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Dean seeks appeal hearing from UW Board of Regents
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Dean seeks appeal hearing from UW Board of Regents

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Challenges recommendation he be fired for sex harassment charges

by joe hanneman

English Professor Dennis R. Dean has asked for an open appeals hearing before the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to challenge a recommendation he be fired from UW-Parkside for sexual harassment.

Chancellor Sheila Kaplan has recommended that Dean - a tenured professor and 25-year veteran of UW teaching - be dismissed for sexually harassing four female students between 1985 and 1991.

Dean, who emphatically denies charges against him, will exercise his right to appeal the recommendation before the Board of Regents Personnel Matters Review Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full board.

It is a precedent-setting case, because apparently no professor accused of sexual harassment has asked for an open appeals hearing before the Board of Regents, UW officials said. No hearing date has been set.

"I hope for the sake of the university it will be a decent, impartial hearing," Dean, 53, said in an interview Wednesday. "I do not expect to be fired," Dean said. "I am not guilty of sexual harassment."

Dean, who was accused by former students of improper touching, kissing, sexual suggestions and insinuation that grades could be improved through sexual favors, says he believes the case could set new rules for how male professors deal with female students.

In fact, Dean said, the case brought against him has already changed the climate on campus, which he described as "oppressive."

"It's dangerous to be alone with a female student at any time," Dean said. "You're risking your neck if you try to help."

Three of the female students who filed complaints against Dean said he led them to wooded areas outside the campus complex to discuss questions they had about class grades.

The women said Dean tried to hold their hands. One said Dean suggested he could change her final grade if they could "work things out." Another said Dean told her there were things he wanted to "explore" with her. A third said he forcibly kissed her. The fourth student said Dean kissed her in his office.

The campus' Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee found in December that sexual harassment occurred, and recommended Dean be stripped of tenure and suspended for one year. Kaplan recommended to the regents that he be fired.

Dean said the students' versions of what happened were a "rank distortion" of what went on. He said he only discussed academic matters, and went to the woods because he felt it was a comfortable setting for students.

Asked if he erred in judgment by taking female students to wooded areas for counseling, Dean replied:

"My good intentions led me into a certain amount of naivete. The last time I looked, women wanted to be treated as equals. Now it turns out what they want is special privileges, protection."

He said other factors were not taken into account by those investigating the case. One woman complained that Dean stared at her suggestively. Dean says he has a vision impairment that affects his focusing.

"I more or less have to stare at them to get them into focus," Dean said.

Dean has said one of the women tried to blackmail him for an extension on a term paper, and said she would get him if he didn't grant it. He also said none of the students complained at the time that their talks with him were in any way improper.

Witnesses who testified at Dean's hearing last November said the women did discuss the alleged harassment with friends and spouses at the time.

Dean also reiterated his claim that Kaplan's administration built the case against him in retribution for criticisms he has made of her over the years.

He said the case is about "the heart and soul of the University of Wisconsin."

Kaplan declined comment on Dean's assertions.

Patricia Hodulik, senior legal counsel for the UW System, said the case against Dean will be defended before the board. The committee will review the 550-page transcript from Dean's UW-Parkside hearing, and take oral arguments from both sides, she said.

"I believe the case was just for termination," Hodulik said. "I believe that was the correct action."

Dean said if the Board of Regents votes to fire him, there's a "likelihood" the case will end up in court.

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