The Advance-Titan

UWO’s Hagen appeals open records ruling, returns to teaching

Alex Nemec

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A UW Oshkosh business professor who was pulled from his teaching assignments in spring filed an appeal on Tuesday to continue a five-month fight against the release of records pertaining to his removal.

Willis Hagen, who is now back on campus teaching, was removed from his class early in the spring 2017 semester. The Advance-Titan filed an open records request upon hearing about this, however, Hagen filed a lawsuit against UWO to stop the release of the records. The A-T became an intervenor in the lawsuit so that if UWO lost, it could be appealed, rather than having the suit die.

Judge Daniel Bissett ruled on Sept. 20 that the records should be released.

“Any type of chilling effect that it would have on complaints in the future or the potential for the University to attract and hire candidates and the like I don’t think are applicable in this case,” Bissett wrote. “And to the degree they are applicable I think they are outweighed by the strong public interest in the disclosure. So I will deny the motion to prevent the disclosure of the materials.”

In the early evening of Oct. 17, a document was submitted to the courts saying Hagen plans on appealing this decision, just before the expiration of the 20-day appeal deadline of Oct. 18 at midnight.

“It’s possible that he’s just doing this for now as a stall tactic and doesn’t actually pursue his appeal all the way, but this suffices to prevent the release of the records for now,” an email from Pines Bach attorney Aaron Dumas said.

Dempsey Law partner Peter Culp, Hagen’s lawyer, said nothing more substantial can be said as Wisconsin law affords record subjects complete confidentiality during this process.”

“Whether any records may be released, and all issues of fact and law, will now be reviewed and decided by a three-judge panel of the Wisconsin appellate court,” Culp said.

Dumas said, on Sept. 20, the Court not only denied Hagen’s petition, based on The A-T’s argument, but also ordered the University to eliminate many of its proposed redactions to the records.

This includes “general references to the Accounting Department, the fact of Professor Hagen’s status as a CPA and references to a remark that Professor Hagen made to a class of students.”

Dumas said there does not need to be any new precedent that comes out of this decision.

“We relied on what is already clear Wisconsin law,” Dumas said. “There are, of course, important exceptions in Wisconsin’s public records law, and it is clear that none of them apply to the records here.”

The UW System did its job effectively in carefully deciding that the public interest here weighs in favor of releasing the records, Dumas said.

“If anything, this case should just enforce the fact that the public records law applies to our public universities as much as it does to any other public institutions,” Dumas said.

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
UWO’s Hagen appeals open records ruling, returns to teaching