heard the case of Sabina Burton, the professionally exiled Criminal Justice professor who claims she has long been the victim of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation at the hands of a “corrupt” UW-P administration.
Chancellor Dennis Shields, following the findings of a faculty committee, moved to dismiss Burton on charges she engaged in “disrespectful, harassing and intimidating behavior” toward her colleagues.
The Regents’ personnel committee heard testimony from Burton and her husband, Roger, who represented his wife at last month’s hearing, and System attorney Jennifer Lattis, on behalf of Shields.
After asking a number of pointed questions to the adversaries, the committee adjourned into closed session, where it “determined that it would recommend to the full Board that Chancellor Shields’s dismissal decision pertaining to Professor Sabina Burton be upheld,” according to the System record of the proceedings.
The board meets next week.
The Board of Regents rarely overturns faculty dismissal findings, so the committee’s decision may not be surprising. The panel’s line of questioning, however, seemed to suggest members were dubious about some of Lattis’ claims.
How they arrived at their decision is not clear. None of the committee members returned MacIver News Service’s emails and calls seeking comment.
“It is our policy not to comment on ongoing employment or litigation issues,” Heather LaRoi, the System’s interim director of communications said in an email.
Burton said she is “flabbergasted” by the committee’s decision. She said she felt good about the hearing, that someone in a position of authority was finally listening to her complaints.
“It’s mind boggling. It seems like everyone is blind here,” the professor said. “I had regained my faith in people, but it feels like there are no good people here. They are either all corrupt or don’t want to deal with anything.”
“I would have never come here (UW-Platteville) in a million years if I knew tenure doesn’t mean anything here, and it clearly doesn’t,” Burton added.
The professor claims she has been discriminated and retaliated against for nearly six years, after speaking up for a female student who complained that a male Criminal Justice professor had sexually harassed her. She alleges administrators came down hard on her, while excusing the male professor’s inappropriate behavior.
Burton also says she was harassed for being a conservative on a liberal college campus.
At the hearing, Lattis painted the picture of an obsessed professor who couldn’t let bygones be bygones. A professor who held grudges, even against new junior colleagues who were not at the university at the time of the sexual harassment complaint. Burton received multiple “letters of direction,” Lattis said, warning the professor of unacceptable conduct. Burton “disregarded” the letters, Lattis said, adding that Burton would not “moderate her behavior to be a reasonable colleague.”
But is the university moving to fire an unrepentant whistleblower who claims she has been retaliated against for speaking truth to power? That’s what Burton and her supporters have long contended.
Burton has filed a federal lawsuit against the chancellor and the system. While she lost a similar federal complaint after a federal Court of Appeals determined Burton was not retaliated against, her latest complaint has been allowed to proceed. Now that Burton is on the verge of being fired, she believes the retaliation question will become a lot clearer.
“I have a pending lawsuit, this just adds to it,” she said. “I would have loved to spare the university and university system that kind of embarrassment when that comes out. I’d rather address it now, how we can make UW-Platteville a better place.”