Judge denies injunction preventing prof. sanctions

Sophia Voight, Opinion Editor

A Winnebago County Court judge denied UW Oshkosh education professor Peter Meyerson a temporary injunction that would have prevented Provost John Koker from imposing sanctions against him regarding allegations of bullying students.

Meyerson is currently suing Koker and Chancellor Andrew Leavitt, claiming that they illegally imposed sanctions after improperly investigating a complaint against him.

In a complaint filed Sept. 14, Meyerson argues that the university wrongfully handled an investigation of a formal complaint made in February regarding Meyerson’s alleged “hostile behavior toward students.”

A Winnebago County Court judge denied UW Oshkosh education professor Peter Meyerson a temporary injunction. (Courtesy of Flickr)

The complaint, made by Dean of Students Art Munin and Associate Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Eric Brunsell, states that Meyerson has issues with anger and uses intimidation in the classroom, “frequently targeting female students.”

A document from Brunsell stated Meyerson’s hostile behavior “took place in multiple class sessions and was not isolated,” and he also has a history of “aggressive behavior toward women in the department.”

While the complaint was dismissed by Leavitt after investigators found no violation of faculty policy, Meyerson argues that Koker ignored the requirements of the dismissal by initiating disciplinary actions at the beginning of September.

According to the university’s Faculty and Academic Staff Handbook, if a complaint is dismissed “the faculty member shall not be subjected to further jeopardy for the same alleged misconduct.”

In a Sept. 8 letter, Koker informed Meyerson of his plan to have an individual monitor Meyerson’s behavior in the classroom and at department meetings.

Meyerson argues that Koker’s plan to impose these sanctions after Leavitt’s dismissal of the formal complaint goes against the rules outlined in the faculty handbook.

Koker said he realized that the complaint was dismissed but he remains concerned about Meyerson’s behavior based on a history of student complaints, according to the Sept. 8 letter.

Meyerson asked the court to issue a temporary injunction to prevent Koker from imposing the sanctions until after the court decides if Leavitt and Koker had violated his rights established in the faculty handbook for improperly investigating the complaint.

However, a judge denied the temporary injunction at a motion hearing Monday, allowing Koker to move forward with his actions to monitor Meyerson and require him to complete a written self-evaluation of his teaching.

Circuit Court Judge Barbara Hart Key said just because the complaint was dismissed, it doesn’t remove the university’s right to observe a faculty member moving forward.

“If it’s a classroom in which they can otherwise observe anyway … I don’t think there’s anything [in the handbook] that says they can’t do that,” she said.

While the temporary injunction was denied, the court will continue to review Koker’s sanctions as part of the normal proceedings of the lawsuit.

Meyerson’s lawsuit requests the court to force Leavitt and Koker to abide by the rule established in the faculty handbook regarding complaints and disciplinary actions.

According to the faculty handbook, the chancellor is given 20 working days after starting a formal review of a complaint against staff or faculty to decide if the complaint should be prosecuted or dropped.

The lawsuit said Leavitt disregarded this rule by taking 134 working days to dismiss the complaint after beginning the formal investigation.

The university claimed the coronavirus pandemic pushed back the investigation and made it difficult to comply with the investigation timeline.

The suit also requests that the court bar the university from issuing disciplinary actions against Meyerson and delete the sanctions from his personnel record.

The parties will meet in court again Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. for oral arguments.