Illinois Public Media News
A leader of University of Illinois graduate workers said the Urbana campus is actively working to soften the blow on those affected by a computer problem that meant taxes weren't withheld for seven years.
The payroll glitch on tuition waivers means 17 graduate employees will not see a paycheck for three months as the U of I owes thousands in back taxes. More than 250 other graduate assistants will be taxed for part of their tuition waivers starting this month, which could mean more than half of their pay.
Graduate Employees Organization co-president Stephanie Seawell said the U of I is actively meeting with the union to find solutions, but the two sides have yet to come up with a concrete plan.
"Hopefully we can find some sort of solution where they could spread out how they have to pay it," Seawell said. "Or in some cases, if they do a lot of teaching work, they might be able to be teaching assistants instead of the classifications that generate these sort of taxes."
The GEO said the deepest impact may be felt on international students, some of who have spouses who aren't eligible to work in the U.S. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the only apparent solution now for the graduate workers is taking out a loan.
"We are obliged to make these withholdings," Hardy said. "And we greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation on the part of these graduate students."
Hardy said graduate assignment classifications for many of the students vary on the Urbana campus, making it difficult to find a uniform solution. The U of I's change to the Banner computer system was only made in Urbana, and graduate workers in Chicago and Springfield were not affected.
Your old TV sets, tape decks, VCR's and computers are all welcome at Saturday's electronics recycling event on the north side of Champaign. It's one of four recycling collections held each year in Champaign County.
Bart Hagston is the environmental sustainability manager for the city of Urbana, which co-sponsors the event. He said he hopes that people will get into the habit of recycling their old electronic gear. He cautions that next year, simply throwing the items into the trash will not be an option. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, computers, computer monitors, printers and televisions will be banned from Illinois landfills.
"People will no longer be able to set those out with the regular trash," Hagston said. "So we're trying to help people get rid of any backlog of these items that they have in their home."
Hagston said the contractor they've hired to perform the recycling follows all state regulations on data security, to ensure that no data is stolen from the old computer hard drives that are dropped off at the event.
If it's a reusable computer hard drive, they have software approved by the Department of Defense to erase that, and then they can reuse it," Hagston said. "Or of it's not a working drive, or it's an older drive that's not going to get reused, they will shred it and then recycle the metals."
Besides computers, computer accessories and TV's, the electronic recycling event will takes fax machines, mobile phones DVD and VCR players, MP3 players, PDA's and video game consoles. No more than ten items per resident will be accepted.
The electronic recycling event runs Saturday, March 5th, from 8 AM until noon at the News-Gazette Distribution Center on Apollo Drive, just off North Market Street in Champaign. To keep the traffic flowing smoothly, Hagston said motorists should approach the site on Market Street from the south ...and follow the signs.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Authority is the main sponsor for Saturday's electronic recycling event. For more information, call 384-2302
The foundation for many of the world's most powerful computers is housed at the University of Illinois. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) started 25 years ago using computer systems like the Cray X-MP/24. Back then it was an industry standard, but it doesn't even come close to the processing speeds of today's models. The center set another world standard by releasing Mosaic, a pre-cursor to the web browser. The NCSA marks its 25th anniversary this year, and Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to the center's director Thom Dunning about the organization's contributions to science and technology.
(Photo courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications)
The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.
The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.
The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.
Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.
The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.
Energy company Dynegy will be closing its Vermilion Power facility near Oakwood by the end of March.
Company spokesman David Byford said mothballing the more than 50-year old facility largely comes down to economics.
"We have higher fuel costs at Vermilion because the plant is not located on a rail line," Byford said. "And that would be coupled with market conditions that would include reduced power demand and lower power prices that don't favor continued operations."
During a year-long review, Byford said company heads looked at options for the plant, including alternative fuel supply arrangements. But he said the price of fuel for supplying the plant with its coal also proved to be too much.
"We took a year exploring numerous options for the plant that included looking at alternative fuel supply arrangements," Byford said. "But in the end, we're still faced with poor plant economics."
Byford said the plant is no longer being used all the time, and he said a regional power grid ensures a reliable power supply to the area. The precise closure date for the plant is not known, but it is expected near the end of the first quarter of 2011. The company said the next step is for Dynegy to develop plans for suspending operations in a safe and reliable manner. The plant has about 50 employees, and Byford said it is not yet known whether they will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company.
A longtime instructor of a course on The Beatles has greatly boosted his student base... and popularity... via the web. University of Illinois at Springfield Communication and Liberal Studies professor Michael Cheney has taken his love for the Fab Four and condensed it into a series of on-line lectures. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Cheney about his Beatles course, and a podcast that's drawing fans worldwide.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
The Art Theatre in Champaign will roll out a new series this month with an emphasis on the performing arts.
The theater is teaming up with the digital film company, Emerging Pictures, to feature operas, ballets, and Shakespearean plays in High Definition and surround sound. The first selection in the series is this weekend's presentation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, recorded from London's Globe Theatre. Sanford Hess, the operator at the Art Theatre, said he hopes the showings will offer audience members a close representation of what it is like to see a live performance.
"You get close-ups of the performers that you would never get when you're sitting in the theatre," he said. "At the same time you still get that kind of communal experience of watching it with many other people who are also opera lovers or who love to see ballet."
Hess said he plans to invite speakers to give a presentation before each showing to provide some background about the stories and help explain the staging of each production.
"With the Shakespeare (plays), I think it's not so much the story that you need, but sometimes it's fascinating to know the historical context that some of the plays take place in," he explained. "I know Richard III has been staged in sort of World War II time frame. So, they're trying to make a point and have somebody give some context before you start; it's great."
Ticket prices for operas will be set at $20 for adults, and $18 for children, students, and senior citizens. All Shakespearean plays and ballets will be priced at $15 for adults and $13.50 for children, students, and senior citizens. Audience members can get discounted rates by purchasing a three-show package. The 2011 Winter/Spring season starts next month with a free showing of Verdi's Aidia on January 1st and 2nd.
Hess said the Art Theatre also plans to start showing digitized classic films early next year with works by British director Alfred Hitchcock, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and filmmakers from the French New Wave movement.
Airline passengers are putting up with a new and often unwelcome level of security screenings, but a University of Illinois professor who studies aviation security said those searches may not be useful.
Thanksgiving-weekend travelers at the nation's largest airports reported few slowdowns or other problems with "backscanner" machines that give screeners revealing images of passengers. Those who turned down the scans are subject to intensive pat-downs.
Professor Sheldon Jacobson said he believes federal officials pay too much attention to searching for banned items, and that the high-level searches should not be the first line of defense against terrorists.
"The question is, is this an effective use of a very powerful technology? In our own research, we don't believe it is," Jacobson said. "We believe that using it for secondary screening is far more appropriate and will actually facilitate a far more secure system, which is very counter-intuitive in some sense."
Jacobson says more effective security should focus on a passenger's intent. He said the Transportation Security Administration needs to further its research on ways of filtering out passengers based on background checks and looking for behavioral red flags at the airport.
Residents and businesses in Urbana who found themselves without phone service last week should have it restored by now.
A spokeswoman for AT&T said crews finished repairs on an underground cable over the weekend. Brooke Vane said they were sending tech personnel around to each phone and telecom customer to re-start their service. An employee at the Urbana School District confirmed that their phone service was restored around midday Monday.
Vane stated that they received around 300 complaints about the disruption caused when a construction crew accidentally cut the cable at the U of I campus, but she did not know the full number of customers who were affected. She said anyone still experiencing problems should call the AT&T customer service and repair number --- 1-888-611-4466.
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