Illinois Public Media News
Longtime University of Illinois administrator Robert Easter began work on Monday as the university's newest president. He comes into an office that has been marked by controversy in recent years.
Within the last three years, two U of I presidents have resigned. Easter said he is focused on creating a sense of stability at the university, and making education affordable despite lagging state support for higher education. He told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that he has spent a lot of time over the last few months talking with faculty and students about their concerns.
EASTER: What I'm hearing is we want to be part of any decision, and as a longtime faculty member, I resonate with that. The faculty in some sense are the university. They embody the values of the institution. They embody the knowledge base. They are what make the university. They because of what they do in their individual disciplines within their departments have more insight than any of us in leadership have to what's the best strategy for moving forward. Our role is to capture their insights, to understand them, and then to work within the constraints that we have financial and otherwise to move the institution forward.
POWERS: How have you been able to address their concerns and their comments? Have you been able to in this short amount of time?
EASTER: One of the early conversations we had was around pension reform, and I think in formulating the positions that we have taken and been asked to do so, we've tried to consider their viewpoints on what might work and I think we've been very effective in doing that.
POWERS: On the issue of pension reform, this past month more faculty and staff did retire from Illinois' community colleges and state universities than in recent memory, and for the three campuses at the University of Illinois, retirements for the last fiscal year topped a thousand...large number of people leaving their jobs comes a few months after Governor Quinn introduced a plan that would leave state employees, university workers, and teachers with smaller pensions. With fewer trained and skilled staff on all three campuses, what will this mean for the university next semester?
EASTER: I think it means that we have opportunities, perhaps larger than in the normal year to re-energize our campus, to choose to make directional changes as appropriate, and that's the responsibility of the local level to figure out what that is. It also gives us the opportunity to ask the question where we had two staff doing this previously, could we with technology do that same job with less input, and thus control cost and tuition increases and so forth.
POWERS: Do you see a lot of people taking on multiple roles in the next year because of all of this?
EASTER: Yeah, I do. I think we have a long tradition in units when there are retirements that others step in to make sure that the programmatic needs are met, that the quality remains constant, but at the same time, we may well find ourselves needing to bring some people back if they're willing to fill in on a part time basis. As you well know, the legislature did put some boundaries around that, and as we have those conversations going forward a year from now, we'll be very conscious of those boundaries.
POWERS: What is your plan right now in terms of tuition?
EASTER: The board of trustees put in place a policy...I think two years ago now thinking back when it took place...that constrains the increases in tuition to (the rate of inflation), and my goal would be to stay within those boundaries. As cost increase, inevitably tuition reflects that. If we go through a period of minimal cost increase, one would hope we would have minimal tuition increases.
POWERS: The University has had a rough period over the last few years. It's been marked by the admissions scandal, the enrollment management policy that was highly criticized, resignations of two presidents...what do you say to prospective students who look at the U of I and ask themselves, 'Why should I go here? This place doesn't necessarily seem to have its act together.'
EASTER: The University of Illinois is a very robust organization, and the true values of the university lie within the faculty. They lie within the staff, the very competent staff. They lie within the department leadership, and college leadership, and campus leadership. I think those intuitions, those individuals are incredibly strong. The ship, if you will, is rock solid, and I have absolutely no problem telling anyone that this is still a great institution.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Gov. Mitch Daniels is touting state cash reserves he says will send an additional $100 to each Indiana taxpayer through automatic tax credits next year.
Daniels said Tuesday he expects the state to close its books for the fiscal year with $2 billion in cash reserves. Roughly $300 million would go to 2013's tax credits and another $300 million would go toward the state's unfunded teacher pension liability.
Final numbers won't be available for at least another week as state budget leaders continue wrapping up the fiscal year that ended Saturday.
The cash reserves have come from a mix of three major factors _ improved tax collections, spending cuts to state agencies and an error in which the Daniels administration discovered $320 million in untouched tax collections.
Former Cook County commissioner Joseph Moreno and former Chicago Alderman Ambrosio Medrano are being charged for taking bribes.
Prosecutors say Moreno took a $5,000 bribe to insure development of a waste transfer station in Cicero while he sat on the town's economic development panel. They say he also used his position as a Cook County commissioner to get kickbacks for pushing Stroger Hospital to buy bandages from a particular company.
Ambrosio Medrano worked for Commissioner Moreno. He's also charged, but he was also a Chicago alderman who pleaded guilty in 1996 in another bribery scheme. Medrano is being held in jail because prosecutors say he's a flight risk. Judge Young Kim will hear more on that at a hearing on Tuesday.
The charges were unsealed Thursday afternoon in Chicago federal court. Medrano and Moreno were among seven defendants charged in the case.
An Illinois House committee plans to meet in Chicago to discuss whether to expel state Rep. Derrick Smith.
The Chicago Democrat was arrested in March in an FBI sting in which he's accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe in exchange for helping a phony daycare center obtain a state grant. He's pleaded not guilty to federal charges.
A House panel concluded this month that there's enough evidence to justify action against him in the legislature. Penalties could include, reprimand, censure or expulsion.
Despite his arrest, Smith easily won his March primary battle and remains on the November ballot. Top Democrats have been calling on him to resign, but he's refused.
The House committee is meeting Wednesday, and a status hearing is scheduled Thursday in Smith's federal case.
A former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson still wants to replace his former boss on the November ballot in spite of Johnson saying he shouldn't.
Dave Bender is a spokesman for former chief of staff Jerry Clarke. Bender says Clarke still hopes to replace Johnson on the ballot in the 13th Congressional District.
Johnson announced this month that he will end his re-election campaign and retire. Clarke is among a number of people who hope to replace him.
A Johnson spokesman said Thursday that the congressman believes Clarke should be excluded after suggestions were made by some Republicans that Johnson withdrew after winning the March primary to benefit Clarke. Johnson's decision means GOP county chairmen rather than voters are choosing who will run in November.
Convicted former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is losing his law license.
The Indiana Supreme Court issued an order Wednesday suspending White's law license on an interim basis effective May 10th because of his convictions earlier this year on six felonies including vote fraud, perjury and theft. The charges stem from using his ex-wife's address as his voting address when he was serving on the Fishers Town Council and running for secretary of state in 2010.
White was sentenced Feb. 23 to one year of home detention. He has said he plans to appeal his convictions, which also cost him his elected office.
An email message seeking comment was sent to White.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson says a former chief of staff shouldn't replace him on the November ballot after some questioned whether Johnson's planned retirement was engineered to benefit him.
Jerry Clarke is among a number of Republicans who say they would like to replace Johnson. The longtime congressman announced earlier this month that he will end his re-election campaign and retire.
Johnson said in a statement Thursday that none of his former staff members should be considered.
Spokesman Phil Bloomer said that includes Clarke. Bloomer said Johnson issued the statement because of suggestions made by some Republicans that Johnson withdrew after winning the primary to benefit Clarke. His decision means GOP county chairmen rather than voters are choosing who will run in November.
Clarke did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has released a photo of Sen. Mark Kirk that is the first public image of the Illinois Republican since his January stroke.
The photo shows Kirk with closely trimmed hair, looking alert and sitting up as he rests his right arm on a table.
The director of the institute's Center for Stroke Rehabilitation, Dr. Richard Harvey, also gave an update Tuesday on Kirk's progress with recovery.
Harvey says the senator has walked more than 10 miles in total since he arrived at the center in February. He's also able to climb stairs and get in and out of vehicles.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
(Photo courtesy of The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago)
One of the lesser known stories about the Holocaust is what is known as the Kindertransport - rescue missions that brought thousands of mostly Jewish children from Nazi-controlled territories in the months leading up to World War II. One of those children was Champaign resident, Heini Halberstam. He was born in Czechoslovakia, and separated from his mother during the Nazi occupation. He believes she died in a labor camp. Halberstam said that changed his life forever. He tells Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about his experiences on the Kindertransport.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The public got a look at many of the candidates hoping to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) on the November ballot, even though a final nominee will be selected behind closed doors.
Despite the toxic atmosphere in Washington and a Congressional district that doesn't favor Republicans, representing the newly re-drawn 13th district is still a popular job. At least eight candidates have expressed interest in it. Johnson announced earlier this month that he will retire at the end of his current term.
Six of people vying to replace Johnson on the November ballot tested out their campaign running shoes on Monday in Bloomington at the Doubletree Hotel before an audience of party faithfuls.
"Overnight the 13th became a target on the pathway of Nancy Pelosi returning to power," said Congressional staffer Rodney Davis of Taylorville.
"We know Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to recover the House," said Assistant Illinois House Minority Leader Dan Brady (R-Bloomington). "They're opportunist and will invade if they smell there is a chance in a district."
"I'd like to beat Doctor (David) Gill a fourth time to make sure Nancy Pelosi does not become speaker again," said Congressional Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke of Urbana.
Politics is about making connections and most of the aspiring politicians have lot of networks. Three year State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said he can appeal to independents as shown by his results in Macon County
"Probably what I think is seen by Republicans as the tougher part of this Congressional District," McCarter said. "I won that area and I won Decatur, the toughest part of it by a thousand votes."
Former State Rep. Mike Tate one-ups McCarter saying he won Decatur five times in ten years before stepping down to raise a family. Tate said his children are grown now and he can pour himself into a Congressional race that will be enhanced by his business connections as CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois.
"In terms of a campaign operation, I can tell yah I have small business people, independent agents which are like the backbone of their communities," Tate said. "They live in small towns in Illinois and they're the kind of people that are on their church board, active in the rotary club."
There are about 200 days to go before the November election.
State Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) said the profile of a great candidate to deal with that short time frame looks a lot like him - an excellent campaigner. Brady said not only has he held office, but he has helped other Republicans, implying it would be their turn to help him if he is selected.
"I'm proud to say I've campaigned for candidates at every level from city council and county board to President of the United States," Brady said. "From my time as a young man helping to rebuild young Republican groups across the state to my present role as Assistant House Republican Leader, I've made service my driving force."
Brady also touted his name recognition, which could be code for having the same last name as a recent GOP candidate for Governor who did well in counties comprising the 13th district. Call it the Brady effect.
Two other candidates focused on the networks they would have if they won the race against Democratic Candidate David Gill in November.
Jerry Clarke is the current Chief of Staff for Congressman Randy Hultgren, former Chief of Staff for Tim Johnson and a longtime GOP staffer in Springfield. He emphasized his ability to navigate Washington.
"So I've seen the, up close the dysfunction of Congress, the endless gridlock, the out of control spending," Clarke said. "I think we can do better than that and I think I am ready to serve."
The threads that bind the system together are also a specialty of Rodney Davis of Taylorville, who for the last sixteen years has served as the special projects director for Congressman John Shimkus.
"I have helped countless constituents work through the bureaucratic red tape of Washington D.C. and the federal bureaucracy," Davis said. "I've been tasked with helping local leaders in 3 counties identify cost effective ways to address their local infrastructure issues."
A candidate with less of a resume chose to emphasize his social conservatism. David Paul Blumenshine of Bloomington mentioned the Trayvon Martin killing, trying to diminish it compared to the abortion issue.
"We're talking about rioting over a young man and another young man who got into an altercation and unfortunately somebody lost their life," Blumenshine said. "Since Roe v Wade was overturned we killed 50 million people."
Blumenshine incorrectly stated that Roe v. Wade had been overturned, when in fact it has not.
At least five of the 14 county party chiefs who will eventually make the call were watching the presentations. Although some may have already committed to an initial candidate, none are likely to go public with support ahead of a private get together late this month.
When the party had to hurriedly replace a candidate in the 11th district a few years ago, county chairs looked over all the resumes, polled each other, and then invited three finalists to make their cases in person before casting ballots weighted by population.
Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady is charing the panel that will oversee the process of selecting a nominee. He has yet to announce the selection process.
Champaign and Macon Counties have the two largest chunks of the weighted vote in the selection for the 13th Congressional district race.
Champaign County Acting Republican chair Habeeb Habeeb has said that it is possible that a similar forum - like the one held in Bloomington - will be held locally.
The winner of that vote will face presumptive Democratic nominee and three-time candidate, Doctor David Gill in November.
(Photo by Charlie Schlenker/IPR)
A full set of links to county GOP chairmen in the 13th District is listed below.
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