Professor files a restraining order against Board of Regents

Christine Roth headshot

Christine Roth

A UW Oshkosh English professor filed a restraining order against the UW System Board of Regents and UWO to block the release of documents requested by a reporter.

According to court documents filed in the Winnebago County Clerk of Court’s office on Nov. 26, a Wisconsin State Journal reporter submitted a request to the Board of Regents on Oct. 9 for public records pertaining to UWO’s investigation into allegations of plagiarism against Christine Roth.

Roth said the court action is an attempt to prevent further harassment from a disgruntled colleague.

“The court action is an attempt to prevent further harassment from a disgruntled colleague who continually refuses to accept decisions that have already been made and accepted by all,” Roth said.

The request asked for the following documents to be handed over: a University complaint, an agreement between the University and Roth’s attorney, an investigator’s report filed by faculty members, a committee report of pre-tenure review, at least one email from Roth to the English department sent after the investigation’s findings and “any and all records from Roth’s personnel file that indicate salary changes, promotions, and/or demotions.”

On behalf of the Board of Regents, UWO records custodian Kathleen McQuillan notified Roth that she would release several of the records to the reporter. However, according to the court documents, McQuillan nor the Board of Regents informed the other record subjects of the decision to release the records.

Roth said she is confident that the confidential process will play out according to the rule of law.

“Just like the well-established rule of law permits anyone to request records from a public agency, the rule of law also provides certain protections against the release of certain records,” Roth said. “The legislature has established a process that includes various levels of review of the release of public records, and the court will decide what, if any, records will be subject to release.”

Roth’s attorney, Peter Culp, argued 10 specific policy interests that override the public’s interest in disclosure, including that the records may contain information about the employment, performance evaluation and/or potential discipline of one or more public employees.

Culp also argued if the documents were disclosed to the public, it would likely have a substantial adverse effect upon Roth’s reputation.

The Board of Regents and UW Oshkosh have 20 days to respond to the issues raised in the court document, which also states the “Plaintiff demands a trial…”

According to the UWO Faculty and Academic Staff Handbook, a professor’s role and responsibility is to hold the best scholarly and ethical standards of his or her discipline.

“Professors, guided by a deep conviction of the worth and dignity of the advancement of knowledge, recognize the special responsibilities placed upon them,” the handbook states. “Their primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it. To this end professors devote their energies to developing and improving their scholarly competence. They accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge. They practice intellectual honesty.”

All professors and academic staff are encouraged to include a statement about academic honesty in their class syllabi. Syllabi generally state that UWO is committed to a standard of academic integrity for all students. “Students are responsible for the honest completion and representation of their work … and for respect of others’ academic endeavors” (s. UWS 14.01, Wis. Adm. Code). Students are subject to disciplinary action for academic misconduct including plagiarism, which could include oral or written reprimand, to suspension or expulsion.

The faculty handbook is unclear about possible repercussions if a professor is found guilty of plagiarism.

Previously, the UWO website stated Roth was an associate professor. According to UWO Human Resources representative, however, her current position is assistant professor, which is the entry level all professors begin at.

Roth is the third professor to file a restraining order against the Board of Regents and UWO in an effort to keep personnel records private. The other two are business professor Willis Hagan and English associate professor James (Duke) Pesta.