Illinois Public Media News
An airline's decision to leave the Champaign area's Willard Airport leaves only one airline serving the facility.
It also leaves Willard's manager wondering why Delta Air Lines plans to end its three daily flights to and from Detroit August 31. Steve Wanzek says he was shocked at Delta's phone call Wednesday afternoon mentioning the decision.
"It's been three weeks since they replaced the Saab turboprops with regional jets and added an extra flight," Wanzek said, hours after the call. "I thought we were headed in the right direction, and the feedback we were getting from the Delta desk people downstairs was that they were excited because passenger count had gone up."
Northwest Airlink flights between Willard and Detroit were rebadged with the Delta Express name last year as the two airlines merged. Mesaba Airlines operated the planes. The exit will leave only American Eagle at Willard, but Wanzek says American is a much more stable presence because Willard hosts a maintenance hub for their regional jets.
The state has come through with some last-minute funds for the University of Illinois as the fiscal year draws to a close.
That includes a payment of about $30 million reported Tuesday by Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says that brings the state's backlog of payments to about $295-million, when it was more than $430 million back on December 31st. Ikenberry says while Illinois still needs to address its financial crisis as soon as possible - the U of I is getting more orderly state payments, and that's a surprise. But he says university staff has done everything it can to receive those funds.
"Our finance people have been unrelenting in their telephone calls to the comptroller's office to seek the payment of the bills," said Ikenberry. "..and to remind them that we're out here living from hand to mouth, and that we need the payment of those receivables." Ikenberry will step down from the role of interim president this week, turning over the office to new President Michael Hogan. The 75-year old has served as interim president since January, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995.
A change at the top doesn't mean University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry is retiring just yet. He served in the office the last six months, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995. The 75-year old Ikenberry will now see to it that a working group follows through with a series of consolidations and other cost-cutting moves. He'll report on the team's progress to new President Michael Hogan, who starts his job Thursday.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Ikenberry about that role, and other challenges he foresees in the months ahead:
The University of Illinois plans to use nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money on a center to train people to improve the energy efficiency of low-income residents' homes.
The university says it received a more than $959,000 grant for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program. It will be run by the university's Building Research Council. The council already offers classes on weatherizing homes.
Council instructor Paul Francisco says the money will help train workers to improve home energy efficiency.
A study of the spread of West Nile virus shows it has a new culprit.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois says robins are unwittingly spreading the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying it. Professor Jeff Brawn heads the U of I's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Unlike crows and jays, which die when they get the disease, he says some robins survive when bitten by an infected mosquito. And Brawn says that's a problem in urban environments. "They seem to be to amplify the virus in their bloodstream but they don't die from it at a real high rate," said Brawn. "So you've got a common bird that the mosquitoes prefer, and one that the virus seems to do very well in, too."
Brawn and a team of U of I researchers are tracking West Nile in Chicago's southwest suburbs. The group has been able to detect what mosquitoes have been feeding on through DNA samples. Brawn says if another mosquito bites a robin, the mosquito gets the virus and can then transmit it to another host, possibly another bird or human. He suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, minimizing outdoor time from dusk to dawn, and using insect repellent this summer to avoid the illness. "It's not like robins are the enemy, and if you see one, you're going to get West Nile virus," said Brawn. "It's just that robins are species that seems to be involved in kind of a epidemiology of the virus."
Brawn's study includes several institutions, including Michigan State and Emory University. It's funded by the National Science Foundation.
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
Information Technology could be the first area at the University of Illinois to see some cost reductions under a 3-year plan to reduce expenses by about $60 million.
Former U of I administrator Craig Bazzani co-chaired the Administrative Review and Restructuring Working Group. He says Information Technology, costing about $300 million annually, brought the most obvious concerns. Bazzani says only a third of that supports central computing operations on the U of I's three campuses, as well as the administration and university hospital. He says that leaves a lot of opportunities for consolidation among data centers... potentially saving on equipment, energy costs, space... and personnel. "If we can become more system-itized in renewing all our desktop equipment at essentially a scheduled basis, we made an estimate for example we might be able to reduce 50 people who simply would not be needed to support the maintenance on desktops," said Bazzani. "So I.T. is one area I would point to for lots of opportunities for consolidation - a fresh look at new technology."
Bazzani's group said the school could save about $18 million in information technology functions. Another targeted area of the review is administration. Bazzani suggests reductions in the number of vice chancellors and assistants, saying the the three campuses need as many as are necessary, but as few as possible. "It's unimaginable that we would ask faculty and students to do more before we really have an opportunity to really deal with handling administrative costs in a better way," said Bazzani. "That was a clear signal from the president and the chancellors directly that we order and demonstrate things in a way to the academy that they feel comfortable before tuition goes up another nickel that we address some of these other problems."
Bazzani says it's often difficult for administrators to do their own internal review, but notes the U of I will need some outside help to deal with changes in the state's pension laws and how they affect human resources. "But to create a blueprint, it was our judgment that we know our culture best, we have an enormous number of content experts inside the university, many talented creative faculty and staff, and gave them the opportunity to step back in a very independent way, a very unbrideled way, to give us the best professional advice about where we see things moving in the next five years."
And he says while his panel is respectful of the academic differences between each U of I campus, members want to find ways to make administrators more compatible between the three cities. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry will lead an implementation team to begin considering these and other changes. Bazzani says administration is moving quickly on the plan - and savings could be seen in as soon as two years.
A researcher at Mayo Clinic says a new collaboration with the University of Illinois will enable his facility to interpret the school's research.
The alliance impacting clinical research, bioengineering, and diagnostics has been in the works for about 18 months. Eric Wieben is Director of Mayo's Advanced Genomics Technology Center. He says the two entities complement one another well. For Wieben's line of work, he says DNA sequencing instruments are turning out more data each time they're used. Wieben says an institution like the U of I will improve care for patients by reading more than a billion letters of DNA code in one hour. "Mayo has a lot of patient information and samples that are in the queue for DNA sequencing," says Wieben. "The University of Illinois has world-renowned computing resources and the people who know how to use those to effectively make knowledge out of large amounts of data."
A Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of I, Rashid Bashir, says the goal of an alliance between the two is improving individualized medicine. The partnership will focus on computer-based skills, like tissue engineering. Bashir says this partnership could result in facilities that detect different markers of disease by feeding data through a digital network. He says the two parties have already received about 30 requests from researchers to work on the project, but that number could be growing. "We really hope that it will be open to any and all researchers from the University of Illinois and any researchers and physicians from Mayo Clinic," said Bashir. "Some partnerships have already initiated and we hope many more will come. So it's really kind of an umbrella agreement that gets the two institutions to work together towards these grant challenges for health care."
Both the U of I and Mayo Clinic are placing some seed money into the alliance, but Bashir says the majority of the work will rely on federal grant applications. The U of I and Mayo Clinic will each put some seed funds for the project, but the collaborators will seek out federal grants for most of their research. Mayo Clinic has three campuses, operating in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.
Illinois' financial uncertainty has prompted a lot of school districts to move to one-year contracts for teachers.
But a union spokesman says that's not the case in East Central Illinois. The Illinois Education Association's Gene Vanderport says the districts in the area have been pretty fair to those he represents. He says there have been a lot of early settlements with multi-year contracts, including Urbana, and he expects those in Gifford and Rantoul City Schools to settle soon as well. But Vanderport admits it's been a struggle for most school districts. "Nobody's getting rich in public education, that's for sure,"said Vanderport. "We're down to absolute bare minimum of people doing the services that need to be done, to educate the kids. We're not making Buicks, we're educating brains, and it takes X number of people to do that. School boards recognize that we gotta keep feeding our families, and they've been relatively decent across the board in recognizing our needs."
Still, Vanderport says his union and others are trying to settle without asking for too much, while urging state and federal lawmakers to work on a consistent and sustainable school funding formula. "That's why we're for progressive funding mechanisms that aren't in place at this point," said Vanderport. "And we hope to continue to lobby for those, and make those issues election-year issues." Vanderport says negotiations with Champaign teachers are still taking a while. The two sides have been bargaining since January, and he says salary and benefits remain the sticking points. Vanderport says Champaign Unit 4 schools and his union should wrap up talks by August, but he says it's hard to say what the length of the contract will be.
The University of Illinois is scrapping plans to spend nearly $100,000 on a sculpture of university President Stanley Ikenberry. U of I spokesman Thomas Hardy says Ikenberry called off the project this week shortly after the Chicago Tribune began asking questions about it. But Hardy would not talk on tape with WILL Radio, saying he felt the Tribune was trying to make a news story out of something that wasn't worth the attention. Hardy did say the $98,000 project was a fraction of the cost of the $75 million Ikenberry Commons residence hall project. The university originally planned to hang the sculpture in the dining hall that's opening this fall. The art was to be paid for with student housing fees.
The Tribune reports that the school hadn't yet signed a contract, but university officials had filed paper work with the state to justify the no-bid, $98,000 purchase. The U of I had reportedly planned to award the project to Urbana-based sculptor Peter Fagan. Hardy says Ikenberry stopped the plan because he didn't want to generate any ill will. The expenditure would have come amid a budget crisis that's led university officials to furlough employees and raise tuition. Hardy says private funding of the sculpture could be explored at later.
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