We are compelled by recent events to make a statement in support of our students and to demand accountability from the UWM administration on the role of Dr. Betsy Schoeller at our university. It became known in early July that Dr. Schoeller made comments on Facebook, regarding the murder of Ft. Hood Specialist Vanessa Guillen. A statement later issued by Dr. Schoeller attempts to clarify the intention of the post, but a commitment to inclusivity requires that impact is elevated over intent. And the harmful impact on the student body is clear.
Students organizing in the wake of these statements explain: “As students, as a community, including the Latinx community, we are deeply saddened by the loss of SPC Vanessa Guillen. It hurts more when a fellow campus leader believes that the sexual harassment and murder that Vanessa endured was justified because she was a woman who willingly wanted to fight for our country.”
The AAUP’s Statement on Extramural Utterances protects the free speech rights of faculty. Social media posts are not grounds for dismissal. But the statement also recognizes the social and professional obligations of faculty. It “calls attention to the special obligations of faculty members arising from their position in the community: to be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, to show respect for the opinions of others, and to make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”
We believe Dr. Schoeller’s statements appearing to castigate those seeking justice for Specialist Guillen’s sexual assault and subsequent murder were careless. They did not exercise due restraint, nor did they exhibit respect for the opinions of others. What originally came across as her cavalier attitude toward the murder of this young woman is of particular concern because Dr. Schoeller is an educator charged with instructing students, many of whom are the age of the late Specialist Guillen, and many of whom are veterans themselves.
The UWM Administration has expressed its dismay with Dr. Schoeller’s words while pointing out that it cannot fire her because of her First Amendment rights. However, the university’s stated commitments to the education of veterans and to a “safe, welcoming, and inclusive campus” direct a strong and proactive response to her behavior. Just last month, Chancellor Mone wrote in a statement to the campus community: “UWM has a moral and ethical imperative to incite and enact real and long-term change.”
Such real and long-term change begins in our own community. We demand action to demonstrate respect in the workplace and in the classroom. We demand that ours is a campus community that unequivocally supports victims and survivors of sexual assault and harassment, that lives up to its goal of a “radical welcome” for all.
UWM AAUP supports students in demanding a just campus dedicated to the collective well-being of all students, faculty, and staff. No matter what Dr. Schoeller intended, UWM needs to act to reassure students who interpret her statement as undermining their very presence on campus. We offer these recommendations to University administration to ensure that Dr. Schoeller’s personal beliefs do not adversely impact student learning. We hope this might also serve as a potential blueprint for future cases in which an individual’s personal beliefs, especially when made public, are in tension with the University’s guiding values:
- No student will be forced to take a class from Dr. Schoeller. UWM will provide timely and viable alternatives to her classes so that student progress in their academic programs is not impeded;
- We recommend a review of any past behaviors or complaints that may indicate problematic behaviors on the issues of gender, race, and/or sexual harassment, to be conducted with her department, and with an avenue for recourse for students who may have been adversely impacted by those past behaviors;
- Dr. Schoeller will use double-blind grading on assignments; if there are components of grading that cannot be subject to a double-blind procedure, UWM will have another faculty member ensure that the grades are not subject to her prejudices;
- Dr. Schoeller will undergo in-person training to ensure she is able to follow UW System and State of Wisconsin Mandated Reporter Training requirements without prejudice;
- We encourage Dr. Schoeller to reach out to the students who express their revulsion and hurt at her statements.
If other steps are needed to protect our students or colleagues from bigoted actions, UWM should take them. We urge UWM to publicly detail a plan of the actions to be taken to meet these recommendations, identify who or which units on campus will carry out the plan, and be transparent in their findings and ensuing actions.