Thompson rallies Warhawks amid investigation, pandemic

Chancellor complaint shuffles administrative positions

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Carina Lopez, News Editor

UW System President Tommy Thompson addressed the Whitewater campus in a virtual town hall Sept. 9 held to answer questions about an investigation into Chancellor Dwight Watson and the increase in COVID-19 cases. The event came after several changes to administrative staff already just two weeks into the semester. 

“I am very proud of what we have to offer our students and our state. Next to our people, our college system is the most valuable asset,” Thompson said. “We return $23 dollars for every dollar the state spends. People don’t realize what a tremendous return we have. We’re being overregulated by the legislature and I don’t think we’re getting enough of the revenue as we should. When I was governor we were getting about 33 percent of the operational budget. Today we’re down to 17 percent. I’m going to be behind you, in front of you, and beside you to make sure everybody will listen. That it is a tremendous buy to be part of the university system and that we get our just share of the budget. I couldn’t be happier to be your acting president.” 

A week earlier Thompson announced that a complaint made against Watson put the chancellor on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. Interim Provost Greg Cook was promoted to Interim Chancellor, which created the need for a backfill of various positions also due to the exit of Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Grace Crickette. 

“I will serve as the interim chancellor until further notice. We don’t know at this time what the timeline will be – that all needs to play out. I know you all have questions about the transition, and why, and what’s going on. But really, all we know is what was in the announcement last week. We ask that you please avoid speculation and don’t spread rumors. It only does more harm than good,” Cook said.

Throughout the question and answer portion of the meeting, only one question asked about Watson. An unnamed student asked what types of complaints put chancellors on administrative leave.  Cook provided hypothetical answers such as that they could be university-related, meaning that the university could have functioned inappropriately. There could be a personal issue surrounding the leave in regard to family life, for example. There could also be an open investigation because of a violation of university policy. 

“There’s a wide range of possibilities. You’re asking me hypothetically what was in the range of things that could happen. But in no way can I speculate on what the situation is here at UW-Whitewater,” Cook said. “That’s just not fair. It’s not fair to Chancellor Watson, it’s not fair for the university, and it’s not fair to those that may have registered the complaint.”     

The day before the town hall, an announcement went out to campus that College of Business and Economics Dean John Chenoweth would take over the interim provost position. Taryn Carothers was also announced as Interim Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. The shuffling to fill positions leaves open vacancies that are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. 

University leadership encouraged campus members to focus on success and safety during this time of uncertainty. Several university and city meetings have discussed the increase in COVID-19 cases in the community, trying to discern best practices to keep numbers low. Gatherings on campus are now restricted to 10 or fewer both inside and outside. Over the past week 116 new cases were reported on campus, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard

“The faculty’s main priorities will certainly be focusing on safety for our campus communities and on continuing to provide the transformative educational experiences that UW-W students come here to find,” said Faculty Senate Chairperson Tracy Hawkins. “We are confident that UW-W’s faculty, staff, and students will continue the important work of teaching and learning.”

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