Illinois Public Media News
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.
There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.
The University of Illinois' Senate Executive Committee held the first in a series of forum's Monday to discuss three administrative changes introduced by University President Michael Hogan at last month's Board of Trustees meeting.
One of the proposals covered at the meeting was about adding a new vice president who would oversee health services at all three campuses. The Board of Trustees approved a 3.9 percent increase in its operating budget last month, even with about a $245 million backlog in payments from the state.
U of I officials have said cuts and consolidations would help offset the cost of creating this new position.
Harriet Murav, who teaches in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, attended the forum. Murav said she is worried changes to the university's administrative structure could mean other departments and programs will take a hit.
"How could it possibly make sense to take funding away?" she asked. "Class size has gone up. Tuition waivers have gone down. Academic salaries have gone down because we're bleeding faculty."
Some of the other administrative changes under consideration include making each campus chancellor a vice president and adding a "research" element to the portfolio of the vice president for technology and economic development. Interim chancellor Robert Easter said the campus-wide discussions will help shed light on what he calls "ambitious" proposals.
"I don't know that there's any reason to be concerned until we fully understand the proposals," he said. "I understand the president is meeting with various groups to talk about it, and so I think we'll have productive conversations and at the end, we'll come to good decisions."
The faculty-student Senate committees on all three campuses in Urbana, Springfield, and Chicago will make recommendations on the proposals to the U of I Board of Trustees before the board's November 18 meeting in Chicago.
Joyce Tolliver, chair the Urbana campus' Senate committee, raised doubts over whether a month is enough time to fully discuss the proposals.
"The discussion is not going to be a clean straight forward one," Tolliver said. "It's going to be a messy one. It's probably going to be a rambling one, and I'm glad that I have set aside all this extra time for it."
University President Michael Hogan will be at the next town hall Senate meeting set for October 18 at 3 PM in College of Business' Deloitte Auditorium on the Urbana campus. The Senate has also scheduled meetings for October 25, November 1, and November 8.
The head of a Champaign social service agency said its name had become too narrow when examining its broad range of services.
New signs are up at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, changing its name to Community Elements.
CEO Shelia Ferguson said the name change came as a result of three-year strategic plan. She said it reflects the fact that the agency does much more than help those with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. She said it has also been reaching out to the homeless.
"We also have residential services and shelters and community kitchens," Ferguson said. "So this allowed us to have a dialogue with the community that we're more than mental health, but also to allow people to come meet us, reach out to us, if there needs were other than mental health."
Ferguson said the name change will also help the agency do more with less, by partnering with other social service groups in the community.
"We also need to partner where we can save money, where we can deliver services better, more efficiently," she said. "Where we can deliver services to the people who need then, who aren't community-based because they're limited by transportation or other resources in order to get to us. So you'll see a lot more partnership, a lot more discussing amongst social service agencies to make sure that continuum of care is available to those who need it in Champaign County."
Ferguson said Community Elements is still dealing with slow payments from the state. It's owed about $2.5 million between the last and current fiscal years.
(Photo courtesy of Community Elements)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan and a number of campus labor groups say they have started a productive dialogue on issues like employee salaries and affordable education.
Friday's one-hour meeting came a day after many of these unions rallied on campus, giving administrators a failing grade in areas like transparency and accountability. Hogan said it was not a bargaining session, but simply a conversation between people with shared interests.
"I think they would feel very good about having an opportunity occasionally, even only once a semester, or two or three times a year, just to sit in that room (the President's conference room) and not negotiate the details of a contract, but just have a dialogue between interested parties," said Hogan. "I would be very comfortable doing that."
Further meetings haven't been scheduled, but Hogan said the parties already share one common interest.
"That's linking arms in Springfield and trying together to convince our legislators that we're a very good investment," Hogan said. "And if we can get some stability, some predictability, and hopefully increased support out of them, we're able to do more for everybody here."
U of I Campus Faculty Association President and history faculty member Kathryn Oberdeck said it is good to see that groups like hers and the Graduate Employees Organization will be allowed to become part of the decision making process. She said the president and unions will likely have their share of disagreements, but Oberdeck said this meeting was simply about laying the ground work, but she said U of I faculty members continue to have concerns about the voice they will have.
"What sorts of research gets funded and the ways in which the restructuring of the university will reach down and take account of the voices of people who actually work on the ground, and the way that actual process evolves remains to be seen," Oberdeck said. "But I did get the sense that he heard and sympathized with that desire."
Gene Vanderport with the Illinois Education Association said he is pleased with the tone and tenor of President Hogan.
"We feel that this administration may be more in contact with what need to be looking as as priorities," Vanderport said. "We can't get into specifics, but we're pleased with some of the answers we got. I feel a lot better about what our future holds."
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Campus labor unions say University of Illinois administrators continually fail to address issues like affordable tuition, a living wage, and accountability.
The groups used the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education for a noon hour rally on Thursday. About 70 people went from the Alma Mater statue to the Swanlund Administration Building in protest.
Campus faculty association Vice President Susan Davis said this National Day was about addressing concerns for everyone they represent, ranging from food service workers, to students to faculty. Davis said U of I leaders are continually passing the buck and blaming their problems on the state's budget woes.
"What we hear from them is 'after the election we'll be able to do this, after there's a budget we'll be able to talk to you about this,'" she said. "In the meantime, they're making a lot of very radical changes to the administrative structure of the university, and probably also to the educational structure."
Groups like the Campus Faculty Association and Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) delivered three large report cards, giving U of I administrators an 'F' in the areas of access, diversity, and stewardship.
GEO Co-President Stephanie Sewell said changes in one area, like a tuition freeze, is not the panacea for the university's budget problems. Sewell also said that a tuition freeze should not keep the U of I from diversifying its student body by closing the cultural houses and consolidating them into one space.
U of I Associate Chancellor Bill Adams received the report cards when the union walked into the Swanlund building. He said many of these issues were already presented in the recent U of I Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana, but he said leaders are willing to continue the conversation.
"We are as concerned as they are about the issues that they raise," Adams said. "The issues of diversity. The issues of affordability. I think the one thing that is not mentioned there is quality, and the quality somehow has to enter into the equation as we move along."
President Michael Hogan will meet with some of these union heads at the University YMCA on Friday.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.
The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.
The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.
"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."
The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.
"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."
Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.
"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."
Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.
The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.
(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)
There's less than a month to go until Election Day, and one of the more contentious and expensive races is in the 101st District. Adam Brown, a 25-year-old Republican who's on the Decatur City Council, is trying to unseat four-term State Representative Bob Flider of Mount Zion. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.
A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.
Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.
"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."
Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.
During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."
Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A new operator is now formally in place for a pork processing plant that shut its doors more than a year ago.
Trim Rite Food Corporation is based in the Chicago suburbs -- produces hams, pork loins and other cuts for stores and restaurants. It's agreed to lease, retool and reopen the former Meadowbrook Farms plant west of Rantoul for 5.6 million dollars.
The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says Trim Rite plans to hire about 100 people for the plant later this fall -- the state agency has chipped in $767,000 in tax credits based on job creation and training.
Meadowbrook Farms was a farmer-owned cooperative that ran into financial difficulty soon after it opened the pork processing plant in 2004.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois treasurer are sparring over campaign contributions.
During a stop in Bloomington, Il. on Saturday, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford of Pontiac accused his Democratic opponent, Robin Kelly, of accepting campaign contributions from banks, and he cautioned her to follow the state's campaign finance laws.
Kelly, who is the chief of staff for current treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, said Rutherford has violated campaign finance laws, and she added that there is no reason for him to be concerned because she has taken an ethics pledge to not take any money from banks or bank executives.
"I have not taken any money from any bank owners or any banks, whether we have contracts with them or not," said Kelly, who admitted that she has taken campaign contributions from banks during her time in the Illinois legislature. "I take money from bank PACS, but we don't do business with bank PACS. I think they've given me $500 hundred dollars."
Kelly accused Rutherford in September of violating pay-to-play laws by accepting $3,500 in contributions from several banks that do business with the treasurer's office. Rutherford later returned about $900 in contributions from Pan American Bank, which bid on a contract worth more than $50,000.
State law forbids candidates from accepting contributions from businesses bidding that much money. Rutherford said at the time he accepted the contribution, information about the contract was not made public by Kelly's office, but the treasurer's office maintains that it was public information with the Office of the Comptroller and the State Board of Elections.
With a month to go until election day, both candidates say they need to cover more ground before November 2nd. Rutherford said he plans on focusing his campaign in the Chicago region counties of Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and Dupage. Kelly said she plans to continue targeting the entire state. The third party candidates in the race include Libertarian James Pauly and Green Party candidate Scott Summers.
(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)
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