Chancellor moves to fire UW-P whistleblower professor

M.D. Kittle
Posted: Jan 04, 2017 10:47 PM
Chancellor moves to fire UW-P whistleblower professor

MADISON, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Platteville criminal justice professor who blew the whistle on misconduct at the school –and claims administrators retaliated against her for doing so – has been suspended and now faces possible dismissal.

Associate Professor Sabina Burton received a letter Tuesday from Chancellor Dennis Shields advising that he is “initiating the dismissal process.”

“As a result, I am instigating an investigation. I will provide further information about the investigation as soon as possible,” Shields wrote. “I expect you to give your full cooperation to the investigator.”

The investigation comes a little over a month after Shields dismissed another complaint against Burton, noting the “complaints do not warrant disciplinary action or further investigation.”

In that probe, Shields hired a private investigator to question Burton at her home. Burton has provided evidence showing the allegations made against here were false and has told Wisconsin Watchdog that the probe was nothing more than a means to push out a vocal critic of Shields’ administration.

SUSPENDED: Whistleblower professor Sabina Burton faces firing from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Burton, who has lodged several complaints of misconduct and retaliation against UW-P administrators, has been locked out while an investigation into her conduct continues.

The latest move to get rid of the outspoken professor is just more of the same, Burton said Wednesday.

“This is the most corrupt administration I have ever encountered and I worked for the federal government in Germany,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this happen. It reminds me of a mafia system, short of assassinating me; but it’s character assassination.”

The latest complaint against Burton was filed by outgoing Interim Provost Elizabeth Throop and Melissa Gormley, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Throop, who is leaving following the spring semester for an administrative post at Frostburg State University in Maryland, is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Burton filed against the university. The case is now at the appeals level after a lower court said Burton’s case did not meet standards laid out by civil rights law. Burton alleges Throop repeatedly retaliated against her after the professor tried to help a female student who said she was sexually harassed by a male criminal justice professor.

Shields, who has been criticized by faculty and students for his handling of other misconduct allegations, informed Burton that if the administrators’ allegations are true, they would warrant “Burton’s dismissal.”

Among other offenses, the complaint alleges Burton behaved “unprofessionally,” including “involving students into your personal concerns.” The chancellor asserts Burton has broken the trust with her colleagues. Administrators complain about a website Burton and her husband, Roger Burton, operate. They charge that includes confidential personnel information in the form of audio recordings and transcripts. Burton says she has invoked her right under Wisconsin law to record Criminal Justice Department meetings as evidence for her case. Her website includes a raft of court documents, including depositions. The professor has often said, “Don’t take my word for it, read the record of this case.”

Burton said she has never involved her students in her legal battles with the university.

“I teach only to the subject matter. I don’t bring politics in it,” she said.

Scores of students came to Burton’s defense in October following Wisconsin Watchdog’s first investigative stories into the university. Students were outraged when administrators, with little advance notice, canceled a public forum on Burton’s allegations. They instead held their own session, with Burton telling her version of events. Many of the students expressed frustration with administration’s handling of myriad campus issues, most notably reported sexual assaults. That prompted UW-P to schedule a follow-up informational session, this time exclusively on protocol for handling sexual assault reports.

The criminal justice professor has boasted an exemplary performance record even after she began filing complaints against administrators following the October 2012 sexual harassment case. Her fall evaluations give Burton high marks.

“Even though she is in the hot seat with the university, she ALWAYS gives her best work and attention to her students,” one reviewer wrote.

Administrators and some colleagues have claimed Burton is openly hostile, even threatening. The embattled professor is confrontational and very direct, but she says she has acted professionally as she has sought to defend herself from an onslaught of campus corruption and retaliation.

RELATED: UW-Platteville chancellor dismisses complaint against whistleblower professor

The complaint decries the exposure the university and its troubled Criminal Justice Department has had, mostly through Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigation.

IN DEFENSE: Criminal justice professor Sabina Burton speaks in early November at canceled university-sponsored student forum. The session was called in response to Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigation into allegations of misconduct and retaliation at UW-Platteville.

In his letter, Shields writes that he has consulted with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate. The chancellor asserts– before his investigation has been completed — that he has “found that substantial harm to the institution may result if you are continued in your position.”

“I am therefore relieving you of your duties immediately,” he wrote. “Your pay will continue until a final decision is reached by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.”

The diminutive criminal justice professor is perceived to be such a threat that she is not allowed on campus without police presence. She was informed that she has until Jan. 18 to empty out her office, even though she has yet to be dismissed from her tenured position. And two days after receiving Shields’ letter, Burton has been locked out of her campus email account.

Rose Smyrsk, UW-P’s chancellor for university relations, said she could not comment on personnel matters. She declined to comment on Burton’s allegations that the latest administrative action is just more retaliation. A UW-System official said, “(W)e do not comment on a pending employee matter.”

Burton said she contacted the state Attorney General’s Office late last month seeking an investigation into alleged doctoring of her personnel folder. She said she found several key documents missing following a request for the information. Wisconsin Watchdog’s review shows the documents appear to be supportive of many of Burton’s allegations. In one case, it appears an administrator added information known to be false to a complaint file.

In the last Shields-led investigation into Burton, the professor said she was told the university was preparing to fire her based on complaints that were unsubstantiated in the course of the probe.

Burton said the chancellor and his administrative staff have long hoped to silence one of their biggest critics.

“I cannot defend myself against anything,” she said. “I don’t get hearings. People threaten me, I cannot ask for help. When people defame me, I cannot ask for help. I am being punished for standing up.”