The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously fired UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow during a closed-door meeting Wednesday after discovering videos posted on porn websites featuring him and his wife.
Gow, 63, and his wife, Carmen Wilson, are featured on several porn websites using "Sexy Happy Couple" as the account name, a moniker also used on at least two social media accounts.
The couple also published two books detailing their experiences in the adult film industry, under pseudonyms. Both books and the social media accounts feature photos clearly showing Gow and Wilson.
"In recent days, we learned of specific conduct by Dr. Gow that has subjected the university to significant reputational harm," UW System President Jay Rothman said. "His actions were abhorrent."
UW Board of Regents President Karen Walsh said Gow showed "a reckless disregard" for his role as a UW-La Crosse leader.
"We are alarmed, and disgusted, by his actions, which were wholly and undeniably inconsistent with his role as chancellor," she said.
Gow told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, that the creation of books and videos exploring consensual adult sexuality falls within his right to free speech under the First Amendment. He said he previously hid this part of his life but made a recent decision to reverse course and "be a little bit more open about these free speech issues."
"There's nothing said about the University of Wisconsin; there's nothing said about the chancellor (on the videos)," he said after the firing Wednesday. "So someone else would have to make those associations. And then someone would have to say those are problematic."
No university property or funds were used to create the books or videos, Gow said. He created the content on his own personal time and spent more on production costs than the "minimal" money the videos have earned through the websites.
Gow questioned whether the board afforded him due process because he said he wasn't given an opportunity to make his case. He said no one at the UW System nor on the UW Board of Regents contacted him ahead of the Wednesday meeting where the board met behind closed doors for just over three hours.
The statements from UW leaders Wednesday struck a different tone from earlier this year when Gow announced plans to step down at the end of the 2023-24 school year and return to the faculty as a communications professor. He is the longest serving of the current chancellors, leading the 10,000 student campus since 2007.
“This is a hallmark of excellent stewardship," UW System President Jay Rothman said in an August statement. "He has provided a steady hand through challenging times and met the moment when we needed him."
Gow's 2006 contract says little about the termination process. The six pages spell out his separate appointment as a tenured faculty member and explains how his new salary would be determined if he were to resign or be terminated from the chancellorship. The document also notes he would have received six months' notice of termination had he not been granted tenure.
The contract also includes these key lines: "The Chancellor is encouraged to engage in outside activities that contribute to the Chancellor's professional advancement or benefit the University. 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."
Rothman said he placed Gow on paid administrative leave as he transitions into his faculty role. The UW System president, however, has also filed a complaint with the new interim chancellor, UW-La Crosse Provost Betsy Morgan, asking for Gow's tenured faculty status to be reviewed. Rothman also said he has engaged an outside law firm to conduct a full investigation.
Wilson chaired the search committee that selected Gow to lead UW-La Crosse. She was Gow's chief of staff in the chancellor's office from 2008 to 2011. She then led UW-Rock County from 2011 to 2016.
The two married in 2014. Now as Gow's spouse, Wilson serves as an "associate to the chancellor" under the terms of his contract. The formal appointment is unpaid and complements the chancellor's public-facing role leading the university.
Gow, Wilson used pseudonyms to avoid 'negative repercussions'
The couple's account on X, formerly Twitter, hinted at their hobby: "The Passionate plant-powered couple cooking, conversing, and shooting with top adult video stars. Visit our LoyalFans and OnlyFans sites for fully explicit scenes!"
Gow and Wilson have six videos on OnlyFans that feature adult film stars, according to descriptions of the videos. They also appear on at least two other porn websites, PornHub and XHamster. Some videos have more than 200,000 views. All videos were posted in the last two months.
They also appear on a YouTube channel called "Sexy Healthy Cooking." It shows nine videos of the couple cooking various vegan dishes with adult film stars.
The couple appears to have published two books together under the names Geri and Jay Hart. According to the author bio on Amazon, the names are pseudonyms for "a married woman and man who serve in executive positions at two well-known organizations in the U.S.” An author photo shows Gow and Wilson.
The books don't reference La Crosse, Wisconsin, or any work for a university. But they do allude to the couple's status in the community, and how they have grappled with the tension they felt between the expectations of their “establishment” careers and their desires to be more open about their sex lives.
“You see, we couldn’t be more entrenched in the local establishment,” they wrote in “Monogamy with Benefits: How Porn Enriches Our Relationship,” published in 2015. “Not only do we serve as executives at two of the better-known organizations in the city where we live, but we are also highly active in charitable and civic activities. We hold seats on non-profit boards, and we’re fixtures at a very traditional ‘downtown’ public service club. All this has made us rather visible public figures in our city. We’re sometimes quoted in the newspapers, and people approach us from time to time to say they’ve seen us on last night’s television news. In fact, you can even go on the web and find photographs of us smiling alongside ultra-reputable current and former national and state political leaders.”
The couple noted they were “fairly certain a scandal would ensue if our peers were to know about what we’ve been doing.”
“We think our sex is beautiful and have no qualms at all about other people watching us make love. But our establishment colleagues likely would be shocked to watch us complete the full carnal process – particularly with professional porn stars – and we’re fairly certain we’d be shunned in our community. Our careers likely would be ruined, and what’s worse is that the lives of our families and friends also could be impacted significantly, and not in a positive way. So, as much as we’d like to be as honest with everyone else as we’ve been with ourselves about our sexuality, we feel compelled to keep our unconventional lifestyle hidden.”
That book ends with the couple’s first experience being in a “professionally produced sex video” just before they got married. Their 2018 book, “Married with Benefits: Our Real-life Adult Industry Adventures,” describes additional experiences creating pornographic videos and collaborating with other adult performers.
Gow was previously punished for inviting adult film star to speak on campus
This isn't Gow's first brush with controversy.
He was in hot water five years ago after he invited adult film star Nina Hartley to speak on campus as part of a "Free Speech week" event. Hartley's optional lecture, “Fantasy versus reality: Viewing adult media with a critical eye” drew a reported 75 attendees on campus.
Then-UW System president Ray Cross reprimanded Gow for exercising “poor judgment" and denied him a pay raise. Gow personally reimbursed the $5,000 speaker’s fee amid the public outcry. The fee initially came out of his office’s discretionary fund, which was supported by interest earnings and vending machine revenue.
But Gow stood by his decision, emailing Hartley a week later to say it was "without a doubt the most original and thought-provoking presentation I’ve seen in my 12 years at our university."
Gow told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this year the lecture was a stimulating discussion about an uncomfortable topic and illustrated why free speech is a good thing for universities. He has been fairly open to media interviews throughout his UW career, which has sometimes drawn the ire of UW System officials trying to send a single, consistent message.
In an interview after announcing his intention to retire as chancellor, Gow mentioned his desire to spend more time cooking with his wife and return to the classroom.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: University of Wisconsin Chancellor Joe Gow fired for his porn videos