CHAMPAIGN — Former economics Professor Joe Petry left the University of Illinois on May 31, but six months later, some terms of his departure remain unclear, and the UI says his case is still under review.
Petry was publicly accused of sexual harassment by a former student last semester, but he vehemently denied the allegations, insisting their online social interactions were consensual and happened months after she had completed his class, though he admitted using poor judgment.
While the UI investigated the conflicting stories, Petry announced in April that he would retire at the end of May under a separation agreement negotiated with the university. He had been on paid leave and out of the classroom since Feb. 4.
But three days after signing the agreement, the UI backtracked and said it was no longer willing to drop its misconduct investigation as part of that deal.
Contacted this week, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler confirmed that Petry left the university on May 31 and that “the review in question is ongoing.” He did not receive any severance payment, she said.
Through Kaler, UI officials refused to answer other detailed questions about the status of the case or other terms of Petry’s departure.
Under the original four-page separation agreement — which Petry provided to News-Gazette Media last spring through his attorney, John Thies — Petry was to resign from his $98,500-a-year position effective May 31 and the UI’s Office of Access and Equity would end its investigation into the allegations against him and no formal discipline would be imposed.
Under its terms, Petry agreed not to seek another job with the university or “confront any past or current students” about the allegations or take any retaliatory actions. He was allowed to attend athletic events and other public events at the UI but was prohibited from entering other buildings that aren’t open to the general public, including the Activities and Recreation Center.
The agreement apparently did not affect Petry’s pension benefits, but because he resigned, a two-year terminal contract given to members of the non-tenure-track faculty union (unless they’re found to have violated UI policies) did not apply.
The document had been signed on April 11 by Petry and UI Assistant Counsel Claire Sharples Brooks and on April 12 by three other UI officials — Vice President and CFO Avjit Ghosh; VP for Academic Affairs Bill Bernhard; and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Feng Sheng Hu.
But on April 15, according to Petry, Thies was notified of the UI’s “request that the ‘current agreement be superseded and replaced with another resignation agreement that does not reference nor seek to limit the investigation of’ the claim against me.” The UI justified the request by citing “important regulatory and institutional goals and obligations,” he said in a statement last May.
But Petry said he hadn’t agreed to any revisions and argued that any continuation of the investigation was a “clear violation” of the original agreement.
UI officials wouldn’t comment on the agreement or the change of heart at the time, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.
Thies said this week he’s had “no new information” from the university since then about the investigation.
Petry maintains that the ongoing UI review violates the original agreement, Thies said.
Beyond that, he said, “you’ll have to talk to the university.”
The fourth sexual-misconduct case to surface during the 2018-19 school year came into public view when a UI student posted allegations against Petry anonymously on Reddit in early April.
In those posts, and in a later Facebook post where she identified herself, the student claimed that he had sent her numerous messages and photos, encouraged her to send pictures back, and offered to improve her grade in exchange for sex.
She said she had shared photos and texts with UI police in fall 2018 and criticized the UI for allowing him to continue teaching until February, saying he could have harassed other female students during that time. She said other women had contacted her with similar stories about Petry.
But last May, after the Facebook post, Petry released a statement denying the allegations, saying he wanted to “set the record straight.”
He admitted he used poor judgment by sharing photos and having “communications of a social nature” online with a former student after meeting on a social media platform. But he insisted that it was consensual, that he didn’t know at first she was a former student, and that he did not violate any UI policies.
He said they met only once, and he never offered to change her grades in exchange for sex; he said she tried to convince him to change her grade from the previous year.
Around the same time, the student, Summer Sundhas Naqvi, was arrested along with a roommate, Will Ferrell, and charged with intimidation and aggravated unlawful restraint for allegedly threatening Naqvi’s ex-boyfriend so they could delete information from his computer, which the victim believed was related to the sexual-harassment case, authorities said.
Naqvi, now 22, last appeared in Champaign County Circuit Court on Oct. 8, where her case was continued until Dec. 3 for a status hearing, court records show. Ferrell, 23, was scheduled to appear in court Nov. 5, but his case was also continued until Dec. 3.
Naqvi is no longer enrolled at the university.