Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School District reached a tentative contract agreement with its support staff union Monday night.
Negotiators for Unit Four and the Champaign Educational Services Personnel union had been meeting since March - including a session with a federal mediator in June. But when scheduling problems prevented any meetings with the mediator in July, the two sides resumed contract talks on their own. Tomlinson says both Unit Four and the union were committed to reaching a settlement.
"Well I think everybody realized the importance of getting a good contract before school started", say Tomlinson. "And our balanced calendar schools start (their classes) next week. And the union and district came together and worked very hard to get the best contract for everybody involved."
Tomlinson would not release details of the tentative agreement, pending ratification votes by both sides. He expects members of the support staff union to ratify the contract in the next couple of weeks, with a school board vote on Monday, August 9th. The old contract for about 500 teachers' aides, bus drivers and other workers at Unit Four ran out June 30th.
The support staff union with Champaign schools resumes negotiations with the district on Monday, and both sides indicate the meeting could produce an agreement.
The two parties started meeting in early March, and brought in a federal mediator by June. He wasn't able to meet with them again until August, so the two sides started meeting on their own. Union president Mary Logsdon says they made progress on many issues in two meetings held last week. The sticking points that remain are salary, health insurance, and bringing the salary for teacher aides on par with other districts. "We both have our own priorities that we want to see accomplished," said Logsdon. "Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. That's where sometimes we have to compromise, or give and take. So at this time, I think we're both right there, and I think in the next week, I think we can come to some consenus."
Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson says the district is doing what it can to reward hard work in tough financial times. "I think both sides have come realizing what the needs are, and you know, the district wants to give to employees who work hard. And we're trying to do the best we can by them, understanding there's serious budget issues, but we need to make sure that we're doing everything we can for our employees."
Tomlinson says talks have never been contentious. The previous contract expired June 30th. The Champaign Unit 4 support staff union represents about 500 teacher aides, clerical workers, custodians, bus drivers, and food-service workers.
The new University of Illinois president says he has experience dealing with state governments that are struggling with meager budgets, and more struggling will take place in the next year.
Michael Hogan says he wants to correlate the yearly increases in tuition with state funding reductions that are forcing universities to pass the cost on to students and parents. Hogan sat down for an interview with Illinois Public Media's David Inge, telling him that the U of I has to concentrate just as much on controlling costs, and future staff reductions are possible. He wouldn't specify where layoffs could happen, but he says a committee report has focused on certain services that could be restructured.
"We're going to begin right away when it comes to IT, human resources, strategic purchasing and a variety of other back-office operations, administrative operations. We can begin implementing the recommendations coming out of that committee and begin realizing the savings quickly."
Hogan expects a steering committee to help implement the first of the cost-cutting measures soon. In the meantime, he foresees opening a line of credit to keep up with bills, admitting that doing so makes him uneasy.
Meanwhile, Hogan says some steps to help ease the budget crunch can also be of academic benefit. He admits that students from outside Illinois pay much higher tuition rates - but he also says they're needed to bring a diverse perspective.
"We're trying to create a learning environment on campus that's more cosmopolitan and prepares people for life in the world they're going to face when they get their degrees," Hogan said. "So the best argument for more nonresidents, or more diversity or more international students, is not really a financial argument. It's an intellectual and academic argument, an educational argument." But when asked, Hogan would not give a target number of out-of-state students the U of I wants. The report recommended keeping in-state enrollment level.
Hogan says he won't get defensive about the $620,000 salary that trustees approved for him before he took over as president earlier this month. But he says he plans to forgo pay raises or deal with furlough days if the university calls on other employees to do so.
A University of Illinois graduate student staging a protest against the firing of a professor says controversial material in religion courses is nothing new.
Mechanical Engineering student Eli Lazar has been distributing fliers on campus and in the Chicago area, drumming up support for former adjunct professor Kenneth Howell. Howell was dismissed after a student complained about lessons in which the professor stated that homosexual acts are morally wrong. Lazar says he took a class on world religions... in which different professors covered major religions. For example - Lazar says a discussion on Hinduism contended that disabled persons were born that way due to karma, and something they'd done in a previous life. "The idea was we were there to learn about Hinduism - agree with it or not." said Lazar. "I've actually also sat in on Professor Howell's course, and think he's an excellent instructor. I think myself as well as a lot of other students are really upset about this because we feel that student sensitivity is starting to dictate how courses are taught."
Lazar, who is Catholic, says it's not a matter of whether he agrees with Howell, saying that's the language the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, and should encourage debate in class. "If students (in Howell's class) were to be getting bad grades for diagreeing with the professor, that's definitely a call for action," said Lazar. "I think if for some reason your professor was promoting a viewpoint with saying that you should go out and tell other people what they're doing wrong, that's fine. But I mean, this is a discussion on a controversial topic that was relevant, and it definitely should be allowed."
The U of I Faculty Senate's committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure is reviewing the decision. Lazar says he's confident the panel will choose to reinstate Howell. The student also says he's been impressed with new U of I President Michael Hogan's prompt response to his e-mails, asking that committee to take up the issue.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation aimed at protecting Illinois student athletes from dishonest agents.
Quinn signed Senate Bill 2542 Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Uniform Law Commission. The group works to make sure state laws are consistent across the country.
The bill requires government licensing for sports agents who want to represent students.
Agents could be investigated and lose their license for misconduct, such as defrauding a client or abusing drugs.
The legislation also would require agents to notify student athletes that signing a contract might endanger their eligibility to compete. Athletes could cancel contracts within 14 days.
The law takes effect Jan. 1.
The University of Illinois is enacting a short-term plan to accommodate classes in areas like geology and biology that take place in the Natural History Building.
A recent inspection of termite damage determined that concrete was incorrectly poured when the structure's 1908 addition was built, that meant vacating that part of the building, leaving behind lots of research materials. Clark Wise is Director of Construction Management for U of I Facilities and Services. With the fall semester about six weeks away, he's requested that administrators waive competitive bidding laws for contractors, which the state allows in an emergency. Wise says just over $1 million will allow his staff to stabilize concrete slabs long enough to move research and other classroom equipment to another part of the building, or elsewhere on campus. But Wise says a permanent plan for the Natural History Building will take some time.
"We're starting to just have discussions now on what the permanent solution would be to this portion of the building," said Wise. "And does it make good sense for us just to repair the structural slabs, or should we have a more comprehensive renovation of that area that would take in deffered maintenance and other items that are present currently." Operations Manager for the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment, Scott Morris, says he's confident materials will be moved in time for classes, but says it could be two to three years before repair work on the Natural History Building is complete.
The 1908 addition had to be vacated on June 10th. Wise says other buildings are being remodeled to accommodate all those who were displaced, including about 25 graduate students. But Wise says he's pleasantly surprised the U of I didn't have to rent out additional space.
A faculty committee will investigate whether a former University of Illinois religion professor's academic freedoms were violated.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter says the Academic Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure should complete its review of Kenneth Howell by time the fall semester starts. The adjunct professor was let go after a student complained about Howell's lessons on Catholicism, when he stated that homosexual sex was morally wrong. Easter says it's the U of I's obligation to present all sides of an issue, and that's valued by the academic community. But he says there are areas that require a review.
"An individual can be viewed as going beyond, if you will, the bounds of educational discussion discourse to advocating a particular viewpoint." said Easter. "And that's the question that seems to be important to addressing this particular case. I think that's why we'd be well advised to have a group of faculty have a look at this." Easter says administrators need to see what the committee says before determining whether Howell is reinstated.
The outgoing chair of the Senate committee, professor Jeff Dawson, says it needs a charge letter from Easter before proceeding with the review. "It will specify the scope of our investigation with respect to academic freedom and tenure." said Dawson. "And there are other issues about long-term relationships between the university and more than one religion group on campus, and the nature of that relationship." Easter says the professor's dismissal has also raised questions about the relationship between the U of I's Department of Religion and St. John's Catholic Newman Center. He says Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Ruth Watkins is looking into whether it warrants further study.
May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology, talks with Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about a series of events on pollinators. Berenbaum says most plants rely on pollination to survive, and she says there are about just as many species of pollinating insects as there are pollinating plants.
A faculty group at the University of Illinois' flagship campus will review the decision to fire an adjunct religion professor for saying he agreed with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.
Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor Robert Easter said Monday he hopes to have a decision on the firing of Kenneth Howell from the Faculty Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the time fall classes start. The review is to determine whether Howell's academic freedom was violated.
Howell taught classes on Catholicism. He was fired at the end of the spring semester after a class discussion of the Catholic prohibition of homosexual sex. Howell says as a Catholic he agrees with it. A friend of an unidentified student complained, leading to Howell's firing.
The University of Illinois still has about six weeks to act on a plan to borrow funds in order to make payroll and fund other areas where it's lacking in money owed by the state.
U of I Trustees have already granted administrators the authority to take advantage of a bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn that enables public universities to borrow up to 75-percent of what's owed by the state for up to a year. For the U of I, that's around $210-million. But administrators expect to wait until just before the August 31st deadline to decide whether to act on the measure. Ed McMillan chairs the Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance, and Facilities committee. He says the U of I will continually assess its cash flow before making that decision.
But McMillan says all public universities, particularly those in Illinois, need to keep looking for new funding sources. "As you look at us over the next... let's say three years, you're going to find us working very hard at finding a revenue model that relies upon a different mix of revenue sources," said McMillan. "What that's going to be I don't know. I think you can look around the United States and see several different models that are being tried and successfully being pursued. I don't think any of us have any any predetermination as to what model should be."
U of I Associate Vice President of Planning and Budgeting Randy Kangas says the school could soon seek out a line of credit with a bank if it utilizes the borrowing measure. He notes the state intends to pay its overdue bills by the end of the calendar year... and that short-term interest rates are very favorable. And with Fiscal 2011 just underway, some leaders at the U of I are already thinking of the following fiscal year. Kangas says U of I Trustees plan to seek out about $67-million in state funds for fiscal 2012 by their September meeting. That's in addition to seeking the normal state appropriation of $697-million. Kangas says prior years have brought requests for additional funds of more than $100-million, seeking out help for areas like campus diversity and initiatives to improve graduation rates. He says there hasn't been a change in aspirations, but U of I leaders recognize the reality of Illinois' financial crisis. Kangas says the focus will be to see that top salaries are funded.
"Obviously, the state is in a crisis," said Kangas. "Probably, the nation is still in a crisis in the throws of an economic downturn. However, we have to tell people what our top priorities are. We have to tell the legislature by not fulfilling these requests what we're going to lose when we lost top faculty and staff. So is there a great chance of this being funded? Probably not a great chance." Kangas says there are other 'unavoidables' that are part of that funding request... including utility costs and worker's compensation.
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