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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Reilly reprimands chancellor in letter

Publicly announcing a course of action after spending weeks reviewing attorney Susan Steingass' investigation into the Paul Barrows controversy, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly handed down a reprimand to UW-Madison's top official Thursday, along with calls for change in the school's employment policies.

In a letter addressed to UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, Reilly criticized the Bascom administrator for moving lethargically in the wake of Barrows' leave from the university last November. Barrows, the school's former vice chancellor for student affairs, was paid his full salary for more than seven months as Wiley decided what to do with his former colleague.

Wiley ultimately demoted Barrows to a backup position.


"[Y]ou took an inordinate amount of time to place him in his backup appointment, continuing to pay him while on leave at his Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs salary of $191,749," Reilly wrote to Wiley.

Not only did Wiley move slowly, but he failed to assess whether Barrows' use of sick leave during the period was appropriate, Reilly said. Wiley allowed Barrows to use medical problems as justification for the application of sick leave from March through June despite a lack of documentation indicating the former vice chancellor was suffering from any condition.

When Wiley demanded Barrows justify his use of sick leave, the embattled administrator produced an unsigned physician's note, which did not validate the continuing application of paid sick time.

"[Y]ou and your administrative team should have been aware of the requirement that an employee must be ill in order to charge an absence of sick leave, and should have acted promptly either to obtain the appropriate documentation on Dr. Barrows' situation or to require his return to work," Reilly wrote to Wiley.

Not doing so "has hurt the university's reputation," Reilly continued.

Reilly demanded Wiley make three specific corrective measures: make sure UW-Madison can properly document and account for the application of leave time and salaries paid during such periods; implement upcoming systemwide reforms at UW-Madison; and report back to the system president on progress made by Oct. 21.

For his part, Wiley released a statement Thursday acknowledging several mistakes he made in handling the Barrows matter.

Wiley admitted he did not take proper care to ensure Barrows was actually ill during the sick-leave period, and that, furthermore, his trust in the former vice chancellor was "misplaced."

"That hits home on a personal level and leaves me with many lasting regrets," Wiley said, adding that one of his biggest regrets from the saga is the way it has "caused the university to suffer in the public's estimation."

Despite the assurances that change is on the way, UW was met by a fair amount of skepticism at the state Capitol Thursday.

State Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, who has been at the forefront of a wave of criticism of UW from the Legislature during the last few months, said the letter handed down to Wiley amounts to little more than "a slap on the wrist."

"I have lost all faith in both the president (Reilly) as well as the chancellor," Suder said. "They should have fired Paul Barrows and severely reprimanded Chancellor Wiley, but neither of those actions have been taken."

With little confidence in UW changing its ways, Suder said the onus is now squarely on the Legislature to ensure the university's employment policies are reformed.

He promised legislation to alter the university's ability to fire employees, which has been cited as a sticking point in the cases of Barrows and three UW professors recently convicted of felonies.

"Now, more than ever, the need to inject ourselves into [the Barrows] issue and [the felon issue] is crystal clear," he said.

In a rare sign of unity with the Republican-controlled Legislature, Gov. Jim Doyle released a statement Thursday proclaiming "much more needs to be done" to reform UW policies.

"This report tells us what has been obvious for many months: bad decisions were made and sloppy procedures were followed," Doyle said. "I hope this whole saga will serve as a wake-up call to the university that it must demonstrate to taxpayers that it is a responsible steward of public dollars."

UW political science professor Donald Downs took a more cautious approach, however, warning the university should not implement drastic changes just to assuage negative public opinion regarding the handling of the Barrows matter.

"I would hate to see the Legislature using this as a vehicle to unduly bash the university or to tinker with the rules affecting dismissal and tenure," Downs said.

Echoing the last line of Steingass' report, Downs said that Wiley, despite his mistakes, seemed "well intentioned" and should be given credit for doing a "lot of good things for the university."

Reilly and Wiley both refused to comment further Thursday.

However, UW System spokesperson Doug Bradley lamented the controversy's effect in driving the university's agenda away from issues like tuition and financial aid.

"There really aren't any winners [here]," Bradley conceded.

— Sundeep Malladi contributed to this report.

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