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Interim UW-La Crosse chancellor calls events surrounding Gow ‘nuclear’

Betsy Morgan assures university that negative attention from chancellor's firing will die down

By Corrinne Hess
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

Interim University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Betsy Morgan described the events surrounding the firing of Joe Gow as “nuclear” in her first address to students and faculty Wednesday.  

Gow was fired Dec. 27 by the Wisconsin Board of Regents for what Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman called “abhorrent” actions. The firing followed the discovery that Gow and his wife, Carmen Wilson, made and distributed pornographic videos online. 

Rothman has said Gow will be placed on paid administrative leave, adding that Gow is set to shift to a faculty position at UW-La Crosse.  

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Gow was paid $262,719 a year as chancellor. He is earning a $91,915 faculty salary, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But Rothman has filed a complaint with Morgan regarding Gow’s status as a tenured faculty member. An outside law firm is investigating.  

On Wednesday, Morgan said Gow is not teaching and any future situations will depend on legal outcomes. 

She told students and faculty she is limited to what she say legally, but she has been asked when she knew about the reasons for Gow being fired.  

“None of the cabinet or any other person I have spoken to knew of the reasons until the outcome of the Regents and the subsequent press,” Morgan said. “I knew slightly before the meeting, because they asked if I would serve as interim if needed.”  

The final comment Morgan made was about the ongoing attention the university is getting. A La Crosse Brewery, 608 Brewing Company, has even made a beer called “Hot For Chancellor.”  

“The press will die down. It already is. The jokes will die now. That hasn’t quite happened yet,” Morgan said. “And we will all still be here doing what we have always done, pursuing the education of students as our primary mission.” 

In a text message with WPR, Gow said his attorney has advised him to stop speaking to reporters.  

Gow told WPR last month the books and videos he and his wife made were produced as private citizens and protected under the First Amendment and the Board’s policy on academic freedom.  

The Board’s policy states that members of the university community may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others “to express views they reject or even loathe.” The policy also states one must make clear they’re speaking on behalf of oneself, not the institution.  

Gow said he’s uncertain whether he’ll challenge or sue over his firing, saying he’s still processing the decision. 

On Friday, the Universities of Wisconsin will hold a search committee meeting for a new UW-La Crosse chancellor.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Gow’s new salary as a faculty member.

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