As chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Joe Gow was once surely to be remembered for a tenure that oversaw unprecedented enrollment growth and increased first- and second-year student retention rates. His stewardship at the midsize university drew acclaim from colleagues when he announced his decision to step down at the end of the current academic year.
Until recently, not many realized that during the 17 years Gow had been chancellor, he’d also been creating pornographic content with his wife and other professionals over the past decade.
UW System President Jay Rothman has since let go of Gow before his expected date and is now threatening to review his status as a tenured faculty member, stating that the former chancellor has caused the university “significant reputational harm,” according to The New York Times. Rothman’s actions have provoked the former chancellor and his wife to accuse the university of violating his First Amendment rights.
Under a pseudonym, Gow and his wife, Carmen Wilson, have uploaded content to OnlyFans and YouTube that involved sexually explicit acts with each other and with professional pornstars. However, Gow and Wilson believe the university is undermining their First Amendment rights since none of their videos identify who they are or UW-La Crosse.
“It’s not what we’re about in higher ed, to censor people,” Wilson said, according to The Times. “If they seek [the content], they’re free to do so.”
The Foundation For Individual Rights and Expression, in its recent report, makes the case that the institution may be justified in its ability to dismiss Gow from his position as chancellor due to the high-ranking and public-facing nature of a government-paid position.
But Gow may have a stronger case to retain his tenured faculty position, said FIRE Program Officer Jessie Appleby in an email.
“Generally, government employers like UW have greater latitude to regulate the private speech of political appointees and other high-ranking officials who publicly represent the university, but universities do not have the same latitude to discipline faculty for their private speech.”
The report mentions a similar U.S. Supreme Court case from 2019, in which it held the government could not fire a federal employee based on her publishing a book under a pseudonym about her work as a phone sex operator. Like Gow, this individual had not deliberately linked her book with her government employment.
“He has a strong First Amendment case that UW may not terminate his faculty position based on private speech unrelated to his position as a professor.”
Previous instances in which courts ruled that employees could be terminated for their off-duty expression about these illicit acts were due to the fact the concerned individuals intentionally associated their government employment with adult content.
Gow is currently on paid administrative leave, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.