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University sexual misconduct investigation poised for muddy waters

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Less than a week after UW-La Crosse reopened a year-old sexual misconduct investigation following public outcry, a long-term result remains unclear.

On September 4, UW-La Crosse senior student Caycee Bean posted on Facebook, detailing her alleged sexual exploitation at the hands of her art professor as a freshman. She said the professor took her to a small room for a “private lesson”, locked the door, asked her to remove her sweater, and then tried to inappropriately touch her.

Bean said she reported the assault to University Human Resources in the fall of 2018. After hearing no update for a year, she reached out again and was told they discussed university policy with the professor in question. Not satisfied, Bean then shared her version of events online, leading to a massive call for action from her friends, family, and followers.

The university shortly after announced they’d reopened the investigation into the accused art professor. UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow later told News 19 following Bean’s post, several other students came forward alleging similar assaults by the same professor.

Local La Crosse attorney Joe Veenstra with Johns, Flaherty & Collins said the road ahead can be messy, and without police involved, the result will stand solely on who the university believes more.

“A lot of these incidents come down to do you believe the incident occurred the way the complainant indicated, or do you believe that it didn’t occur at all, or something in between. Figuring [that] out based on the evidence you hear, the credibility of who’s testifying, it can sometimes be a very difficult decision,” Veenstra said.

According to the UW-L Police Department and the City of La Crosse Police Department, no report was filed by Bean through either department.

Veenstra said without formal law enforcement and standard courts involved, legal waters can be muddy.

“What is due process in this context? There are many people who feel universities shouldn’t be having mini-trials at all because they’re not adept at it. People don’t have experience in the rules of evidence or things of that nature, but on the other hand, they [the university] have to react promptly,” Veenstra explained.

The outcomes of those reactions also vary based on the evidence at hand.

“You know there are cases where it’s not clear what happened, and that’s a difficult situation so they might have less of a consequence in that situation,” Veenstra said. “If they [the university] feel there has been clear sexual assault or overt continuing sexual harassment, there are many cases where professors [or] staff have been terminated.”

Tuesday, UW-La Crosse placed the Art Department chairperson on leave pending a misconduct investigation but did not confirm if that investigation is the same as the one related to Bean’s complaint.

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Amber Meyer

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