Council member asks chancellor to resign

Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas, Common Council Member

Chancellor Kopper,

I’m sure by now you have heard I contacted the UW System president Friday, Sept. 14. I’m sure seeing me today was as uncomfortable for you as it was for me. Despite that, there are things I need to say to you that I’ll probably never get the chance if not now.

I was 19 when I met you. We were both new to Whitewater, both hopeful about the opportunities it would bring us, and both prepared for some challenges. You were experienced in higher education. I’d been in high school less than a year before. Most of my life I’d seen only men in the types of positions you were in, so when I saw a short blonde woman with a powerful voice rise to that level of prominence, I was excited. I was supportive. I was glad to be at a school that supported women like me at all levels.

I grew through my college years knowing you, experiencing personal contact with administrators most students don’t. I attended dinners and parties, shaking hands with people more important than me, meeting new faces and trying to remember them all—hoping not to embarrass myself in that undergraduate phase of life.

That’s how I met Pete. I can’t forget Pete, or the smile on his face, or the girl who pulled me to the side and told me to be careful of him because he didn’t keep his hands to himself. I’ll never forget the night he’d been drinking and told my now-husband I was with the wrong man and “everyone knows you’re in love with [redacted]—and plenty of other guys would love a chance, too.” You were in the room. I tried to catch your eye hoping you’d pull him away from me. You didn’t.

The inappropriate comments didn’t stop there. You have been a young, female leader. I hope you can recognize the pressure it would put on you to have someone in his position comment on your body, on your weight loss, on how attractive you are. I hope you can understand how that became associated with you. I hope you understand that you put him in those rooms with me, your position gave him access and my alma mater made me a target.

When your husband ran into me the morning it went even further, I’d was with you. He’d been making inappropriate comments for so long I immediately panicked at the thought of being alone with him. I mentioned you, as if to remind him:

I’m young.

You’re married.

This is not okay.

It didn’t work. His hand slid up my skirt before I knew what to do. He ran it down my back, down the shiny black of my skirt, then to a place I can still feel that hand. I felt guilty for wearing a skirt, like city council members should know better.

But therein lies the problem. I’m not the one who didn’t know better. That was your husband. That was the man who violated one of the students you’ve claimed to champion, one of the students who believed in you, one of the students who thought UW-W was full of safe, mentoring adults who would support her dream of someday being governor.

I’ve been married for a little over a month now. I don’t purport to be a marriage expert. I do believe I know the content of my husband’s character—and I believe you know your husband, too. I believe you know and understand who he is and what he’s done. I believe he violated your trust, but I refuse to hold you harmless for my pain and the pain of others—because you put us in his path—and you either knew or were irresponsible enough not to know. For that, we deserve better.

I’m asking you to resign. I’m asking you to give back our campus. We deserve to associate it with something other than a man who hurt us and the woman who made that possible. I’m asking you to understand that I can both feel bad that he hurt you, too, and expect you to put this campus and its students before yourself. I’m asking you to let me have the last word this time.

I hope you heal. I hope we heal.

–Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas

Common Council Member (at-large)(at-large)

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