Illinois Public Media News
The next president of the University of Illinois will have the task of maneuvering the school through shrinking state funding and lingering mistrust.
But Michael Hogan says he's up to the task. Hogan today visited the Urbana campus, one day after his appointment was announced. Hogan is leaving the presidency of the University of Connecticut to take over for interim president Stan Ikenberry, who stepped in after the U of I admissions scandal. Hogan told trustees, faculty and students that he knows adversity.
"There are challenges ahead for the University -- everyone knows that. These are tough economic times not only here but for public and private higher education across the country," Hogan said. "But I'm looking forward -- I'm really looking forward -- to addressing these challenges, and mostly to addressing them in partnership with the faculty, the staff, the students and the board of this great university."
Hogan rose above more than 200 applicants for the U of I's top job, including other university presidents and provosts. Professor May Berenbaum sat on the search committee - she's happy that the U of I is still held in high esteem in spite of its problems.
"It speaks well for our campus and its reputation, and it's hope for the future that there were so many people who wanted to face those challenges," Berenbaum told Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn. "In that sense, it was quite reassuring -- daunting at first, but as the process unfolded it was more and more encouraging."
Hogan will receive a $620,000 salary according to the U of I plus a $225,000 retention bonus after five years. Trustees chair Chris Kennedy says even at that salary, the university is getting a bargain and is not paying top dollar.
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Illinois' courts are in the process of getting an update for how judicial evidence is handled. Hearings will be held next week in Chicago and Springfield.
The rules the courts in Illinois follow when handling evidence are scattered in common law, statutes, and court decisions.
Most states have these rules outlined in one authoritative source, but not Illinois. Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wants to change that, which is why he appointed a special committee to write a blueprint of the state's evidence rules.
This committee includes appellate judges, trial judges, law school professors, and legislators. The manual they've designed is intended to make the judicial process more efficient.
Supreme Court spokesperson Joe Tybor says a judge or lawyer could consult the legal manual to determine the validly of the defense's accusation based on previous rulings. "It should help any lawyer, any judge, and any client who needs information to make a decision on how to proceed," Tybor said. The Supreme Court would have to approve the final product.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
The Illinois House on Thursday approved giving public universities the authority to borrow money to pay bills. The schools are owed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
The controversial change is being viewed as a temporary solution to university cash flow problems. The State of Illinois owes more than $700 million to universities... putting some in jeopardy of being unable to make payroll.
Under this proposal... the universities could borrow based on how much the state owes for the current fiscal year... which expires June 30th. When the state finally comes through.... the schools would be required to quickly pay off the loans.
Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson endorsed the measure.
" When universities are able to do this short term borrowing, able to pay their staff and employees, our young people will continue to receive the world class education they should get from Illinois and that they will be able to get from Illinois", said Jakobsson.
Danville Republican Representative Bill Black concurred. Black says he understands there are concerns about schools taking on the debt ... but he sees no other available option.
"Unless you want the universities to close before the fall semester starts, I suppose you could vote no", said Black. "If you want them to stay open, I suppose as distasteful as it might be to some of us, I have no other alternative. I intend to vote for the bill."
Several lawmakers say they are concerned about allowing the schools to take on the debt... but others argue there is no alternative.
Lawmakers previously sent the Governor a plan to let community colleges establish a line of credit to also cover bills.
Vermilion County is once again on the warning list in a report on Illinois poverty put out by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
The Alliance's "2010 Report on Illinois Poverty" lists Vermilion County among 29 counties in the state with high poverty, unemployment and teen birth rates, and low high school graduation rates. Christian and Kankakee Counties are also on the Warning List. The indicators are only a little better in DeWitt, Macon, Edgar, Coles and Clark Counties --- they've been placed on the report's Watch List.
Amy Terpstra with the Heartland Alliance's research unit says that while some counties are worse off, poverty has gotten worse in all parts of Illinois. But she cites differences between rural and urban poverty.
"When you look at rural areas, you see a lot of access issues", says Terpstra. . "Those people have a hard time getting to the services that they need to help them meet their basic needs. They have trouble getting transportation to jobs. When you start looking at some suburban areas, maybe slightly more urban areas, there's issues about enough resources to go
Overall, the report says about 1.5 million Illinoisans - 12.2% of the total --- were living in poverty in 2008, as the recession began. The study says those already living in extreme poverty have been the hardest hit, and their recovery is expected to be the slowest.
In addition, Amy Terpstra says the wealth of Illinoisans is eroding.
"You look at foreclosures and you look at bankruptcies", says Terpstra, "and you've seen both of those over the last couple of years really skyrocket. And so not only are families losing jobs and not drawing in that income, but their long-term wealth and their long-term stability is being eroded by bankruptcies and foreclosures and debt.
Terpstra says the Heartland Alliance calls on state lawmakers to find new revenue to shore up the state budget and preserve social service programs that help the poor.
The Heartland Alliance is a Chicago-based organization that grew out of that city's old Traveler's Aid Society. Terpstra says they believe that good government policy can help turn around the poverty rate. She says that includes putting "new revenue" into the state budget, and using the money to avoid deep cuts in social services.
NOTE: Updated to include Rutherford statement.
An Illinois budget that would shortchange troubled pension systems and give the governor new power over spending has passed the state Senate.
It was approved 31-26 early Friday and now goes to the House, which is considering a similar plan.
Troubled pension systems would have to wait another six months to get the $3.7 billion the state owes. Pension officials call that a serious blow.
State Senator Dan Rutherford of Chenoa opposed the budget plan.
"Once again the majority of the Illinois Senate has agreed to kick the can down the road", said Rutherford in a news release, "through a grand borrowing scheme, extension of payment delays and once again skipping pension payments. It is unfortunate that Senators only had one hour to view a 2,200 page document that contains the budget. Clearly there is a lack of transparency with this budgetary process."
The budget contains huge lump sums. Gov. Pat Quinn will decide how that money is spent.
A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan calls a newspaper's report on alleged improper admissions at the University of Illinois a 'tortured effort' to smear the House Speaker.
The Chicago Tribune says 28 applicants to the University of Illinois' Urbana and Chicago campuses -- including relatives of donors, public officials, and political allies -- were helped by Madigan. The newspaper says relatives made campaign contributions totaling $50,000 to Madigan and $65,200 to the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The Tribune says it connected the applicants to Madigan through multiple sources and university documents provided through the Freedom of Information Act. The Speaker's spokesman, Steve Brown, says Madigan did get his share of requests for help to several universities. But Brown says his office has no way of confirming the 28 names were connected to the House Speaker.
Brown says there's simply no correlation between those applicants and those who helped Madigan's campaign: "They bring campaign contributions, but had to go back in the 90's to reach the dollar totals they report," Brown said. "That encompasses the state party, the local party, the Attorney General, which is why the Tribune would bring up the Attorney General I have no idea. It's a struggle to determine why anyone would make this into news."
Brown also notes some of those U of I applicants in the Tribune were denied, while others deemed unqualified but were admitted. He says that begs the questions of what the 'bureaucrats' at the university are up to.
In a statement provided to the newspaper, Madigan says he's intervened in admissions cases but he does so without considering political relationships. Interim U of I President Stanley Ikenberry says the university doesn't know of any instance in which Madigan "exerted inappropriate pressure.
Offers of buyouts are going out to more than 640 University of Illinois employees.
The Urbana campus began offering its voluntary separation packages over the winter to academic professional employees, with faculty being offered early retirement. This week employees who applied are finding out if their offers have been accepted - they'll be given contracts to sign within 30 days, and they'd leave their jobs by August. In exchange, they'd get 6 months' salary as an incentive.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says of the nearly 800 applicants, about 3/4 have been given the option to leave. "The goal of the program was to identify as many people as possible who were interested in retiring or separating from the university, willing to do that, and being able to reorganize, restructure in those given departments, to streamline a little bit," Kaler said.
Kaler says 483 academic professional employees have been approved to take buyouts if they want them. "Of those 483 that were approved, 211 of those positions will be refilled but at lower salaries. 272 of those positions will be eliminated."
Another 153 faculty members have been approved for early retirement, with 75 of those positions eliminated.
Kaler says if all employees leave as expected, the program will save the U of I about $25 million a year. She says the announcement was delayed by about a month because of the high number of applicants.
Longtime Champaign neighborhood services employee Mable Thomas, who passed away last month, will likely receive a street named in her honor.
With unanimous preliminary approval from the Champaign City Council, University Avenue from Elm Street to State Street would be designated as Mable Thomas Street. It was chosen because it borders West Side Park, where Thomas was known for organizing the local National Night Out against Crime.
City Councilman Tom Bruno enthusiastically supports this gesture to honor Thomas, based on what he saw of her work in the Neighborhood Services Department. "She would be able to maintain a level of order and courtesy so that people's emotions could cool down a little and they could talk rationally about a grievance they had or a problem," Bruno said. "In that way, she was just really good at what she did. Her passing is a great loss for the city of Champaign."
Thomas' accomplishments included helping to expand the city's Neighborhood Watch Program and creating the Neighborhood Small Grant Program. She helped to organize hundreds of neighborhood groups and was active in many community organizations and activities, including CommUnity Matters and First Street Farmer's Market.
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