Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois lawmaker has set his sights on a tuition waiver program for children of state university employees as a potential target for elimination.
A bill filed last week by Representative Dave Winters of the Rockford area would remove language that makes children of an employee eligible for a 50 percent waiver on undergraduate tuition at any state institution.
That prospect concerns Winters' fellow Republican representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet. But he also says he was under the impression that universities should make up their own minds on whether to offer the benefit.
"I guess the way I'd look at it is that's a choice that each university has just like any business in terms of their overall compensation package," Rose said. "If they want to give their faculty a raise rather than a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business. If they'd rather do a flat salary and a 50 percent tuition waiver, that's their business."
University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy says the U of I hasn't taken a stand on the bill yet, saying administrators will want to talk with Winters.
Rose says it would make more sense for the state to get rid of the program that lets General Assembly members offer scholarships to the students of their choice. Winters has not returned a call seeking comment.
A new committee assigned with creating a climate of equal opportunities for all Champaign school students held its inaugural meeting Wednesday.
The Education Equity Excellence committee was put together as part of the Unit 4 settlement of its Consent Decree for racial equity. The panel is made up of district administrators and community members --- including a bilingual teacher, the President of the local NAACP chapter and a former Unit 4 school board member, Nathaniel Banks.
Banks, who stepped down last spring, is the most recent African-American to serve on the school board. Speaking prior the meeting, Banks said the Triple-E Committee's first session would be largely about laying the groundwork for future work. He says the Champaign school district has already made strides towards greater equity in some areas, but that it's a work in progress.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to the cycle of elections", said Banks. "So there are long-term issues that the Consent Decree was trying to address, and those issues are still there. Certainly, there's been progress, not only in closing the achievement gap, but also in looking at (programs for) Gifted and Talented (students) increasing the number of African-American students there."
Banks says the Champaign school district also needs to take a hard look at the number of minority students in special education, and discipline issues.
Triple-A Committee member and PTA Council President Nancy Hoetker says she'll be responsible for helping facilitate communications between the the committee and Unit Four's 16 campuses.
The Triple-E Committee is expected to meet at least twice per semester.
Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The junior said at a news conference Wednesday he thinks he is ready for the National Football League and wants to take care of his family. But he says he won't forget the U of I.
"As I begin this adventure, I will always be proud to represent the University of Illinois", said Benn. "I will be a role model for inner-city kids and anyone who wonders if they really can realize their dreams. And one more thing, I will finish college --- and Ma, that's a promise".
"OK, I'll take you up on that", replied Benn's mother, Denise Benn, who joined him at the news conference.
"Rejus" Benn was a top prospect out of high school in Washington, D.C., and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. The Illini went to the Rose Bowl that season. He struggled with the team the past two seasons. Illinois was 3-9 this season and Benn caught just 38 passes for 490 yards. But despite his disappointing junior season, Benn is considered a potential high-round pick. Draft expert and former NFL general manager Gil Brandt believes Benn will be a second-round pick.
(Additional reporting by Rob McColley for AM 580 News)
Adam Lentz is taking a week from his studies at the University of Illinois to go back to his home town in Europe. But it'll be a working break - his home is Copenhagen, where representatives from the world's countries have gathered to hammer out an agreement on climate change. Lentz is a Fulbright graduate student studying natural resources and environmental science. When he was an undergraduate at the University of Copenhagen, he was the president of the Union of Danish Natural Resource Students. He's going to the Copenhagen summit to monitor its progress, and he sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers to talk about his expectations.
11 bars in Champaign's Campustown area are accused of promoting and hosting drinking games last month. Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart has issued complaints accusing the bars of violating the Illinois Happy-Hour statute, by encouraging binge drinking and providing special discounts.
The activity occurred during the fall Bar-Scramble that Schweighart says attracted over a thousand participants to Campustown bars on November 7th. He says participants played games in which their scores determined how much they were to drink. Schweighart says he's been a long-time opponent of such drinking games, and he's surprised that so many bars took part.
"They've known for ten years that my rules, they're going to be dealt with very harshly if you involve yourself with drinking games. And by doing this --- an especially in this magnitude. It's kind of in-your-face, we're going to do what we want to
The Barscrambles are held every semester, and sponsored by the Irish Illini, a student group. But Schweighart says this is first time they've been aware of the drinking games, which he was were obvious from the advertising for the event.
The complaints against the 11 bars will be heard at preliminary hearings set for Monday and Tuesday of next week. Schweighart says the bars could accept the penalties the city will propose at that time --- or appeal them to a full hearing, and beyond that to a hearing by state regulators. He says the penalties could range from fines, to something as severe as revocation of a bar's liquor license.
A public forum on the qualities needed by the next president of the University of Illinois attracted more than a hundred people to the Spurlock Museum on the Urbana campus Thursday.
20 people spoke, most of them students and faculty. Student Senator --- and political science major --- Carlos Rosa named a top priority for students.
"Tuition, tuition, tuition", said Rosa. "I cannot stress enough that me and my classmates, we want a president at this university that is ready to chop at the top, and not chop down on the number of students that can afford to attend this institution".
Rosa and others also said that the next president must be mindful of the need for diversity on campus.
History Professor Kristin Hoganson said she hoped for a president who would resist the "corporatization" of the university, and put a renewed emphasis on teaching and research --- including the liberal arts and humanities. And Hoganson said she wanted someone who would understand the problems of the Urbana campus, in the wake of the recent admissions scandal.
"I think we need somebody who understands that this campus is suffering from an unprecedented crisis of morale", said Hoganson, "and who would be active in addressing the turmoil on the lack of leadership this campus has had recently."
Others at the forum focused on the presidential search process itself. The discussion started when Miriam Larson of the Graduate Employees Organization said she hoped for more such forums in the spring ---"especially", she said, "as we have a more particular sense of what candidates we're looking at"
But Search Committee Chair and U of I Trustee Pamela Strobel said those "particulars" would not be made public. She says details about who's being considered for university president will stay secret, because most candidates don't want word to get out.
"If we started telling the world who our candidates were, we would probably lose 90 percent of them", said Strobel. "They would say'I'm not a candidate', because they do not want to jeopardize their current employment."
Strobel says not even the names of the finalists for U of I president will released. Finalists for the president's post are public knowledge at some universities, such as New Mexico State, where former U of I Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman recently withdrew as a candidate. U of I Interim President Designate Stanley Ikenberry said he doesn't know of any major university that releases names of candidates for president. But Ikenberry says this present search process is the most open one he's seen at the U of I.
A program enabling University of Illinois art students to study at the nation's capital is coming to an end due to cost and low enrollment.
Illinois at the Phillips started in 2006... enabling about 45 students to take courses at the Phillips Collection Modern Art Museum in Washington, DC. Former U of I Urbana Campus Chancellor Richard Herman championed the program... and paid for it through a discretionary fund that he controlled.
The concept was to create something that was self-supporting through private gifts, along with tuition dollars from Washington residents who could also take the classes.
But U of I arts dean Robert Graves says part of that never materialized:
"The hope was that it would generate considerable endowment funds from outside the university, (such as) private foundations", said Graves. "And it was successful to a certain degree in generating income from courses that it gave to Washington DC residents, but not enough to offset the huge amount of state funding that was going into it."
Illinois at the Phillips is projected to cost 600-thousand dollars this year... and Graves says those kind of expenses can't be justified as the U of I wrestles with a tight budget and uncertainty over state funding. Much of the money behind the program goes towards the salary for program director and art history professor Jonathan Fineberg, along with travel expenses.
Interim Urbana Chancellor Robert Easter acted on a recommendation from a 3-member committee this week to end the arts program. Illinois at the Phillips will end after the spring semester.
The state of Illinois' backlog of payments is starting to worry University of Illinois leaders.
Interim president designate Stan Ikenberry says the U of I is still waiting on more than $388 million in state funding that would normally be in their hands by now. But Ikenberry says the university has essentially been unpaid since the start of the fiscal year in July.
Southern Illinois University has warned that continued cash shortages could result in missed payrolls. But Ikenberry says the U of I has not faced that problem yet because of revenue from outside enterprises and research grants.
"The longer it goes on, the tougher the challenge," Ikenberry said. "In all fairness, the University of Illinois is probably in the strongest position of any university in the state, but even for us it's certainly an increasing challenge."
Ikenberry says the state needs to work sooner rather than later on a plan to resolve the budget situation through a combination of revenue increases and belt-tightening.
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
The Champaign Unit Four School Board will hold a special meeting next Monday night, to decide what to do about budget overruns for the expansion and renovation of Garden Hills Elementary School. At a study session this past Monday night, board members discussed the news that the project will cost 25 percent more than first estimated --- unless changes are made.
Mark Ritz of the architectural firm BLDD says the Garden Hills project is now estimated to cost 15-point-5 million dollars, in part because renovations requested for the present building are more extensive than expected. He says they could meet the original 12 million dollar estimate by cutting back on those renovations, and making the new wing a little smaller than planned. But Superintendent Arthur Culver says sticking to the original Garden Hills school plan at the higher price would be worth it.
"We can reduce costs", Culver told the school board, "we can reduce those classrooms down to a thousand square feet and so forth. But that's really not ideal. And I was just hoping that we could open our minds up to exploring, maybe going a little bit beyond what we originally expected."
Unit Four Finance Director Gene Logas says the district can afford the higher cost, because the bond issue for this and other construction projects will also be higher than originally planned. But school board members were torn on the question, and wanted more information.
Board member Kristine Chalifoux favored cutting back on the Garden Hills project to bring it in at the 12- million dollar level. But she says there were arguments on both sides.
"I'd love to have a big gym", says Chalifoux, "I'd love it for the community. But it will take away from what we can do --- educationally even --- at one of our other schools. Is that the trade off, we want to decide to make? Now, there's also the other side --- if you're going to do it, do it right, and we'll figure out the next one when we come to it".
Next Monday's special school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, at the Unit Four Mellon Administrative Center.
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