Trustees take no action after four-hour hearing on professor

CHICAGO — University of Illinois trustees took no action Monday following a more than four-hour, closed-door hearing in Chicago to discuss the possible dismissal of a tenured professor.

UI President Robert Easter has recommended trustees terminate the tenure of longtime engineering Professor Louis Wozniak following several allegations of misconduct. Wozniak is an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering. A faculty member since 1966, he has been prohibited from teaching since 2010.

On Monday afternoon, Wozniak declined to discuss specifics of the hearing but did say he expects a decision from the board in about a month.

The Monday morning hearing was a rare occurrence for the board; cases usually are settled quietly before advancing to the level of the board, which is the final decision-maker on such matters. The last time university trustees convened a hearing to terminate tenure, which is essentially dismissal of a tenured faculty member, was believed to have occurred in the1960s, according to university archives.

UI spokesman Tom Hardy also declined to comment about the hearing, except to say that no decision or action was taken. According to the university statues governing faculty dismissal, public statements about a case should be avoided until the proceedings have concluded, Hardy said.

A decision on Wozniak would likely take the form of a board item on the agenda of a public meeting. Barring any emergency meeting that could be called, the next time the full board meets is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Springfield.

If the board agrees with Easter and decides the professor should be dismissed, Wozniak could be ordered to leave campus no less than one year from whenever the board issues its decision, unless the board "in its discretion, determines that an earlier effective date is justified by the gravity of the appointee's conduct in question," according to the statutes.

The case stems from a dispute about a teaching award given out several years ago. University administrators have claimed Wozniak, after learning he received the most student votes for the 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 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 apologized to students and said the joke was in bad taste.

The campus's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure reviewed his case and held hearings in 2011. Its report concluded Wozniak should keep his job and recommended lifting Wozniak's suspension from teaching if he met certain conditions, which included refraining from talking to students about the award or publishing student information. The university claims Wozniak has not followed those conditions, which he disputes.

Earlier this year Easter forwarded charges seeking dismissal of Wozniak to trustees.

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