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UW-La Crosse chancellor fired by Board of Regents after appearing in adult films

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow was fired in a unanimous vote by the Board of Regents after appearing in adult videos with his wife.

 

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow was fired in a unanimous vote by the Board of Regents Wednesday after appearing in adult film videos on OnlyFans and YouTube.

Gow, who served as the chancellor of UW-La Crosse since 2007, was the second-longest serving chancellor in the school’s history. He announced retirement plans on Aug. 30, though he was set to serve through the conclusion of the 2023-24 school year before transitioning to a faculty position.

He oversaw gains in enrollment and guided the campus through the COVID-19 pandemic. UW-La Crosse is one of three UW System campuses not currently facing a deficit, a pride point Gow mentioned in a Sept. 1 interview with The Daily Cardinal.

UW System President Jay Rothman called Gow’s actions “abhorrent” and said they subjected the university to “significant reputational harm” in a statement late Wednesday.

Board of Regents President Karen Walsh said Gow’s actions demonstrated “reckless disregard for the role he was entrusted with.”

“We are alarmed, and disgusted, by his actions, which were wholly and undeniably inconsistent with his role as chancellor,” Walsh added.

As a tenured faculty member, Gow will be placed on administrative leave, the statement said. Rothman filed a complaint Wednesday with interim UW-La Crosse Chancellor Betsy Morgan to review Gow’s tenured status. 

Wisconsin state law outlines specific steps to fire or discipline a tenured faculty member, including prior notice of disciplinary meetings and the employee’s right to demand an open meeting.

An outside law firm will further investigate the matter, Rothman said.

Termination comes after adult video posts

Gow has made comments alluding to his online presence before.

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Gow told the Cardinal in August he was looking forward to spending more time with his wife and working on a cookbook and “video” to “maybe put up on the internet.”

During a Sept. 7 interview with UW-La Crosse student newspaper The Racquet Press, Gow told the publication he was looking forward to supporting his wife, Carmen Wilson, as “she creates a cookbook and instructional videos titled “Cooking with Carmen.”

The couple has posted nine videos on their Youtube channel Sexy Healthy Couple — described as “a plant-powered couple [making] delicious vegan food with top adult stars,” per a channel description — with the first posted on Dec. 9, 2023. The videos feature Gow and Wilson making recipes alongside adult film entertainers and small segments of suggestive material.

The channel’s Twitter account advertises “fully explicit scenes” on their OnlyFans account.

In one video, Gow shows a book entitled “Monogamy with Benefits: How Porn Enriches Our Relationship,” which he says he wrote with Wilson. The book is listed under pen names Geri and Jay Hart, which are described on Amazon as “pen names of a married woman and man who serve in executive positions at two well-known organizations in the U.S.”

“Not our real names, because we’re still forced to kinda lay low on that, but someday,” Gow said in the Dec. 13 video.

Free expression and adult entertainment

One of the actors Gow and his wife filmed a video with, Nina Hartley, was involved in a 2018 controversy when Gow invited Hartley to the university, he told the Cardinal in the September interview, to speak about sex education and sex positivity as a reflection of a newly-passed UW System policy on free expression.

“I wanted to make sure everybody knew about the policy and actually give people the opportunity to hear from somebody that has a life very different from most of us and to learn some things in the talk,” Gow said. He was “surprised” when he received backlash, which included a pay raise being withheld from him in December 2018.

Yet Gow was glad that “serious thinkers” at news publications like The Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education said “[it] was really important to do.” He told the Cardinal he was disappointed in then-UW System President Ray Cross’ public admonishment of the move, which came alongside widespread conservative criticism.

“The fact that [Cross] didn't support what I did speaks for itself,” Gow said.

He said enrollment went up in the wake of the event, something he felt indicated students were “looking to be at a place where they have the opportunity to experience free speech and expression.”

The search for UW-La Crosse’s new chancellor is ongoing. The Board of Regents last met in closed session on Dec. 20 to discuss the “search process and strategies for the position.” 

Gow responds to Board of Regents

Gow told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was not contacted by the UW System ahead of the Wednesday closed meeting and questioned if he was afforded due process.

"It is a clear violation of the regents' commitment to academic freedom... It's a clear violation of Wisconsin's constitution and statutes,” Gow told the Journal Sentinel after he was terminated.

"I would say that anything that I do or my wife and I do, we do as citizens in the United States, who have the freedom of First Amendment to the Constitution, to create and publish books and videos that explore consensual adult sexuality.”

University leaders, including the Board of Regents, have championed free speech in recent years. Gow said he felt his actions were in line with the Board of Regents’ support of free speech.

"I just think we have people on the board that say they're for free speech, but they really aren't," he said. "And I don't know how they will explain this."

Gow suggested he may pursue legal action, but it’s currently unclear whether such an effort would be successful.

Editor's note: This article was updated on Dec. 29 at 1:47 p.m. to include Gow's response.

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Liam Beran

Liam Beran is the Campus News Editor for The Daily Cardinal and a third-year English major. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for campus, state and in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter at @liampberan.


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