UW-La Crosse Releases Investigations Into Former Professor Accused Of Sexual Harassment

UW System Investigation Found Joel Elgin Sexually Harassed Student, Engaged In 'Unacceptable Behavior' With Other Students

Students on the UW-La Crosse campus.
Students on the UW-La Crosse campus. Photo courtesy of UW-La Crosse

A University of Wisconsin System investigation found a former department chair at UW-La Crosse sexually harassed a student and engaged in inappropriate behavior with other current and former students.

UW-La Crosse released the reports from two investigations into former art professor Joel Elgin on Wednesday. One investigation was done by the university and one was done by UW System.

Elgin, who retired in December, was accused of sexual harassment by a student in a public Facebook post in September. The student said Elgin asked her to remove some of her clothing and tried to lift her shirt twice during a private lesson.

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The student also said university officials failed to take prompt action to protect her and other students.

The report of UW-La Crosse’s investigation shows the university found “the evidence available was insufficient to sustain a finding” that Elgin violated a university policy.

The report states UW-La Crosse Title IX Coordinator Nizam Arain met with Elgin about the allegations in June. Elgin was given “guidance on instructor/student interactions” as a corrective action during the meeting, and he was instructed not to initiate contact with the student.

But the UW System investigation completed in November found Elgin did sexually harass the student and engaged in “other unacceptable behavior,” according to the system report released Wednesday.

The report includes interviews from one current and three former students at UW-La Crosse who detailed similar encounters to the sexual harassment case.

Two unidentified students reported Elgin had them “audition” to be models for the art department in a small room, where he convinced them to expose their breasts and took photos of them.

An anonymous former student said Elgin offered her drawing lessons outside of class time. After drawing her, the student said Elgin “put his hands around her waist (caressing her) and told her how beautiful her body is.”

In a response to the UW System investigation, Elgin’s attorney said the former professor denies any claim of sexual harassment. The response said the UW System report is “not an impartial document” and that the investigators ignored Elgin’s testimony and supportive statements from students, parents and faculty. Elgin also refutes the interviews provided by other students, pointing out what he describes as factual errors and describing part of one interview as a “coached statement taken from the original student’s concern.”

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow announced the release of the two investigation reports in a campus-wide email Wednesday.

I am glad that (Elgin) chose not to pursue a lawsuit to prevent release of these reports so that the public has access to the factual picture that led to his decision to end his UWL career,” Gow wrote in the email.

Gow also announced an open forum Wednesday, Feb. 12 to discuss the case with UW-La Crosse Title IX staff.

“This will only be the first step towards healing and making the lasting change to ensure that this never happens again,” Gow said in the email. “I commend the courage of the original complainant and the others who came forward to share their experiences which allowed us to reach the right conclusion regarding Elgin’s employment.”