Illinois Public Media News
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.
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
Teaching and graduate assistants return to work Wednesday on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The Graduate Employees Organization has ended its strike, after reaching a tentative agreement with the administration on a new three-year contract.
The official decision to suspend the strike was made by the GEO's strike committee Tuesday night, following a membership meeting in which members unanimously endorsed the tentative contract and the suspension of their two-day walkout.
Grad student workers had struck over tuition waivers --- and GEO spokesman Rich Potter says the university is promising in a side letter to the new contract, that any changes to the current tuition waiver policy will be subject to negotiation with the union. Potter says the language is a compromise, since the union had wanted the administration to renounce any discussion of a change in the waiver policy altogether.
A U of I news release says that "during the term of the three-year agreement, graduate assistant and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progres toward graduation in the program in which they began."
GEO member and mathematics teaching assistant Dan Lior says tuition waivers had been the most important issue for him. And he says he's pleased that the union's efforts created progress on the issue.
"For me personally, the difference is that the union demonstrated the ability of the everyday person to make changes that matter", says Lior. "It's a shame that it had to come to a strike, but we still do have the power to influence the way things are run."
The tentative agreement also includes a ten percent raise over three years for the minimum graduate worker salary --- union spokesman Potter says that's an improvement, but still short of the Living Wage that the union had sought for all graduate employees. He says the GEO will continue to push for a Living Wage for all grad employees when the next contract is negotiated. The new agreement also includes two additional weeks of unpaid parental leave and increases to the university's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third year of the agreement).
"I think we're very happy to reach agreement", said Urbana campus administration spokesperson Robin Kaler. "We absolutely value the work that our graduate assistants do, and we're very excited to move forward."
GEO spokesman Rich Potter says they hope to schedule a ratification vote for this week.The agreement would then go the U of I Board of Trustees for their vote. If approved by both sides, the contract would be retroactive to the start of the semester.
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