Discrimination is an unfortunate reality at the University of Wisconsin. So when an employee, student or visitor needs a place to air their grievances, a few options exist on campus.
Division of Student Life
For students, the Division of Student Life can handle incidents where students discriminate against other students, said Kipp Cox, DSL’s director of Student Assistance and Judicial Affairs.
DSL handles Student Code violations, Cox said, but also helps students find the correct office to report incidents outside their domain.
The main goal for Cox is that students, faculty and staff report these incidents.
“I think it’s important for students to have a voice, even if we can’t formally do anything,” Cox said.
Citing incidents last fall at UW-Whitewater and UW-Platteville where homophobic and racist graffiti appeared in bathrooms and dormitory hallways, Cox said while DSL may not be able to find the perpetrator, they would still acknowledge the incident happened, apologize and stand firm that such behavior is not tolerated on campus.
“I’ve been around where campuses have kept that stuff hushed up and I don’t think that’s very positive or supportive of the students who are targeted,” Cox said.
Four retired faculty members serve as ombuds, working with faculty, staff and student employees to resolve other types of disputes.
According to its annual report, the Ombuds Office had 60 visitors in the 2009-10 academic year. Of those visitors, 72 percent were female. In general, 97 percent of visitors “had concerns with evaluative and supervisory relationships,” and 90 percent reported having “conflicts with peers or colleagues.”
According to the Ombuds Office website, the ombuds “would like to help resolve problems before they escalate.”
Unlike the Office for Equity and Diversity, which notifies the accused party if an investigation occurs, the Ombuds Office keeps everything confidential as long as the seeker wishes.
The Ombuds Office is also less formal than OED, meaning an ombuds does not have criteria for each complaint to meet. They do not advocate on behalf of one individual or another and they do not provide psychological counseling.
Ombuds do not have authority to make decisions regarding grievances, but can advise people about other places on campus that do.
The ombuds contacted by The Badger Herald declined to comment.
Office for Equity and Diversity
When students, faculty and staff need to file a formal complaint, OED is the place to go.
Conditions, including that the incident occurred within the previous 300 days, must be met before OED Assistant Director and Complaint Investigator Stephen Appell conducts an investigation.
Following that, a complaint must be formally submitted, meaning it is written out, signed by the person bringing the complaint, dated and includes allegations of discrimination, Appell said.
“[The complaint] has to tell me a story that, if true, represents something the university is responsible for,” Appell said.
Examples of such complaints range from students who feel they received unfair treatment from a teaching assistant to employees who are treated wrongly because of their sexual orientation, Appell said.
If Appell decides to investigate a complaint, he writes a letter to the university, requests data such as personnel files or academic records and interviews all people involved.
Every complaint is different, and sometimes with thousands of documents and more than 30 people to interview, investigations can last months.
With cases of sexual discrimination, the process moves much faster because Appell does not want people to slip through the cracks on technicalities, including graduation.
“We had several [sexual discrimination cases] last summer, and I took care of one within two weeks,” he said. “I had to hold back the director of the agency from firing the employee immediately. I had another one involving a senior faculty member who decided to retire and another where the student was graduating.”
All decisions are based on preponderance of evidence, meaning the evidence needs to prove the act of discrimination happened, Appell said.
Students have the right to appeal decisions of insufficient evidence within 10 days after the decision has been made, Appell said. The appeal goes to Chancellor Biddy Martin, and ultimately, to the UW System Board of Regents.
A law created by UW-Madison allows for cases regarding employment to be appealed to Provost Paul DeLuca Jr.
Retribution for complaints comes in multiple forms, including monetary compensation, eliminating discipline records or “any number of things,” Appell said.
While he wouldn’t say the number of complaints he investigates each year, Appell did say he has enough work to stay busy.
“I spent 30 years in the federal government doing this kind of stuff, so it’s hard to surprise me,” Appell said. “However, you just never know what some people are thinking.”