Illinois Public Media News
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
Employees at the Southern Illinois University campus at Carbondale will be facing four unpaid furlough days during the current school year.
Chancellor Rita Cheng's office announced this week that an agreement has been reached with several unions on campus that will allow for the furlough days, as one way to close a budget shortfall. Cheng says other suggestions --- like requiring more furlough days for higher-income employees had been discussed as a way to make their burden more equitable --- but the idea was ultimately turned down.
"For example, if someone makes $30,000 (a year), a day is about $100," Cheng said. "For someone who makes $300,000, a day is $1,000. So there will be a difference of what people contribute, based on scaling of a day, rather than taking a flat rate from everyone."
Six unions on the Carbondale campus are still holding out for more information and options to avoid the furlough days. Leaders of those unions --- including ones for faculty and civil service employees - announced Tuesday night they would work together against the furloughs
Faculty Association President Randy Hughes said six campus unions are united in their intention to fight the furlough plan.
"All six of us will work to protect the rights of others to negotiate, to be free from any sort of unilateral or illegal action on the part of the university to impose administrative closures without bargaining in good faith," Hughes said..
The planned closure days are scheduled during student breaks in November, December, January and March, and won't affect classes. The university's student employees are exempt from the unpaid days.
A string of campus assaults and robberies in recent weeks has led the University of Illinois to activate its campus call center for the first time.
The latest incident involved a U of I freshman who was sexually abused Monday morning in a dormitory shower. University police Chief Barbara O'Connor said just in the last day, the university has been flooded with about a hundred e-mail and phone messages regarding that attack.
"You know, whenever we get parent calls and or e-mails, we attempt to take an individualized approach to responding to those, but at some point, the volume becomes so significant that you can't keep doing that any longer," O'Connor said. "We're at that point."
She said the call center will allow the university to give plenty of attention to each caller, and give university police more time to investigate criminal activity.
"We can get inundated so much so that the work of doing the investigation can get bogged down in responding to e-mails and phone calls," O'Connor explained.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the 60 volunteers who have agreed to help out at the call center work in student affairs, and have extensive experience handling privacy issues. They were each required to go through a 90-minute training session before they could start working the phones.
The U of I community is encouraged to forward all messages regarding crime and safety on campus to 217-333-0050.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said it is hard to say how much tuition will go up in the 2011-2012 school year, but he said students and parents 'won't stomach' another one of 9 to 10 percent.
Administrators plan to recommend the amount of that increase by January. The uncertainty over state funding the past couple of years has prompted the U of I to wait as late as June to approve the next fall's tuition.However, Hogan said administrators cannot continue to keep parents and students waiting.
"That doesn't work very well for us for planning purposes, and recruiting students," he said. "Because it doesn't allow us to tell students (about tuition), half of them get some form of financial assistance. So students that are applying here need to know sooner rather than later if they're getting in, and what their financial aid package will be. Or they go somewhere else."
Hogan made his comments following a presentation on tuition and affordability at the U of I Board of Trustees' Audit and Budget committee meeting. He said the drop of state support in the past decade has been 'staggering.'
Associate Vice President for Planning and Budget Randy Kangas said the U of I's appropriation is below what it was for the 1999 Fiscal Year, before adjusting for inflation. The university is currently owed about $320-million in state appropriations.
Hogan emphasized that last year's increase of 9.5 percent was one of the lowest tuition hikes in the country.
"So we've got to change the rhetoric of what we're looking at," Hogan said. "Rather than the one big bump (9.5%) to get a realistic understanding of what students are actually going to pay year in and year out as they go through a 4-year degree program.
A panel created by state lawmakers is wrapping up work on recommendations on higher education funding. The proposals include changes to the MAP financial aid program, and tying state funding bonuses for colleges and universities to institutional performance --- such as a school's graduation rate.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he thinks his school will do pretty well on the institutional performance front. But the commission's recommendations will also include increased funding for higher education. Hogan said lawmakers will have to decide whether increasing higher education funding is important to them, at a time when state government faces a financial crisis.
"I think this is all part of a larger discussion we have to have with the state," Hogan said. "Because the real conundrum here is that the state can't afford us, but it can't afford to do without us. So we have to find a way to sustain the quality of the educational and research product we have on all of our campuses --- at a time when the state has no money for it."
Illinois Board of Higher Education executive director Don Sevener said the recommendations include requirements that colleges and universities don't sacrifice academic rigor in the quest to get students to complete their studies.
"We do not want to incentivize colleges simply to pass students along to get more money for more course completions or more degrees granted, if those degrees are not high quality and useful in the marketplace," Sevener said.
The Illinois Higher Education Finance Study Commission holds its final meeting Wednesday, November 10, at Columbia College in Chicago. Lawmakers want the commission's final report is to be ready for review by December 1st. The Study Commission is made up of lawmakers and educators, including Illinois State University professor James Palmer, an expert in higher education funding.
The University of Illinois' Urbana Faculty Senate has unanimously rejected administrative changes proposed by President Michael Hogan.
In a written three page statement, the Senate reported that plans to add a vice president, new duties for some administrators, and change titles for others simply have too many unanswered questions. However, Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver said U of I Trustees have been encouraged to refine the proposals, and discuss them further with campus Senators. Tolliver said one key area of concern is money, especially when the U of I's fiscal situation is dire.
"We are told that this is an investment we should make," Tolliver said. "That is probably true. I think some of us accept that logic, but many of us on the campus are very worried about where the money is going to come from in order to create new positions, and in order to do searches for re-defined existing positions."
Tolliver said the entire process for whatever changes occur needs to be slowed down.
"We were given an extraordinary tight time frame to respond to the proposed changes to the University administration," she said. "There are still entire areas in which we have asked for more information, and haven't been addressed."
A capacity crowd rejected President Hogan's plan at the Senate's regular meeting on Monday. The Senate's executive committee will send a much longer version of its statement to the Senates Conference, which is made up of elected officials from all three U of I campus Senates. That group will forward that document, along with its own advice on the proposed changes, onto the U of I Board of Trustees. Tolliver said the Senate is not afraid of change, but would like to seek out new ways to accomplish these goals.
Candidates for Illinois governor touted their efforts to create jobs and reduce the state's $13 billion budget deficit during campaign stops in Savoy.
Democratic Governor Pat Quinn returned to Savoy's Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Hall where he was joined by union members and state elected officials.
Quinn said while his Republican opponent, State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington, seeks to cut the state's minimum wage and slash education funding by more than a billion dollars, he said his own initiatives while serving as governor have helped the state's unemployment rate begin to drop in the past nine months.
"We're not going to be tearing down Illinois; we're building up," Quinn explained. "We want to make sure we have the proper funding for our schools, and for our students."
Quinn touted his efforts to rescue Illinois' Monetary Awards Program, which provides grants to college-bound students. He blasted Brady for wanting to cut education programs and the minimum wage.
"If you're working 40 hours a week, you shouldn't have to live in poverty," Quinn said.
As Quinn was talking to supporters, Brady was nearby at Savoy's Willard Airport where he criticized Quinn's track record as governor, and reiterated his own plans to balance the state's budget without raising taxes.
"The last two years have been a failure for Illinois under (Quinn's) reign," Brady said. "Illinois needs a governor who will put the people first, not a governor who has secret deals, secret early release programs, secret pay raises, secret tax increases, and record unemployment."
Looking forward to Tuesday's legislative races, Brady predicted Republicans will set victory records across the state.
"We're going to do better than we've ever done," Brady said. "For too long we've had a Chicago-centric governance that needs to understand that there's more to Illinois than Chicago."
With Congressman and U.S. Senate hopeful, Mark Kirk, by his side, Brady also said he thinks Illinois voters will shift party leadership in the U.S. House of Representative by sending as many as four more Republicans to Congress.
Despite polls showing Brady ahead, both candidates are working to get out the vote until the polls close. The Green Party's Rich Whitney, Independent Scott Lee Cohen, and Libertarian Lex Green are also on the ballot.
(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL and Sean Powers/WILL)
A supercomputer in China last week took over the title of world's fastest, outpacing a supercomputer in the United States. However, a new supercomputer under development at the University of Illinois is still projected to be even faster.
The Tianhe-1A supercomputer in the Chinese city of Tianjin is reported to have a peak computing capacity of around 2.5 petaflops --- a petaflop equals one quadrillion calculations per second. Still, the Blue Waters supercomputer at the U of I is expected to have a peak capacity of 10 petaflops when completed, and there are other differences.
Thom Dunning of the University's National Center for Supercomputing Applications said the Chinese supercomputer uses two types of processors: a central processing unit (CPU) and a graphics processing unit (GPU). Dunning said Blue Waters will be based on CPU's only. He said Blue Waters will be designed to take on a much broader range of science and engineering problems, compared to Tianhe 1A.
"It is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison because you're comparing a very general purpose supercomputer with a very specialized purpose supercomputer." Dunning said. "But even given that comparison, Blue Waters is going to outperform the new Chinese supercomputer, even on those applications for which the Chinese supercomputer is well-suited."
The U of I is working with IBM on Blue Waters, which will use the company's new POWER7 microprocessors. Meanwhile, new Chinese-designed interconnect or network technology is a notable feature of Tianhe 1A. Blue Waters is set to start operation next fall, and be at full capacity in 2012.
The Rantoul City Schools are among the nearly 2,000 Illinois schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, this year.
Superintendent Bill Trankina called the Illinois Student Achievement Test a mere snapshot of performance. His district includes four grade schools and a middle school.
Rantoul Township High School has a separate administration, but it also failed to make AYP. Trankina noted that his district has a mobility rate of about 35-percent, and a poverty rate of over 80-percent. Still, he said students are making fundamental changes in reading and writing. He noted that his district has installed smart boards into each classroom, which should help state test scores. Trankina said he is frustrated by the lack of clarity on the state's report card, citing an example of how a subgroup's performance impacts an entire district.
"If a child attended school all day everyday, had passing grades, then in the fourth quarter happened to fail one course, and (the district said) 'we know your child passed everything every quarter, except for the fourth quarter they fail one subject - your child's going to be retained for next year," Trankina said. "Immediately the parent would be very upset. I think we all see the absurdity in that example."
Trankina also said analyzing test scores in two time periods with different standards really is not a fair comparison.
"To a certain degree, we're being evaluated and placed on certain academic watch status based upon how students did when the standards were administered in the past," Trankina said. "And we think that only compounds to the confusion that most people feel about the standards."
Trankina also said it is terribly unfair that the performance of one subgroup on the Illinois Student Achievement Test would decide whether the entire district made AYP. On a local level, he said the district is making strides with a new writing and reading curriculum.
A tentative agreement has been reached between Champaign's Teamsters union and representatives of the First Student bus company.
The two sides met for about eight hours Friday discussing details of a new three-year contract for 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors in the Danville School District. Those employees have been working without a contract since August 1st, and have never publicly announced plans to strike.
"We're very pleased to have a tentative agreement," said Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the First Student bus company. "We very much value all of our employees - our drivers, monitors, mechanics, across the board - and take pride in the excellent work every day."
Richmond refrained from releasing details about the proposed contract, saying the union must first ratify the agreement. She said she expects union members to vote on the contract sometime within the next week.
Since July, the union had been demanding higher wages and benefits. Officials from Teamsters Local 26 did not return a call for comment.
(Photo courtesy of First Student)
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