Campus News

UW-Madison professor invites convicted criminal without notifying students

A convicted felon was invited to give a speech in class, yet students received no prior alerts of his misconduct. Image By: Leah Voskuil

Students walked out of class after a UW-Madison Legal Studies professor gave students no previous warnings that the guest speaker was an ex-felon, twice convicted of sexual misconduct, who spoke in lecture Thursday. 

The incident took place during Professor Ralph Grunewald’s class, “Criminal Justice in America” — an introductory class for mostly freshmen and sophomores majoring in Legal Studies — when a guest speaker walked into the class and spoke on his incarceration as a convicted rapist. 

According to UW-Madison News and Media Relations Director Meredith McGlone, the guest speaker was an ex-felon who now works for re-entry programs at non-profit organizations and was invited to the class for educational purpose.

A student who attended the lecture said, without knowing the speaker’s specific offenses prior to the lecture, it could threaten a number of students’ feelings of inclusiveness and safety on campus. 

“I felt completely outraged that without any trigger warnings [prior to the lecture] somebody who is a convicted rapist was going to come in to speak to our class,” an anonymous student who attended the lecture said, “And [he] has the opportunity to be around girls at the same age as the girl whom he has assaulted.”

According to university officials, Grunewald sent out general alerts on potentially sensitive content in class, but not a specific warning on the guest speakers’ offenses. 

“In this particular case, the professor was not aware of the specific offenses that this speaker had been convicted of. He also did not know that the speaker planned to share that to the class,” McGlone said. “The instructor will stress in the future that alerts on potentially distressing content will pertain to guest speakers as well.”

After leaving class early, the student met with UW-Madison Assistant Dean of Students Kathy Kruse to express their disappointment, while also searching for a better sense of safeness in class. 

“I need an apology from him for making people feel victimized again, and I don’t think there should ever be a platform for a rapist to be in a class especially without an explicit warning,” the student said. “I want to make the noise about not having sexual predators allowed in classrooms as guest speakers.”

Further meetings between university officials and the student have been scheduled next Wednesday to continue discussing solutions that advance UW-Madison academic inclusivity. 

“Any time a concern arises, we encourage students to reach out,” McGlone said. “Discussing the intent and impact of situations like this is an opportunity for both parties to learn and helps improve the overall educational experience at UW-Madison.”

Editor's Update: [4/27/19, 10:41 a.m.]: This article previously didn't state the reason the convicted felon was invited to campus, as well as no secondhand quote stated by Kruse from the conversation with the student. 

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