The criminal justice department is facing difficulty as legal and staffing troubles continue to interfere with the day-today running of the department.
Staci Strobl, criminal just chair, stepped down on Nov. 3 due to not being able to move the department forward from its “troubled past.” The department originally planned to hold an open forum specifically for criminal justice students on Nov. 1 but it was canceled within a half hour of its starting time to “protect the privacy of students.” Nearly 70 students were in attendance when they received the news of cancellation from public information officer Paul Erickson.
According to a watchdog.com article that was published on Oct. 26, criminal justice professor Sabina Burton’s life was made a “personal hell” after she reported an incident of sexual harassment involving a student and a colleague back in 2012. She claims that the backlash of the report caused rumors to be spread about her regarding her mental health within the department. She also claims that she was taken off certain committees even though she had requested to be more involved within the department and told that she could serve on a search and screen as a “token woman” by former head chair Thomas Caywood.
“If you don’t know what people are saying about you, how can you get the opportunity to address them?” Burton said to the Exponent.
After a second grievance committee hearing was found to not be in her favor, Burton said she realized that she would have to file a lawsuit in order to get due process. In 2013 she filed with the Equal Rights Division and the Equal Opportunity Commission. However, she claims she was warned that it could get ugly if she sued.
“I wasn’t eager to sue,” Burton said. “I was desperate.”
The stress of the case and the alleged harassment from her colleagues caused Burton to become physically ill and left her hospitalized in 2014 and on sick leave in early 2015. Her health issues, she said, caused her to have three separate surgeries in nine months.
In late 2014 Burton found out that a family member in Germany was dying, and she decided that she needed to be there during their time of need. She said that she never canceled class, while alleging that Vice Provost Elizabeth Throop claimed that she did. After hearing these allegations, Burton urged her students to write emails vouching for her and a majority of her students did, at which point she claims Throop filed a complaint against her for involving students.
Burton alleges that Chancellor Shields wrote a letter of direction and filed a complaint saying that she could be terminated, despite being tenured. Additionally she alleges that the university sent a private investigator to her home and pressured her to answer to the complaint of her tweeting information regarding the case. Burton claimed that no evidence of the tweets could be found when she requested it. She also claims that they did not inform her of any of her rights.
“I am convinced the administration wants to fire me. They identified me as a problem employee because I stood up and didn’t want to take the abuse,” Burton said. “I believe in due process. Our legal system relies on that. I’m not asking to take sides or anything, I’m just asking for a hearing. I’m not saying that the letter of direction is wrong, I just want an opportunity to show my side.”
Neither Chancellor Shields nor Throop have responded to requests for comments
Before the open forum was canceled on Nov. 1, Erickson sent an email to the Exponent saying, “The University of Wisconsin-Platteville strives to ensure all students, faculty and staff operate in the best possible environment. The university invites all people to express their concerns, takes all comments seriously, and follows due diligence in the review process. By addressing all issues, even if a case is dismissed, we create an even stronger environment and more inclusive atmosphere on our campus.”
Student Senate is planning to reschedule the open forum either before or on Nov. 18. All students will be notified when the date is set and invited to attend.
The Exponent will continue to report on this story as it develops.