Board of Regents votes unanimously to fire UW-La Crosse chancellor

Chancellor, wife appeared in pornographic videos

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow addresses faculty and staff Aug. 30
UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow addresses faculty and staff Aug. 30 ahead of the start of the fall semester. Gow told colleagues he plans to step down as chancellor after 17 years. Photo courtesy of UW-La Crosse

The Universities of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted unanimously Wednesday to fire longtime UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow for what the university system president called “abhorrent” actions.

In a statement, UW System President Jay Rothman said system officials learned of “specific conduct” by Gow “in recent days” that caused harm to the university’s reputation. That conduct was appearing in online porn videos with his wife, Carmen Wilson, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The couple go by the moniker of “Sexy Happy Couple” on adult websites. On a social media account dubbed, “Sexy Healthy Cooking,” the duo direct users to their LoyalFans and OnlyFans accounts for “fully explicit scenes.”

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While Rothman’s statement didn’t directly refer to the pornographic content, he called Gow’s actions “abhorrent.” Gow was terminated as chancellor as of Wednesday night, but will be placed on paid administrative leave “as he transitions into his faculty role” at UW-La Crosse, Rothman said.

Rothman says he filed a complaint with the university Wednesday to review Gow’s status as a tenured faculty member, and an outside law firm will investigate the matter.

RELATED STORY: Former UW-La Crosse chancellor Joseph Gow says firing over adult films disregards his rights

Gow told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was surprised by the board’s decision to fire him. He said he and his wife have the right “to create and publish books and videos that explore consensual adult sexuality” under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He accused some board members of being against free speech, calling for a public hearing on what’s considered appropriate.

When asked whether he would continue making adult films, Gow said, “I don’t know. You know, I’m 63, and we’ll see where I’ll go.”

The Board of Regents’ vote to oust Gow as chancellor also came after he announced plans to retire in August. He was hired as UW-La Crosse’s 10th chancellor in 2007.

In 2018, Gow became embroiled in controversy after inviting adult film star Nina Hartley to speak about free speech on campus. That led to a reprimand from former UW System President Ray Cross, who told Gow he was “deeply disappointed” in his decision to “actively recruit, advocate for, and pay for a porn star to come to the UW-La Crosse campus to lecture students about sex and the adult entertainment industry.”

In a statement Wednesday night, UW System Board of Regents President Karen Walsh said Gow’s recent actions have shown “reckless disregard for the role he was entrusted with at UW-La Crosse.”

“The outrage over his behavior is evidenced by the unanimous vote by the UW Board of Regents to terminate him as chancellor,” Walsh said. “We are alarmed, and disgusted, by his actions, which were wholly and undeniably inconsistent with his role as chancellor.”

UW-La Crosse Provost & Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Betsy Morgan has been appointed the interim chancellor following Gow’s termination.

In an email to faculty Wednesday night, Morgan said she’s honored to serve students, faculty and staff at UW-La Crosse as the university searches for a permanent chancellor.

“I want to also acknowledge how challenging it is for the campus to face a change like this on such short notice,” she wrote. “Please be assured that my sole goal will be to provide stable leadership in the months ahead.”