Interim UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward is defending the university's silence about an investigation involving a former top athletic official accused of misconduct.
In a statement Wednesday, Ward said he understands the public has questions about what led to the investigation of John Chadima, who resigned as senior associate athletic director Friday, but he asked for patience as an independent panel reviews the matter.
But not disclosing the nature of the allegations against Chadima allows for speculation, observers said.
"That is always the downside of not saying anything," said Robert Drechsel, a university professor who teaches about journalism and the law. "You leave the rumor mill to run amok."
Sources have told the State Journal the investigation stems from an incident in Los Angeles when the UW football team prepared to play in the Rose Bowl. A university spokesman said he doesn't know of any criminal charges filed.
Ward, who declined an interview request, said in the statement he believes the university has "taken a series of decisive steps" by placing Chadima on administrative leave and appointing the four-person review team.
"I understand that the nature of this situation and the resulting publicity create many questions for our community," he wrote in a statement. "To protect the integrity of the review and those who have shared information with us, it is imperative that the committee be allowed to complete its work."
The State Journal has requested documents about Chadima's resignation under the state open records law. But UW-Madison can argue it has no legal obligation to release information about the investigation until it is complete, said Bob Dreps, a Madison attorney who is an expert on the records law and who has represented the newspaper.
Rae Goldsmith, vice president for advancement resources at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said she doesn't know of any institution that would release specifics at this point in an investigation.
"Sometimes the reality is a lot less than what people are speculating," she said. "In this case, the protection of the privacy of the employee and consideration of potential legal ramifications are likely to outweigh interest in transparency."
The allegations of child sex abuse by a former Penn State University football coach and that university's handling of them also may have influenced UW-Madison to respond quickly, she said.
"In that respect, I would say Penn State has probably influenced quick action," Goldsmith said. "Any high-profile individual at an institution, the institution will tend to want to get it resolved quickly rather than over time."
Still, the university's silence prompted criticism from Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who on Wednesday called on UW-Madison to disclose the allegations against Chadima and revise the makeup of the review panel.
Chadima, a senior associate athletic director who oversaw capital projects and was the sports administrator for football, men's and women's golf and wrestling, was placed on administrative leave Friday and resigned later that day.
The university announced the moves on Saturday. Since then, Chadima has not been available for comment.