In this Sept. 12, 2013 photo, University of Illinois engineering Professor Lou Wozniak stands outside the office of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering in Urbana. | AP
Updated: December 16, 2013 6:23AM
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted Thursday to revoke the tenure of a popular engineering professor — an unprecedented move in the institution’s 146-year history.
The unanimous vote ends the career of Louis Wozniak, who began at the university more than 50 years ago. A university spokesman did not know of another tenure dispute in the school’s history that had reached the trustees.
“Tenure is a matter of fundamental importance to the University of Illinois, ...” read to a board statement released after the vote. “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.”
Wozniak had been suspended with pay from his $85,000-a-year job since 2010, after the university administration filed eight charges against him, including harassing a student, improperly obtaining and publishing grades, and sending an email to students that included a sexual reference. A faculty review committee, however, while describing Wozniak as “self-righteous, obsessed and insensitive,” found Wozniak only erred in one area and said a three-year paid suspension was sufficient. The administration disagreed.
Wozniak’s dismissal was to take effect immediately.
“There is nothing more fundamental to the mission of a university than to protect its relationships with its students,” according to the board. “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.”
Wozniak could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wozniak’s problems began in 2009 when he was passed over for a student-administered teaching award after receiving the most votes. The award, which Wozniak had won previously, is given by two engineering fraternities and was traditionally presented to the top vote-getter after graduating seniors were polled.
This time, students in consultation with a department official awarded the $500 prize and a plaque to someone else.
Wozniak is charged with harassing one of the students involved in the award by publicizing a private conversation the two had, improperly disclosing a grade he gave her, and other offenses including the one that got him suspended in 2010. That involved an email to graduating seniors that jokingly referred to having had sex with some of his “adorable GKs,” referring to “grandkids,” a nickname he bestows on students. He apologized the next day in a follow-up message and told superiors he’d never had sex with any students.