UI trustees to consider firing tenured professor at special meeting

UI trustees to consider firing tenured professor at special meeting

URBANA — University of Illinois trustees could take the rare step of firing a tenured faculty member Friday at a special board meeting in Chicago.

The agenda includes a "Resolution and decision for dismissal of professor pursuant to Article X of the University Statutes," the provision governing tenure for academic staff members, which allows dismissal and revocation of tenure for "due cause."

The identity of the professor and other details about the case were not provided, and UI spokesman Tom Hardy and others refused to give the reason for the dismissal or the department involved.

Professor Mark Steinberg, chairman of the Urbana campus' Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which considers faculty-discipline cases, said he couldn't talk about the case until after the board's vote Friday.

"The university has been considering this case for a long time, including many parties, CAFT included. I have been advised that once the board makes a decision, that will be public. I assume they will summarize the particulars and the process," he wrote in an email from London, where he is attending a conference.

The board held a five-hour closed-door meeting in Chicago on Nov. 16, citing the "university employment or appointment-related matters" exemption in the Illinois Open Meetings Act, but Hardy wouldn't say whether that was part of the dismissal proceedings.

"We don't talk about executive sessions," Hardy said Wednesday.

The case does not appear to be connected to the recent sexual-misconduct case at the College of Law.

Hardy said he wasn't aware of any pushback on this case from the American Association of University Professors, which advocates for faculty due-process rights.

Harry Hilton, president of the campus AAUP chapter, said Wednesday his group wasn't familiar with it but said most cases are kept confidential unless the person involved contacts the group.

This is only the second faculty-dismissal case to come before the board of trustees since the 1960s.

"Tenure is awarded selectively, and it is relatively rare for situations to emerge at which revocation of tenure is considered," Hardy said.

Criteria for dismissal

Under University Statutes, due cause for dismissal or removal of tenure exists only if one of three conditions is met: The faculty member has been "grossly neglectful of or grossly inefficient" in performing their university duties; their work performance or outside conduct demonstrates "clearly and convincingly" that they can no longer be relied on to perform those duties in a manner "consonant with professional standards of competence and responsibility"; or if the faculty member has, while a university employee, "illegally advocated the overthrow of our constitutional form of government by force or violence."

The president can file dismissal charges against an employee with the Academic Senate, after consultation with the Faculty Advisory Committee.

A faculty member is then entitled to a hearing before the campus senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure with an adviser present. The committee's findings and recommendations are forwarded to trustees or, if it recommends charges be dropped and the president concurs, the case is closed.

If the committee recommends dismissal, or if the president disagrees with the committee's findings against dismissal, the president can forward the case to trustees. The employee then has the right to request a hearing before the board takes action.

Most tenure-dismissal cases are settled quietly before reaching the president or trustees.

Prior terminations

In the 1960s, Leo Koch, an assistant professor of biology, was fired by trustees after he advocated for premarital sex in a letter to the Daily Illini student newspaper. After the UI fired Koch, the AAUP censured the university for what it said was a lack of due process.

And in 2013, after a lengthy hearing, UI trustees voted to fire controversial engineering Professor Lou Wozniak and revoke his tenure.

Wozniak had been on the UI faculty for 50 years and won several teaching awards but also had a history of dustups with administrators. He hadn't taught since 2010, because of a dispute over a teaching award he believed should have gone to him.

Among other allegations, administrators claimed that he 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 Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure concluded that although Wozniak behaved inappropriately, he should not be fired, saying a previous suspension by his department was sufficient. But it imposed certain conditions, such as refraining from talking to students about the award or publishing student information. In seeking dismissal, the university claimed Wozniak did not follow those conditions, which he disputed.

Legal maneuvers

Friday's meeting is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. and will be webcast live at media.uillinois.edu.

The agenda also includes a juris doctor degree for the new UIC John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

UI trustees approved the plan in July to acquire John Marshall, a private law school in downtown Chicago, authorizing Chancellor Michael Amiridis to negotiate a transfer agreement.

The acquisition would take effect in fall 2019, creating Chicago's first public law school. John Marshall would transfer its students, faculty, assets and degree programs to the university over five years.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education approved the acquisition on Dec. 4, and the American Bar Association also has signed off. Approval is still required from the Higher Learning Commission, an accrediting body, and U.S. Department of Education, said UIC spokeswoman Sherri McGinnis.

If all goes according to schedule, the first class of students will enter the merged law school in fall 2019.

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