Illinois Public Media News
The two party leaders are in place as the Champaign County Board organizes for another year.
Democrats on the board chose to re-elect current board chair Pius Weibel at a caucus last night, with Tom Betz as Vice-Chair. Weibel had faced competition from fellow board member Al Kurtz. Meanwhile, Republicans voted for Alan Nudo to succeed Greg Knott as its party's caucus chairman. Knott has decided to run for the Parkland College Board of Trustees. John Schroeder will serve as the Republicans' vice chair.
Democrats will retain a 15-12 advantage in the county board when it reconvenes next month. At that meeting the entire new board will choose its chair and vice-chair.
The race to replace Chicago's longtime mayor took better shape Sunday as two more candidates joined a crowded field that also includes former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a Chicago megachurch, both formally announced their campaigns during a busy weekend in the race to take over for Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley, who has led the country's third largest city for more than two decades, surprised many by announcing in September that he would not seek a seventh term.
The two Democrats and Emanuel, who made his official campaign announcement Saturday, pushed the field of declared candidates to five, and another well-known politician is expected to announce soon.
"We need a leader who will bring people out of this division and this turmoil to a place called unity and peace," Meeks told a roaring crowd of more than 400 supporters at a rally Sunday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Meeks, who got the backing of the former head of the Illinois Republican Party at the rally, focused heavily on his plans to improve the quality of Chicago public schools. It's a cause he has championed as a state legislator in his call for better school funding, which now relies on property taxes and can mean disparities between rich and poor areas in the state.
Earlier in the day, Davis also pledged to be a unifying force in the city who would represent the interests of all the city's residents.
"I will be the mayor for every racial and ethnic group, reaching out to all will be the benchmark of a Danny Davis administration," Davis told more than 100 supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel.
Davis, who has been in Congress since 1997, was tapped earlier this month by a coalition of black leaders as their preferred candidate over other finalists, including Meeks and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
Braun, the country's first black woman senator, has already opened a campaign office and plans an official announcement soon.
The coalition, which included elected officials, business owners and activists, had hoped to avoid splitting the black vote by uniting behind one candidate. Members said they chose Davis, who previously served on the Cook County Board and the Chicago City Council, because of his broad government experience.
Davis didn't offer specific policies at his Sunday announcement and admitted he didn't have the answers to all the city's problems, including its financial woes.
"All of us know that there are no simple solutions to very complex problems, and I don't pretend at the moment to have an answer to all our financial problems and the financial difficulties which face our city ... no one does," he said.
But Davis said he has never run from a problem and promised to work to create jobs and economic opportunities. He also said he would do everything in his power to save children from drug use, abuse, incarceration and poverty.
Davis was re-elected Nov. 2 with about 80 percent of the vote to another term representing a congressional district that spans economically and racially diverse areas from Chicago to the western suburbs.
The mayoral race also includes City Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, who have already declared.
Two new reports released by the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society shed some light on the state of underrepresented minority students at the University of Illinois.
The first report, which looks at graduate education at the U of I, refers to campus data from the 2009 Strategic Plan Progress Report and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the study, African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians groups in 2009 comprised a little more than 30 percent of the state's population. Meanwhile, the percent of those groups represented in the U of I's graduate school was significantly lower at around seven percent.
"The University has a persistent problem of inequity," said U of I African American studies Professor Jennifer Hamer, who helped write the study. "This is a public university, a flagship public land-grant university, and we don't have a population that represents the state, let alone the nation."
The report also found that in fall 2009, there were no Hispanic, African American, and American Indian students enrolled in many graduate level programs.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler issued a statement saying the university is committed to diversity in higher education, including graduate education.
"We have worked for many years to attract the best and brightest minority students to campus," Kaler said.
Hamer said she has been encouraged by conversations with the university's administrators about diversifying the campus.
"They clearly see diversity as a value to the campus," Hamer said. "Now, the question is how do they respond to that? Well, I think once you define something as a value, you set policy and practices that emphasize it."
Kaler noted some examples of campus-wide initiatives dedicated to attracting minority students to Illinois:
"Many initiatives across campus are dedicated to bringing excellent minority students to Illinois. For example, the Young Scholars Program in ACES, LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program) in GSLIS, SURGE (Support for Under-Represented Groups in Engineering) and SROP (Summer Research Opportunities Program) and the Graduate College Fellows program in the Graduate College. Recently, the P&G Science Diversity Summit, a collaborative event among the College of ACES, College of Engineering, College of LAS and the Graduate College, brought partners from minority serving institutions to campus to create new partnerships and initiatives to support diversity in graduate programs at Illinois."
The second report released involved 11 focus groups with 82 minority students who were interviewed about their reactions to 'racial microaggressions' made in the residence halls (elevators, chalkboards, dorm room doors) and elsewhere on campus.
The report defined racial microaggressions as "race-related encounters that happen between individuals. Individual level encounters can be verbal, nonverbal, or behavioral exchanges between people. Microaggressions can also occur on the environmental level, which are race-related messages that individuals receive from their environment."
The report is coauthored by Drs. Stacy A. Harwood who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning; Ruby Mendenhall, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Sociology, African American Studies, and Urban and Regional Planning; and Margaret Browne Huntt, the Research Specialist at the Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society.
Hunt said students who were interviewed perceived racial slurs negatively, even comments that were considered harmless.
"What we were finding is that the students were receiving the various forms of racism to be as hostile, derogatory," Huntt said. "Some students actually contemplated leaving the university because of these forms of racism that take place."
Students in the study that saw racial slurs written in dormitory elevators stated that they were more upset about the slurs not being removed immediately.
"I went to the front desk and I told them about it and it was a Caucasian girl there and she was just like, we've been hearing about it all day, and she kind of blew it off," one student said. "Then my floor had a meeting about the whole situation and my RA told me that nobody told them about the racial slurs on the elevator."
The report concluded that faculty and students should undergo training to help identify and stop racism, even when it is presented in an unintentional and subtle way.
"Some students won't speak up in class cause they feel like when they do say things, students won't believe their experience," Mendenhall said.
Huntt and Mendenhall said they are not sure if offensive racial comments at the U of I correlate with the number of underrepresented minority students as this was not part of their study.
Officials from Dynergy Inc. have raised concerns about the Vermilion Power Station's long-term stability.
The Houston-based company owns four power plants in Illinois, in addition to the Vermilion plant located near Oakwood. Dynergy spokesman David Byford said because of challenging market conditions coupled with the cost of transporting coal that is trucked to the plant, his company is looking at 'options' for the 54-year-old power station.
"For the short term, it's business as usual for the plant," Byford said.
Byford would not go into detail about what options the company's pursuing.
Dynegy may soon merge with the Blackstone Group for about $4.7 billion, which would include the assumption of Dynegy's debt. Dynegy Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger next week in Houston.
University of Illinois officials are holding a forum Saturday afternoon to address the U of I's response to the recent wave of campus violence.
On Monday, a student was sexually assaulted in a dormitory bathroom. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano said that attack prompted U of I officials to organize the meeting, which she hopes will help inform parents about what they can do to protect students.
"Students are in a lot of contact with their parents," Romano said. "So parents can remind their students to lock their doors, remind their students to use safe walks, to walk with friends, to use safe rides, and that sort of thing."
The university in recent weeks has agreed to hire more police officers, installed dozens of security cameras, and activated a call center where operators who can answer questions about the attacks. Romano added that she hopes this town hall meeting will encourage students to come forward if they witness violence.
"If they report a crime or if they see something suspicious, and perhaps they've been drinking," she said. "They're not going to get a drinking ticket."
U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor reported that police have made more than 25 arrests related to the campus assaults and robberies.
The town hall meeting will start Saturday at 3pm at the Illini Union's Courtyard Cafe. The event will be streamed live at http://illinois.edu/here_now/videos.html as well as for viewing at a later time. Questions may be phoned in during the meeting at 217-244-8938.
American Eagle plans to add a flight route between Savoy's Willard Airport and Chicago's O'Hare Airport starting February 10.
Willard Airport manager Steve Wanzek said there has been a steady increase in Chicago-bound flights on American Eagle following Delta Air Lines' decision to leave Willard on August 31.
"We've long wanted additional service out of here," Wanzek said. "The airline itself saw that they were overbooked, and they didn't have enough seat capacity to handle the passengers that wanted to fly on their airline out of here."
The new flight would depart Chicago at 10:15 am and arrive at Willard at 11:05 am. It would then leave Willard at 11:30 am and arrive in Chicago at 12:20 pm.
Wanzek said that he has working with Sixel Consulting Group, an Oregon-based consulting firm, to find out if other airline carriers would be interested in coming to Willard. He also said he is trying to convince American Eagle to bring more air service to Willard Airport.
(Photo courtesy of caribb/flickr)
A new study on state university teaching programs is being called 'questionable' by the head of the teacher certification unit at the University of Illinois.
The Washington-D.C. based National Council on Teacher Quality gave the U of I high marks this week for its undergraduate elementary and graduate secondary programs. However, it reported that Illinois State University has failed designs in elementary and special education, while Eastern Illinois University earned a 'fair' rating.
The council reviewed on-line course guides and syllabi at 53 schools, a total of 111 undergraduate and graduate programs. The executive director of the U of I's Council on Teacher Education, Chris Roegge, said without site visits and a real dialogue, the report commissioned by Advance Illinois is somewhat superficial.
Roegge added that even the U of I received a low rating in one area, before he rectified the situation. One component was not covered in the coursework the NCTQ researched on line, so Roegge sent the council syllabi for three additional required courses that covered those areas.
"I received a reply that said 'well, those courses aren't part of our analysis - which makes no sense," Roegge said. "We got that rectified. I said 'regardless if it's part of your anaylsis or not, these are courses that are required in the program. You're looking for this particular element in the program. Here's where it is. So there were a lot of things of that type that we came across."
Roegge said what is lost is that recent graduates are just getting started in the field.
"All of the great lengths that we go to to prepare them, and all of the assessments that we give them, and all of the hoops that they jump through," Roegge said. "When they receive their bachelor's degree, and in some cases, a master's degree, and they're initially certified by the state, they are still novice teachers. And the development of their skills and abilities as a teacher is just beginning."
Organizations that include all 53 teaching programs issued a response to the report, calling it 'faulty' and 'narrow in focus.' Groups like the Illinois Association of Teacher Educators also point out that the Council on Teacher Quality hasn't been accredited by the federal government, or any state board of education.
The annual ceremony in Urbana recognizing the efforts of those who enlist in the U.S. armed forces was also a call to help local veterans in need.
About 40 people attended Veterans Day ceremonies at the Champaign County Courthouse Memorial on Thursday. Mark Friedman, the Superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Champaign County, spoke at the event.
Friedman's organization exists in about half of Illinois' counties. Groups like the VFW and American Legion has requested their county governments to form such a group, in which tax dollars help indigent veterans with areas like utility bills and assistance paying their rent or mortgage. Friedman said his organization has only been in the talking phase for the last 10 years, but its mission is starting to take shape.
"The VAC will be liasoning with groups like the (Champaign County) Regional Planning Commission for low-income energy assistance and programs like that," Friedman said. "We're basically going to be a clearinghouse to help route people who don't know where else to go. We're still looking at what we're going to describe as to what our complete mission is going to be."
Illinois' Military Assistance Act, passed in 1992, allows veterans organizations to form such groups. In other counties, the assistance groups also provide transportation for some veterans.
Meanwhile, veterans' groups say there is a new appreciation for what men and women in uniform do when serving in the armed services. Lieutenant Clifford White of Lincoln's Challenge Academy said only veterans know what it is like to stand guard all night while others sleep, and believes he is instilling those same values into the young cadets in Rantoul.
"It's not just a one-day event, it's an every day event," White said. "Our country is having turmoil everywhere, and they need to understand that if it wasn't for the men and women, both young and old, if it wasn't for that we wouldn't have the freedom to be able to do what we need to do and what we can do in our country."
White said since the Gulf War, Americans have learned to appreciate the role of the military.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
A Champaign County Judge has been asked to provide local taxing bodies with some clarity over whether they are free to use property tax funds paid out by Provena Covenant Medical Center.
Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch wants to know what years between 2002 and 2009 will not remain part of a legal battle over the hospital's tax-exempt status.
"Tell us which ones are in jeopardy, and which ones are not," Welch said. "Just let Provena make their case to the judge about what legal authority they believe they have to tie up any of that money. If they can't, then I assume Urbana will be able to release whatever they want, but leave it up to the judge, let them make their legal argument."
Welch said Provena is appealing its 2006 property taxes. More than $8 million of the remaining funds, or 99 percent, is earmarked for a Tax Increment Financing District in Urbana. Welch said the city is not required to give it to anyone else, but Urbana opted to release some to other local governments. Champaign County's share of tax dollars for that stretch is about $600,000.
"Urbana wants to give this money to the taxing districts, and all taxing districts are in need of some money," Welch said. "So it makes some sense if we can clarify it once and for all. Yet some money is not in jeopardy of not having to be refunded again, and some money may be. Whatever the answer is, we just want to know what that answer is."
Welch said it could be several years before the county finds out what a judge's ruling will be for 2006. While his office still is not holding any of this money, it is still up to the Treasurer to keep track of tax dollars that have been paid or refunded. Welch said it has been difficult keeping track of the tax liability for each of the taxing districts.
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