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Thursday, November 30, 2023

UW System Shared Services is investigating UW-Eau Claire Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management for gender-based discrimination following a formal complaint and the resignations of six female employees.

Gender discrimination complaint prompts investigation into UW-Eau Claire administrator

After five female employees resigned under the leadership of UW-Eau Claire Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management Albert Colom, the sixth woman’s resignation and formal complaint prompted an investigation of gender-based discrimination. 

Following three years of directly working with Colom, Angie Swenson-Holzinger resigned from her role as an associate director of advising on Feb. 3, the same day she filed her complaint of gender-based discrimination. Prior to Swenson-Holzinger’s allegations, five other women working under Colom resigned within three days of each other in January 2019, the Leader-Telegram reported

A copy of Swenson-Holzinger’s exit survey letter detailed the “hostile work environment” that caused her to resign. 

Colom and Swenson-Holzinger began working together summer 2019, and Swenson-Holzinger said he immediately began acting as if she was incompetent and “regularly disparaged other female leaders on campus,” according to the letter. She “never heard him critique, in any way, a single male leader on campus.” 

Colom made numerous references to UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt, making comments “about having ‘Jim’s support’ when threatening in veiled ways the job security of me and the team I supervised,” Swenson-Holzinger wrote.

The university has not placed Colom on leave as of Friday, UW-Eau Claire spokesperson Michael Rindo told Wisconsin Public Radio.

“These kinds of complaints are not uncommon,” Rindo told WPR. “They are taken seriously, and then they are referred to appropriate entities to conduct inquiries and ensure that due process is followed.”

Rindo emphasized UW-Eau Claire has a system in place to handle complaints such as these, and an investigation conducted by UW System Shared Services is underway.

Even so, others at UW-Eau Claire warned Swenson-Holzinger about filing a complaint against Colom.

“In discussing with people on campus whether to file this complaint, I was repeatedly given advice to not do so if I ever wished to work at UW-Eau Claire again,” she wrote. “In hearing this refrain repeated and the fearful nature of so many wonderful professionals still employed on campus, I knew I had to proceed with documenting this situation in an official capacity.”

Swenson-Holzinger acknowledged the gender-based discrimination portion of the complaint will be difficult to prove since the majority of the incidents took place behind closed doors. 

However, Swenson-Holzinger wrote she believes Colom’s behavior will “certainly meet standards for bullying and negative work environments at the minimum” with the addition of other women’s stories.

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Former Associate Director of Admissions Heather Pearson, who had been with the university for 18 years, left in January 2019, within the first four months of Colom's arrival. Pearson left because she could not ethically remain in her position or respect Colom, the Spectator reported

In an interview with WPR, Pearson said she and four other employees resigned due to the way Colom was treating former Director of Admissions Heather Kretz. Colom began attacking Kretz almost immediately after he was hired in 2018, Pearson said.

Kretz, who had been with the university for more than 10 years, submitted a collection of anecdotes from fellow employees about Colom’s behaviors to Schmidt. According to Pearson, the chancellor signaled support for Colom. 

Following the 2019 mass resignation of admission employees, Schmidt sent out an email to the faculty, staff and student leaders thanking Kretz and her colleagues for their many years of service, while also praising the university’s progress under “the relatively short-time Vice Chancellor Colom has been with us.”

Just over a year after this email, Swenson-Holzinger contemplated whether or not to leave her position.

“It took me several more months to be ready to [resign] because I was mourning the loss of a job I loved up until this supervision transition took place to report to Albert Colom,” Swenson-Holzinger wrote. “I am now able to accept that this job that I loved no longer exists.”

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