University of Illinois dismisses tenured professor

University of Illinois. (File photo)

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Friday dismissed a tenured professor in Urbana-Champaign following allegations that he falsified and fabricated research data in federal grant applications, neglected to properly mentor his graduate students, and failed to take responsibility for errors that occurred in his lab.
Trustees voted to remove the tenure of Fei Wang, an associate professor of biology, and terminate his employment effective immediately.
In a resolution approved at a special meeting in Chicago, trustees said: “It is the finding and conclusion of the Board, based on evidence and arguments presented, that Fei Wang has been grossly neglectful of or grossly inefficient in the performance of his university duties and functions, and there is clear and convincing evidence that Fei Wang can no longer be relied upon to perform university duties and functions in a manner consonant with professional standards of competence and responsibility.”
Tenure is an employment policy intended to preserve academic freedom and protect faculty from being terminated without due cause. Wang had been a tenured faculty member since 2012 as an associate professor in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, a part of the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
The accusations against Wang were first made in 2014, followed by an extended period of faculty review that included an Investigative Panel of faculty knowledgeable in the subject matter. A review followed by the Urbana-Champaign Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure (CAFT), which issued its final report last April recommending dismissal.
According to the CAFT report, Wang’s research misconduct included:
Falsification of data, including the submission of images of mouse cells instead of human cells in a funding grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
References to results of experiments that had not been conducted;
Measurements (“error bars”) of research results that bore no relationship to actual experimental data;
Falsified data and misleading statements in connection with a 2009 grant application to the National Science Foundation (NSF);
Failure to provide adequate guidance to graduate students in the fundamentals of research and laboratory procedures.
Wang was entitled by University Statutes to a hearing before the Board of Trustees, which took place in executive session last month. A “Report of the Board of Trustees in the Matter of Professor Fei Wang” accompanied the resolution trustees approved Friday. The Board concluded that the allegations were supported by “clear and convincing evidence.” The report also chronicled the extensive due process afforded Wang beginning in 2014.
“While any conclusions we reach must be those of this Board alone, we must give ‘due consideration to the findings, conclusions and recommendations’ of CAFT and (the) record,” trustees wrote.
“We are honored to serve as trustees of the University of Illinois and to preserve and maintain a history of scholarship and research that spans more than 150 years,” trustees stated in their report. “We can only appropriately safeguard that legacy by requiring that our faculty meet, if not exceed, a standard of excellence, integrity and professionalism. Unfortunately, Prof. Wang has not.”
Trustees further stated: “Given the gravity of the misconduct in question and its impact on the University and our students, we conclude that this dismissal should be effective immediately.”
The vote among the nine at-large trustees was seven in favor of dismissal and two abstentions by two trustees who were unable to attend the board hearing last month. Student trustees by law cannot vote on tenure matters.
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