Students, Alumni Criticize Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow’s Firing Over Porn Hobby

Two days after University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow was fired amid revelations that he and his wife led a secret life as semi-professional porn stars, students and alumni are speaking out in support of the 63-year-old professor.

“He was [private] citizen when he made those videos, he was not the chancellor in those videos,” UWL political science major Easton Moberg told The Daily Beast. “He was minding his own business, so I don’t like punishing him.”

Gow, the longest-serving chancellor in the entire state system, and his wife, Carmen Wilson, married in 2014 and have been producing and appearing in X-rated content for nearly as long. However, the self-described “plant-powered couple” only recently began posting their videos online, and an unidentified whistleblower who spotted the stirring footage immediately notified the UW Board of Regents.

Their YouTube channel, @SexyHappyCouple, shows Wilson, 56, and Gow making vegan food with various adult performers. For those interested in “completely explicit scenes,” the two — who never mention the University of Wisconsin during their performances — direct viewers to their OnlyFans and PornHub accounts. They have also published two books for adults, under pseudonyms, Monogamy with benefits: How porn enriches our relationshipand Married with Benefits – Our real-life adventures in the adult industry.

Jay Rothman, the president of the UW System, issued a statement Wednesday announcing Gow’s termination as chancellor and calling his extracurricular activities “disgusting.”

“In recent days, we have learned of specific conduct by Dr. Gow that has subjected the university to significant reputational harm,” Rothman said in a statement.

UW System Board of Regents President Karen Walsh was equally outraged, saying she and the other board members who voted unanimously to terminate Gow were “disturbed and disgusted” by his “reckless” actions, which Walsh called ” completely and indisputably incompatible with his role as chancellor’.

But others who have crossed paths with Gow describe him as a compassionate, empathetic educator and say they don’t particularly care what he does in his spare time.

As a freshman at UWL, theater major Ames Nelson struggled with alcohol.

“I hadn’t tried alcohol until college,” Nelson told The Daily Beast. “I turned 21 in April and by this July I was in my first rehab program. It hit me like a train.”

When Nelson had to leave school to seek help, she said Gow personally made sure she was readmitted once she was ready to return. And when she relapsed and had to return for a second stint at the rehab center, Gow again cleared the way for her to return, Nelson said.

“You don’t see that kind of forgiveness these days,” she said. “I’ve been sober for quite a few years too.”

Nelson, who graduated in 2013, remembers Gow skateboarding around campus and high-fiving everyone he passed. He was appropriately serious about serious matters while also being “really down-to-earth,” Nelson said. Her first reaction to the news of the reason for Gow’s firing “was to giggle like a 12-year-old, but then I was really upset,” she said. “Being fired for something as stupid as porn is not only funny, but unanimous?”

Easton Moberg, a senior who also serves as multimedia editor for the UWL student newspaper, The rocket presssaid Friday that Gow regularly appeared at “a lot of events,” especially at the beginning of the semester, and described him as “well-liked on campus.”

Moberg said Gow was always accessible to anyone and everyone at the school. He noted that Gow has already announced that he will retire at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year and return to the teaching faculty after 17 years as chancellor of UWL.

“You had to be doing something right to be the longest-serving chancellor in the UW system,” Moberg told The Daily Beast. “I think he did what he needed to do, and he definitely supported students and faculty along the way.”

There are certainly mixed opinions among students about Goh’s life in porn, according to Moberg. He said he heard more than one person say they were embarrassed by the situation, while others stood by Gow’s right to “do what he wants because that’s his First Amendment freedom.” Moberg said various pranks have been floating around for the past 48 hours, adding to creativity it first came to light after Gow invited adult film actress Nina Hartley to speak on campus in 2018.

“UWL, other than D-3 sports, will be known for this incident for some time,” Moberg said. “It’s hard knowing that I’m going to be ‘The guy from the school where the chancellor did porn,’ but … I love our First Amendment, our freedom of speech, so it’s hard for me to criticize him when I really thrive under those same protections … In at the same time, if I’m the head of the UW System Board of Regents, I don’t want that to happen either. So it’s really a double-edged sword. But if I could pick a side, I would side with protecting the First Amendment at all costs.

IN Posted on December 27 by Xformer Twitter 2016 UWL graduate Randy Stringer Jr. said he is “delighted [his] interactions with Gow’ and that he has ‘even guest taught several of my communication courses’.

“It’s crazy to me to be fired for something like this, especially with 0 mention of UW [in the videos],” Stringer posted. “I find the boards [sic] words more disgusting then [sic] I perform Gou’s actions.

And in an interview on Friday with Wisconsin State Gazette, second-year UWL student Jason Mergen said: “It’s definitely not illegal. I think I’m surprised he was so surprised by the firing, but that doesn’t mean he should have been fired. He’s a good dude.

A Change.org petition seeking to overturn Gow’s firing had collected 320 signatures as of Friday afternoon. And ‘Free Joe Gow’ T-shirts, bearing an image of Gow’s face with a black band across his eyes, have already appeared for sale online.

For Gow, somewhat fittingly, the whole thing is an educational experience.

“What we’ve really learned in the last 24 hours is that people are very polarized around issues of consensual adult sexuality,” Gow told The Daily Beast. “I’ve heard from people, most of them have been supportive and nice, and people say, ‘We understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and we think you should keep going.’ And then you hear from other people, a smaller group of people who they say, ‘This is shocking and this is evil,’ and there seems to be very little middle ground.”

The most supportive messages come mostly from marginalized people, according to Gow.

“We’ve had some wonderful emails from a trans person who said they’re a sex worker because they’re discriminated against in the workplace and the only way they can make a living is through sex work,” Gow said. “My wife and I are very privileged, we don’t have to [do this]but it reminds you that there are many people who do.”

He said the books he and his wife publish “obviously have more nuance than videos and can explain what we think and how we look at things.” There has been “strong interest” in the books amid the uproar over the videos, Gow said, a turn of events he sees as “very healthy”.

Gow said he has been contacted by First Amendment attorneys since his firing and will sit down with his wife in the coming days to discuss their legal options.

“I think we’ve learned quite strongly that we’re idealistic and we think our society has come a long way,” Gow said on Friday. “But for some people, that’s definitely not the case.”

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