Updated: UI trustees fire tenured engineering professor
SPRINGFIELD — The University of Illinois Board of Trustees fired a tenured professor Thursday.
Trustees moved to immediately dismiss and revoke the tenure of engineering Professor Louis Wozniak, who has taught on the Urbana campus for almost 50 years.
The decision — trustees have final authority on such matters — represents the final step for firing a tenured member of the faculty.
The university alleged that Wozniak violated the privacy rights of University students and repeatedly ignored warnings to stop.
"It is the finding and conclusion of the board, based upon the evidence and arguments presented, that there is clear and convincing evidence that Louis A. Wozniak can no longer be relied upon to perform university duties in a manner consonant with professional standards of competence and responsibility," the resolution stated.
Because of the "gravity of Professor Wozniak’s misconduct" he should be fired immediately, the resolution said.
"We have clear obligations relative to our students and to the families they come from, to protect a number of their rights if you will, and the concern rose to a level we felt this was necessary," UI President Bob Easter said after the vote.
The three student trustees abstained from voting on Wozniak's dismissal. All other trustees approved the resolution without any public discussion. The report however does say the board reached the decision reluctantly.
"While we recognize that our decision is absolutely necessary to protect the best interests of the university and our students, there can be no winners when the precious right of tenure is revoked," it stated.
Wozniak today told The News-Gazette that he wasn't suprised by the vote but said he is not guilty of the charges filed by the university and will likely challenge the decision in court on free-speech grounds.
"I think it's a political thing," he said.
The vote was a rarity for the university, where most faculty dismissal cases are settled quietly, well before escalating to a faculty commitee or trustee hearing. The last time trustees were believed to have weighed in on a faculty appointment was in the early 1960s when they upheld then-President David Dodds Henry's decision to terminate assistant Professor Leo Koch's employment after he advocated for premarital sex in a newspaper editorial.
The 75-year-old Wozniak hasn’t taught classes since 2010 when the campus started proceedings against him. Wozniak, who has been a member of the faculty member since 1966, has a history of dust-ups with campus administrators. In the 1990s he refused to turn in some student grade books, claiming it violated his academic freedom and privacy rights of students. He was suspended from teaching, but later resumed his teaching duties and went on to win some teaching awards. The current case stems from a dispute several years ago about a teaching award, given by students in the College of Engineering, that he believes should have been gone to him.
Administrators have claimed 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 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.
In 2011 a faculty committee began reviewing his case and after a lengthy review, the group concluded that Wozniak should keep his job.
However the recommendation to lift Wozniak’s teaching suspension came with the condition that he refrain from talking to students about the award or publishing student information. The university claims Wozniak has not followed those conditions, which he disputes.
Wozniak said he's done his best to comply with the committee's condition but characterized it as a "muzzling order."
"I have a freedom of speech right," he said.
"There was no merit in any of the charges," Wozniak added, saying his joke was "found to be a joke" and was not grounds for dismissal.
As an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, his salary was $85,549 a year. A graduate of the Urbana-Champaign campus, he had been a faculty member since 1967 and a tenured faculty member since 1972.
The trustees' report on the case said: "Tenure is a matter of fundamental importance to the University of Illinois. . . . The University awards tenure very selectively and it is rare for situations to emerge in which revocation of tenure is considered. We do not consider revocation of tenure lightly."
But it said Wozniak had ignored repeated warnings and published confidential student information without apology.
"There is nothing more fundamental to the mission of a university than to protect its relationships with its students," the report said. "This includes ensuring that student confidences are maintained and that information is not published about them without the consent required by university policies. Every student of this university deserves nothing less than our complete and unwavering support of these policies. Prof. Wozniak has refused to meet this most basic understanding. His termination, therefore, must be effective immediately.”
The board relied on recommendations from faculty who previously reviewed Wozniak’s actions, including the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the Grievance Committee of the College of Engineering, the Faculty Advisory Committee, and members of the Faculty Senate, officials said.
"It's almost a unique experience in the history of the university and I think it’s been very difficult for all of us," Easter said. "We’ve come to the point of having to make a decision. ... I made the decision at the point it came to my desk. And the board has made a decision, as have others in the process beginning with the college."
Still in his office Thursday afternoon, Wozniak appeared pragmatic. He had cleared out most of his personal items earlier in the week.
"I'm the most lucky fellow of having had the honor and the privilege of teaching students of the quality that I've been teaching and forming and cementing permanent friendships with many of them," he said.
"I am hoping by falling on the sword in the field will be cause to awaken some of the more slumbery faculty of the need for a union, the need to be organized, and the need to put shared governance back on life support and try to rehabilitate it to a working status," Wozniak said.
Engineering Professor Roy Campbell, who also chairs Urbana’s Academic Senate, said it seemed that Wozniak was unwilling to negotiate.
"It's sad to see his career end this way. I hate to see any professor in a situation where he can’t finish his career in a good way and leave a legacy. The legacy he’s leaving has a bitter taste," Campbell said.
Other action Thursday by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees:
— UIC chancellor contract extended: The board approved a one-year contract extension for UI Chicago Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares on Thursday and made her eligible for a performance-based bonus.
Allen-Meares became chancellor in January 2009 and currently earns $422,458 a year. In line with a recent shift in thinking on bonuses, trustees approved plans for Allen-Meares to meet with UI President Bob Easter to review current and future goals. The amount of her bonus will be awarded in January 2015, in addition to a base salary adjustment in accordance with the university's salary plan.
— Health center reorganization: The board approved a major reorganization of the university's billion-dollar health enterprise, bringing oversight of the academic health center back to the Chicago campus.
The UI will eliminate a central administrative office established by former President Michael Hogan and instead create a vice chancellor for health affairs office, which would include the hospital, clinics and faculty practice.
The UI may also have the medical colleges report to the vice chancellor, bringing the academic and clinical operations under one office. Additional details will be presented to the board in March 2014.
— State Farm Center renovation: Trustees approved the first package of construction contracts for the hall's $165 million renovation. The contracts, worth a total of about $11 million, cover early-stage earth work, some plumbing and electrical, ventilation and demolition.
A comprehensive financing package for the project is expected to be brought to the board in January. The renovation work will be conducted in several phases to accommodate two men's basketball seasons, with completion scheduled by fall 2016.
— Honorary degrees: The board approved an honorary doctoral degree from the Urbana campus for mathematician George Andrews of Pennsylvania State University, a renowned number theorist, as well as honorary doctorates from the Chicago campus for former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley; Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the United Nation's World Food Program; and Shing Tung Yau, the William Caspar Graustein Professor of Mathematics at Harvard University.