Faculty panel: Professor shouldn't be fired

Faculty panel: Professor shouldn't be fired

URBANA — A controversial University of Illinois professor might be seen by some as "self-righteous" and "insensitive," but he should not be fired from the university, concluded a faculty committee in a unanimous decision, The News-Gazette has learned.

The future of engineering Professor Louis Wozniak's employment at the university now is in the hands of UI President Bob Easter and the UI Board of Trustees.

After a year-long review into the professor's case, the faculty group submitted a report to Easter last month that said the teaching suspension imposed on Wozniak was commensurate with the misconduct the committee found.

And that suspension should be lifted if he meets certain conditions.

But the university has lobbied hard for dismissal of Wozniak, a UI graduate and faculty member since 1966, according to documents obtained by The News-Gazette.

In a summary presented last year to the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the body that heard Wozniak's case, university lawyers argued for removal of Wozniak from the classroom and said that any recommendation other than dismissal would raise concerns among critics of tenure about whether faculty are capable of self-regulation and governance.

University spokesman Tom Hardy said he would not comment on the status of the case "as it's a personnel issue."

UI law Professor Matt Finkin, who chaired the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, also declined to discuss Wozniak's situation but did acknowledge "dismissal of tenured professor is a very serious manner."

It is rare for the university to terminate a professor's tenure or move to fire him or her for cause. The last time such a hearing was held before the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is believed to have occurred in the 1970s.

"If a faculty member has engaged in such serious conduct that justify dismissal, the facts usually are not in dispute. The individual usually tenders resignation" or there's a settlement between the faculty member and the university, said Finkin, who is no longer on the committee.

The College of Engineering has prohibited Wozniak, an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, from teaching since August 2010 following several allegations of misconduct.

University administrators have claimed that Wozniak, after learning he received the most student votes for a teaching award in 2009 but was not given the award, disclosed a student's grade to others and sought student support for his grievance; videotaped students without written consent; appeared before a class after he was suspended from teaching; and violated university policy by sending an email message to students in which he said students, upon returning to campus, should remind him of their names because "I only remember the names of GKs I've had sex with," referring to the students as "grandkids."

Wozniak later said the joke was in bad taste and sent a follow-up message to students apologizing for it, according to hearing documents.

In regard to being barred from teaching students, Wozniak claimed he was not given due process, and a faculty committee agreed.

In 2011, then-President Michael Hogan initiated the process, as outlined under Article X of the university statutes, to terminate a faculty member's tenure and dismiss someone for cause. At the time he delegated responsibility to then-interim Chancellor Bob Easter.

Tenure is "not a guarantee of lifetime employment, but a guarantee of procedural protections," said Greg Scholtz, director of the Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance Department with the American Association of University Professors. For example, a hearing before a faculty member's peers is required. The administration has to bear the burden of proof, Scholtz said.

As in Wozniak's case, the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure last year conducted interviews, collected evidence and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents. The report was submitted last month.

In its conclusion, the committee stated that the proceeding was the consequence of Wozniak's reaction to the denial of the student award in 2009.

"He persistently pursued the perceived wrong with single-minded self-righteousness, oblivious to the feelings of others and in a manner grossly disproportionate to what was at stake." His "widespread" disclosure of a meeting with a student about the award process and what happened in that meeting was a breach of faculty-student confidentiality, and the committee said that called for sanction. The email, while "a stupid effort at a joke," did not give cause to discharge, according to the committee.

"Being a self-righteous, obsessed, and insensitive person is not cause to dismiss," the committee wrote.

The majority of the committee agreed that the teaching suspension imposed on Wozniak should be lifted if he meets certain conditions, such as removing any public references to his conversation with a student regarding the award and that he have no contact with students regarding his eligibility for any award in the future.

His failure to comply with the conditions can be cause to dismiss him, according to the report.

In its report, the committee did urge Wozniak to move on and "refocus his energies during the remainder of his academic career on meeting the needs of his students, the duties required of him by his colleagues, students, staff and administrators, and the standards expected of him by the university and professional bodies of which he is a member."

Wozniak, according to some documents obtained by The News-Gazette, has spent more than $70,000 on legal bills in his fight with the university.

Wozniak declined to respond to questions from The News-Gazette, as did his attorney.

Even though he is suspended from teaching, he has continued to be paid his annual salary of $85,124, according to the university.

"He is not teaching, but tenured faculty are expected to also participate in public service and research," Hardy said.

This was not the first time Wozniak has had a run-in with administration. In 1994, he refused to turn in some student grade books, claiming it violated his academic freedom and students' privacy rights, and administrators also suspended him from his teaching duties then. He did return to his post and has won awards for his teaching in the department.

Now that the faculty committee has submitted its report, it is the president's call on whether to follow the committee's recommendations or take another position.

Under the statutes, Wozniak also has the right to appeal decisions to the UI Board of Trustees.

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ronaldo wrote on February 20, 2013 at 8:02 am

Uh, oh.  Someone was offended.  I guess that means we eliminate the offender to make things all happy and gay.

rsp wrote on February 20, 2013 at 9:02 am

I've always wondered what the university spent on this. And why. I've always had the impression it was more about egos than wrongdoing. 

wayward wrote on February 20, 2013 at 10:02 am

If he's been teaching since 1966, seems like he's retirement age.  Could the U promise him emeritus status if he'd do that?

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

Only in academia.....  the last bastion of the Middle Ages.  Maybe, they will banish him to the UIS campus in Springfield.

Fromthearea wrote on February 20, 2013 at 10:02 am

Another black mark on the long list of black marks on the UI.  I wonder if prospective students ever take time to dig around on the news gazette's website to find out what they're in for before accepting?  It's not what it used to be around here.

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

It's EXACTLY what it used to be. Except now we know about it. I would argue that now is actually better. I prefer to be informed.

bluegrass wrote on February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

Kudos to the faculty committee for standing up for one of their own!  What a joke.

How long do you think it would take to fire you if you sent a company email to a bunch of college age kids joking about having sex with grandkids, or more the point joking that you would only remember the names of the employees (students) who have had (would have) sex with you?  You know the answer, because if you have a brain at all you cringed at the mere thought of it.  But I guess that's what passes for academic freedom at the U of I.  Isn't it embarrassing?

Toss him Mr. Easter, and then let the Board of Trustees have a look, so we can see what the newly appointed Mr. Fitzgerald thinks of these report findings.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

It hurts me to say this to you, bluegrass.  Good comment.  I agree with you.

vcponsardin wrote on February 20, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Interesting case.  Here's a professor with years of experience at the U of I and with a list of teaching awards as long as your arm.  Seems his one major academic failing is a lack of substantial research and publication--which is probably why he's still an associate professor after all these years.  In many ways, he's precisely the sort of professor most people who are unfamiliar with how a major research university operates would LOVE to have on the faculty--a professor who actually teaches and teaches well apparently.  Yup, he made some inappropriate comments in a joke he emailed to his students.  But he didn't actually do anything inappropriate, like having sex with his students.  He merely posted an inappropriate joke for which he clearly apologized.  Seems to me the more likely scenario is that the university merely wants to get rid of him due to his age and lack of research productivity and were hoping this emailed joke in poor taste would do the trick.  Apparently not.  Despite this bad joke, the students seem to like him.

Deputy Fife wrote on February 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm

"Yup, he made some inappropriate comments in a joke he emailed to his students.  But he didn't actually do anything inappropriate, like having sex with his students."

So, if he emailed racial or homophobic comments to his students, it would be okay as long as he didn't burn a cross on the quad or physically attack someone who is openly gay?

vcponsardin wrote on February 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

You conveniently missed the part where this professor admitted his comments were meant only as a joke and were in poor taste for which he then apologized.  So yup.  Given those circumstances--as distasteful as sexist, homophobic and racist comments are--if a professor admits his mistake, acknowledges that they were meant as an ill-conceived joke in very poor taste, there's not much we can do or should do about it...  Who hasn't done such a thing?

Deputy Fife wrote on February 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm

 

No, I didn't miss the part where he apologized.  Apology accepted, but there are still repercussions for his comments, made as a professor to his students.  These were not comments made off the cuff and inadvertantly overheard in the hallway or in the men's room or at a bar.  There are many professional and public figures who have lost a job or ruined a career even though they apologized for inappropriate comments.  What makes it even more creepy is a man, who is old enough to be a grandfather, e-mailing 18-22 year old young adults, who are young enough to be his grandchildren, suggesting he would engage in sexual relations with some of them.  There is no way I would allow my daughter to be instructed by this person, even though he apologized and tried to explain away his inappropriate comments after the fact as a bad attempt at a joke.  In your world anyone can say anything and not suffer any repercussions as long as they apologize before they put their words into action?

If a manager at any large corporation in America sent an e-mail to all subordinates about how the manager would remember the names of the subordinates if they have sex with manger and then the manager explained to superiors that it was just a joke and apologized, that manager would no longer be employed at that company...unless, appearantly, they work for a state university.

Kilgore Trout wrote on February 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm
Profile Picture

What, an excentric engineering professor?  Horrors!  This matter illustrates what is wrong with modern academia.  In the interest of full disclosure, Professor Wozniak was a an advisor of mine in the 1970's.  He was an excellent instructor and highly respected by his students. The student vote in that regard speaks for itself.


My sense is that he may be a little too conservative for his politically correct and hyper-sensitive superiors. For this he has had to undergo a new age inquisition at the hands of (publicly) well-funded bureaucrats. A pox on them.  My legislative friends in Springfield will hear about this.  


P.S.  Free the Chief!

Danno wrote on February 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm

If that's your picture, did Wozniak advise you on 'dressing'? What is that you're holding...a bowl of Humble Pie? I'm not an angel but, Sid is right, Tenure is archiac. Dismissal.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Let's not pretend it was all about some poor jokes in e-mails.  The refusal to turn in student grade books back in 1994 should be examined to help the readers understand the professor's history better.  Why were the grade books not provided under the so called protection of "academic freedom"?  Many remember the battle at the time, and the reason for the grade books to be released to the professor's employer, the U of I.

All of it adds up to the need for discussion of the archaic concept of tenure.  Tenure does relate to academic freedom; but it crosses the line when the legal rights of others are infringed upon.  Academic freedom is not a free pass for doing whatever you want to do.

Lostinspace wrote on February 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm

The campus is a joke-free environment.

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 20, 2013 at 8:02 pm

On the contrary I laugh out loud at something the University Administration said or did almost every day.

Danno wrote on February 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Though not of same magnitude; sharing a student's grades amongst a student's peers could be akin to your Doctor sharing your medical records amongst your co-workers. Wozniak's salary stuck at $85,124.04 for four years (not producing?). Recently arrested Prof. Gross's increased 7%+ smame time frame.

Lookit' my growling face and all my shiny awards. Lookit' my contacts. Tenure is so entrenched, it's...it's...Where's my Cartel Taco?

Danno wrote on February 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm

"...disclosed a student's grades to others...". Got it, Nietzsce?

danrice56 wrote on February 21, 2013 at 1:02 am

Kilgore Trout's profile picture is clearly one of Alice Cooper.

GoingtoHeck wrote on February 21, 2013 at 9:02 am

I’ve known Lou Wozniak for nearly 20 years.  He has little or no respect for privacy.  He seems to thrive on dissidence.  Evidence of a social conscience is sorely lacking.  He constantly whines about how mistreated he’s been by various offices of the University.  He seems to require being in the spotlight.  He is often disruptive to the mission of the University.  Are these reasons to revoke his tenure?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

But … as a taxpayer of the State of Illinois, here’s what I see.  The University cannot let this man teach.  Regardless of whether his teaching skills are good or bad, he has proven over and over that he cannot be trusted with student records.  His ‘style’ of interaction with the students as evidenced by his recent email referencing sex with the students (intended joke or not) is inappropriate and cannot be tolerated.  So, he can’t teach, he does little/no research, and if he can be said to engage in public service, well … it’s certainly not the type of public service anyone would wish to encourage.  That said, why in the heck is the University still paying this man’s salary?????  In my opinion, he is a leech on the system and should have been dismissed years ago!

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

This guy is kind of creepy with that email as his idea of a joke but I once had a female supervisor who asked a co-worker to get her camera and take pictures of F&S workers butts while they worked on the roof so she could look at them later. (no joke) She had to go to some sensitivity training BS which in my opinion, if you have to go to a class as an adult to be told not to be a creep or a bigot you are already beyond external help. If they fire him they fire him but I doubt that will happen.

If he did this as a corrupt administrator and then got bumped back into his tenured position, Chancellor Wise would be sending out emails asking us to join her in thanking him for his years of wonderful contributions.

The University is so screwed up. Our new motto should be "Hey at least we're not Penn State"!

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm

He will not get fired.  He is one of them.  Goodness forbid that a precedence is set in firing a prof with tenure.  That could lead to a multitude of work rules being enforced.  It could lead to accountability for work, and personal behavior.  Tenure under the guise of academic freedom does not allow for doing whatever you want. 

Will someone name the last Ph.D. to lose tenure, and be fired?

Danno wrote on February 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Uh Oh Sid...can 'o worms. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/07/09/university-illinois-instructor-fired-catholic-beliefs/

Concerns Professor/Confessor Ken Howell; Catholic beliefs, exam prep, etc.

Just a quick search shows many(?) across our nation fired. Across many fields of study. They all go to their own state 'Board of Regents' to appeal.

Where's Wise? (Whose 'Wise').

My error, perhaps Prof Howell was not 'tenured.'

 

True Story wrote on February 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm

...you mean eccentric..?

Just because someone is highly regarded or liked by some people doesn't excuse any wrongdoings they do.  That doesn't make sense.  It also appears, if I'm reading correctly, that he did more wrong than just a really, really awful joke.  Why should he not face any reprecussions (and in fact be rewarded.  He's being getting paid for over 2 years without having to do anything), just because "you" liked him 30+ years ago?

Kilgore Trout wrote on February 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Profile Picture

Yes, eccentric.  Mea culpa.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Dr. Lisa Troyer was an eccentric.  All of the academics at the U of I who engaged in scandalous behavior were eccentrics? 

In what year did the last Ph.D. with tenure lose their tenure?

 

 

Mentor wrote on March 26, 2013 at 8:03 am

Being a father with a son very interested in attending UofI next year, it sounds like most on this blog feel very negative about the university in general.  We are from the east coast and we have great universities here as well as ones we have visited in the Big 10, but Illinois did a great job when we visited the engineering program for a tour last summer.  The students were first rate.  It became my son's number one choice.  Now, I am not so sure and decision time is near.  Not because of Dr. Wozniak and his ethical lapse, but because of the attitude I see displayed here in some of these comments. 

I actually met Dr. Wozniak several years ago and hired one of his grad students for an internship in automotive research.  I found the professor to be genuinely interested in the well-being of his grads, in research and emerging advanced technologies and in the university in general.  Had it not been for him, I would not have visited and attended capstone presentations.  What he personally published was not of great concern to me.  I'm from the real world and I have to get work done.  Publishing is important for universities but industry needs a lot more than that from our leading academic institutions.

ClearVision wrote on March 27, 2013 at 10:03 am

ILooking at these types of replies for accurate data is like watching Fox News to get facts. What you see is generally a few malcontents with extremely skewed agendas and too much time on their hands. They'd cut off their own noses to spite their faces. For example, one frequent commenter spares no opportunity to slander University administration, faculty, and academic professionals, all the while ignoring the many and various warts on the local unions and unionized staff. If that person had his/her way, we would have no university here at all... and hence no cushy jobs for the unionized laborers. Smart, eh? It's the us versus them mentality taken to an extreme.

As for attending any public university in the state of Illinois, you may consider looking at the state of the state's economy, and the state's funding history for said public universities. What will it look like for the next four years? It's for you to decide.