MADISON, Wis. — State colleges must record sexual misconduct allegations in employee personnel files and share the details if a worker is up for a job at another institution or a state agency, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents decided Thursday.
The regents ordered the changes in response to reports that employees accused of sexual harassment have been moving between campuses without reference checks.
The regents voted unanimously during a meeting at UW-Milwaukee to mandate employee personnel files include documentation of sexual misconduct allegations or investigations as well as their dispositions. The schools will have to share files with their counterparts if the worker is looking to take a job at another campus. The schools also will have to share the files with the state Department of Administration if the employee is up for a job with a state agency.
Schools will have to develop reference check procedures for any current or former employee being hired by or transferring from another UW school or outside employer.
System staff expect to present formal language to the regents for approval in August.
The changes were spurred by reports in the Stevens Point Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that some employees who had left their positions following sexual harassment allegations were able to get jobs at other campuses because reference checks didn't include harassment history.
In one case UW-Eau Claire hired Shawn Wilson as interim dean of students in 2017 without realizing he had resigned his post as UW-Stevens Point's Title IX administrator in the wake of sexual harassment allegations in 2015. Wilson resigned from UW-Eau Claire three months after taking the dean job after UW-Stevens Point officials notified Eau Claire officials about the allegations.
The reports prompted Gov. Scott Walker to ask the regents to review system hiring policies.
Despite the unanimous vote Thursday, a number of regents voiced concerns that sharing personnel files could destroy careers.
Regents Mike Jones and Robert Atwell both warned that even unsubstantiated sexual harassment allegations are enough to derail a job candidate. Regent Janice Mueller said she was worried that sharing files with the Department of Administration, which is controlled by the governor, will inject politics into hiring decisions.
Regent Drew Peterson responded that if policies aren't tightened the system could face lawsuits.
Board President John Behling said system officials would study policies at other Big Ten schools as they prepare the formal language. System President Ray Cross said files would be shared only when a candidate becomes a finalist for a job or if the candidate is about to be offered a job. The final policy will have to be carefully crafted, though, he said.
"We'll have to craft this policy with care and thought so we're not opening ourselves up to more problems," he said. "But we have to do something like this."