May 15, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 15-cv-2275 - Colin S. Bruce, Judge.
WOOD, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and Hamilton, Circuit
EASTERBROOK, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
University of Illinois fired Louis Wozniak in 2013. Until
then he had tenure on the faculty of the College of
Engineering. But after Wozniak waged an extended campaign
against students who did not give him an award, the
University's Board of Trustees decided that he had
violated the institution's norms and rules, including the
need to treat students with respect. As he had done before
when the University insisted that he follow school policies,
Wozniak responded with a federal lawsuit. He lost the last
time, see Wozniak v. Conry, 236 F.3d 888 (7th Cir.
2001), and loses this time too.
district court's lengthy opinion granting summary
judgment to the defendants, 368 F.Supp.3d 1217 (CD. 111.
2018), sets out all the pertinent facts, and then some, so we
can be brief. Two student honor societies at the College of
Engineering jointly give an annual teaching award. In spring
2009 they presented the award to Professor Ali E. Abbas.
Wozniak thought that he should have received the award and
set out to investigate. He called the head of one honor
society to his office, aggressively interrogated her, got her
to cry, and repeated the process with one of the
University's employees (who did not cry but was
distressed). He then posted on his website information
criticizing the student heads of the honor societies and
enabling readers to determine their identities. That violated
the University's policies as well as conditions attached
to the University's federal grants. 20 U.S.C.
College's Dean started tenure-revocation proceedings. The
University's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure
investigated, held hearings, and received submissions from
the Interim Chancellor and Wozniak. The Committee concluded
that Wozniak had engaged in several kinds of misconduct but
that loss of tenure would be an excessive response. The
University's President presented the matter to the Board
of Trustees, which held ultimate authority. It conducted its
own hearing, including live testimony and cross-examination.
Disagreeing with the Committee, the Board thought
Wozniak's conduct a firing offense.
reason for the difference in opinion is what Wozniak did
after the Committee issued its report: he posted the entire
document, and all evidence the Committee received, on his
website, revealing the identities of the students involved
and the distress they felt at Wozniak's conduct. He
included a link to this material in the signature block of
every email he sent from his University account. Wozniak did
this after the Committee informed him that disseminating
identifying information about the students would be grounds
for dismissal. Told by the Dean to remove this material,
Wozniak refused. Inconsiderate and insubordinate is the most
charitable description one can attach to this conduct.
the Committee's hearing, Wozniak had sought to
interrogate the students further about the circumstances
leading to the award. After they refused to speak with him,
Wozniak filed a civil suit in state court seeking damages
from them. He concedes that the sole reason for filing this
suit was to get a judicial order requiring the students to
sit for depositions, and that he planned to dismiss the suit
as soon as that had been done. In other words, Wozniak
concedes committing a tort against the students. (The tort is
abuse of process.) In the event, the state judge dismissed
the suit as frivolous before depositions occurred.
Board concluded that students should not be treated as
Wozniak had done and that students' educational lives
would be better without him on the faculty. Wozniak does not
contend that the Board's decision violated his tenure
contract; instead he accuses the University of violating the
Constitution of the United States.
lead argument is that the First Amendment (applied to the
states through the Fourteenth) entitles faculty members to
make available to the public any information they please, no
matter how embarrassing or distressful to students. This
argument, even if correct, would not carry the day for him:
he was fired for intentionally causing hurt to
students, and refusing to follow the Dean's instructions,
not simply for publicizing the effects of his actions.
What's more, the argument is not correct.
acted in his capacity as a teacher. The subject of the award
was teaching; he called students into his faculty office (a
power he possessed by virtue of his job) and used his
position to inflict the injuries that precipitated his
discharge. Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 421
(2006), holds that the First Amendment does not govern how
employers respond to speech that is part of a public
employee's job. Wozniak tells us that his conduct was not
part of his duties, and in a sense this is right: it did not
concern how he ran his classroom, graded exams, assisted
students in conducting experiments or writing papers, or
conducted his own research and scholarship. Those are core
academic duties. Yet how faculty members relate to students
is part of their jobs, which makes Ceballos
applicable. See Brown v. Chicago Board of Education,
824 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2016). Professors who harass and
humiliate students cannot successfully teach them, and a
shell-shocked student may have difficulty learning in other
professors' classes. A university that permits professors
to degrade students and commit torts against them cannot
fulfill its educational functions.
is another route to the same conclusion. Speech that concerns
personal job-related matters is outside the scope of the
First Amendment, even if that speech is not among the
job's duties. See, e.g., Connick v. Myers, 461
U.S. 138 (1983). Whether an award by two student societies
(accompanied by $500 and a plaque) went to Abbas or to
Wozniak may have been important to Wozniak, but it is not a
matter of public concern. Employers can insist that such
matters of personnel administration be handled
confidentially, using the employer's preferred means.
See, e.g., Bivens v. Trent, 591 F.3d 555, 560-62
(7th Cir. 2010). By humiliating students as a matter of
self-gratification and persisting in defiance of the
Dean's instructions, Wozniak left himself open to
discipline consistent with the Constitution.
second argument is that the Board violated the Due Process
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Tenured professors at
public universities have property interests in their jobs and
are entitled to notice and an opportunity for a hearing
before they may be deprived of that interest. Compare
Board of Regents v. Roth,408 U.S. 564 (1972), with
Perry v. Sindermann,408 U.S. 593 (1972). But the
Dean gave Wozniak formal notice, and he then had two
hearings-one before the Committee and one before the Board.
At each he was represented by counsel and allowed to call
witnesses and present argument. He was entitled as well to an
impartial decisionmaker, see Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal
Co.,556 U.S. 868 (2009); Peters v. Kiff, 407
U.S. 493 (1972), and the University honored that entitlement: