Wisconsin–La Crosse Chancellor Removed Over Porn Videos with Wife – JONATHAN TURLEY

The University of Wisconsin–La Crosse is embroiled in a controversy surrounding its Chancellor Joe Gow after it was revealed he and his wife made porn videos under the name “Sexy Happy Couple.” He has been removed from his position, though the now unhappy couple could now challenge the action in the courts.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “Gow, 63, and his wife, Carmen Wilson, appear in videos on several porn websites using ‘Sexy Happy Couple’ as the account name, a moniker also used on at least two social media accounts.” It further noted that “the couple also published two books under pseudonyms detailing their experiences in the adult film industry. Both books and the social media accounts feature photos clearly showing Gow (pictured) and Wilson.”

Notably, Wilson chaired the search committee that selected Gow and then served as his chief of staff from 2008-2011. The couple married in 2014.

Gow has not been subtle about his interest in porn. He previously invited a porn performer to come to campus as part of a “Free Speech Week” event and reimbursed the speaker’s fee out of his own money,

The action by the Board of Regents was based on the impact of the scandal on the school. UW System President Jay Rothman declared “In recent days, we learned of specific conduct by Dr. Gow that has subjected the university to significant reputational harm. His actions were abhorrent.”

Gow will retain his position as a tenured professor, though a complaint is reportedly pending.

In becoming Chancellor, Gow signed a contract that stated that “The Chancellor may not engage in any activity that may be adverse to, or competitive or inconsistent with the interests of the University of Wisconsin System.”

However, this was conduct that was both legal and conducted outside of his official duties without reference to his academic or administrative positions.

I cannot claim to understand this desire of some people to post videos of themselves having sex.  It is reminiscent of the recent controversy involving Virginia Democratic candidate Susanna Gibson who was shown to have engaged in sex acts on the Internet with her husband. Gibson and her husband posted more than a dozen videos that were archived on a site called Chaturbate in September 2022 shortly before she announced her candidacy for office. Viewers were told that they could pay for her to perform specific sex acts “for tips.”

Gibson has made dubious threats to sue over the disclosures of the videos and even alleged that the disclosures constituted a sex crime. She attempted to portray the controversy as an attack on all women. It seemed to work. Gibson came close to winning the recent election despite the scandal as the Democratic candidate for the state legislature.

The difference is that no one suggested that Gibson was barred from serving as a state legislature due to her porn history.

One does not have to share Gow’s fetish or approve of his videos to raise concerns over the free speech implications of this action.

Engaging in pornographic films is an expressive act and has free speech protection, in my view. The objections of many to such films is moral. While the couple is married, many view porn as sinful and corrupting in society. However, Gow is allowed to hold opposing views and to engage in such expressive acts.

The question is whether the contract alters the question.  Many contracts, including media contracts, contain such provisions. The standard “morals clause” is triggered by criminal conduct or conduct that brings “public disrepute, scandal, or embarrassment.” These clauses are written broadly to protect the news organizations and their “brand.”

Yet, this is a state university effectively punishing Gow for arguably protected speech.  Part of the concern is where the university draws the line. Gow previously sponsored an event with a porn star on campus and that was not viewed as violative. What if he simply produced porn videos but was not featured in them? What if he advocated for the rights of porn actors or consumers?

Universities have historically cracked down on those with unpopular social, political, or religious views. Conservatives and libertarians have long been targeted by such campaigns. We cannot protect some while exempting others from such protections.

These cases involving public employees with porn histories have regularly arisen from lunch ladies to teachers to students. However, they often involve primary and secondary levels of education.  This involves a college where the students are adults and capable of making their own judgments about moral or sexual questions.

This could prove a novel but significant free speech case in delineating the scope of protected speech or conduct for state employees outside of their employment.

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