By Sean Powers, with additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio
The University Of Illinois’ Board of Trustees fired an engineering professor on Thursday who had a 50-year career on the flagship campus in Urbana. U of I administrators say Louis Wozniak is the first tenured professor to be dismissed by the board.
In 2010, Wozniak was put on leave for allegedly harassing a student, improperly obtaining and publishing grades, and sending an email to students containing a sexual reference. U of I President Robert Easter says the board felt he threatened students' rights.
"This has been a long deliberative process governed by the university statutes and the goal throughout has been to give due process to the professor, and we've now arrived at a point where the board has made its decision," Easter said.
"In my history at the University of Illinois, I don't know a case where we've revoked tenure," Easter added.
Wozniak said he is dissapointed by the board's decision, and he denies any wrongdoing. He said he has already spent $120,000 on attorney’s fees defending himself, but is not sure if he will continue that fight.
"You know I’m really, really pleased with the kids, just don’t like the administrators," he said. "They’re all corrupt. They’re all authoritarian. That’s the problem. Life is sweet on one side and bitter on the other.”
Wozniak said faculty should form a union to oppose what he calls an “authoritarian administration.”
Wozniak 's problems began when he investigated why he didn't receive a 2009 teaching award after getting the most votes. Previous to the board's vote on Thursday, a faculty review committee had found Wozniak was in error in just one area, and said his three-year suspension was penalty enough.
A University of Illinois faculty group investigating the suspension of an engineering professor concluded Louis Wozniak should be given a chance to defend himself.
The College of Engineering suspended Wozniak before the start of the semester for allegedly sending an e-mail to his students with sexually suggestive remarks and for videotaping them without their consent during one of his lectures.
Wozniak defended his actions, saying the e-mail in question is being taken out of context, explaining that he occasionally uses sexual innuendos to connect with his students, but he said he first checks with them at the beginning of each semester to make sure they are comfortable with that language. He added that the students who were videotaped were notified that they would be on camera.
Wozniak said after he learned about his dismissal in August, he went to the University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to demand that he be given the right to tell his side of the story.
"(The College of Engineering) can't do this unless the president of the university deems it necessary for the safety of the institution and of the people around me without a hearing," he said.
In its report, the committee stated: "The issue before us is whether the university adhered to the university's statutes in acting as it did, i.e., in failing to afford him a hearing on these allegations and a faculty determination of what sanction should be imposed, if any."
It did not conclude whether action should be taken against Wozniak.
Wozniak was moved to an office away from his department where he is focusing on his research and public service. He said the dean of the College of Engineering, Ilesanmi Adesida, should allow him to clear his name in a hearing or simply put him back in the classroom.
"I would welcome the opportunity to be able to answer to these frivolous and false charges that he's made," said Wozniak.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined to comment on the case, simply saying, "The freedoms of tenure are not absolute, but carry with them responsibilities to respect the dignity and rights of all other members of the campus community."
A formal hearing for Wozniak has not been set. Wozniak, who has taught at the U of I for more than 40 years, said he hopes to get back to teaching by the spring semester.
(Courtesy of The Energy Development and Power Generation Comittee)