Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Conservative Alliance Says Howell Re-Hiring Should Encourage Class Debate

An attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund says the University of Illinois' decision to bring back a dismissed adjunct professor raises greater issues about speaking freely in a classroom setting.

David French says his group commends the U of I for offering Kenneth Howell his job back. But he says the ADF will continue to follow an academic committee's review of the complaint that got Howell fired in the first place. His comments about homosexuals in a lesson on Catholicism led to the e-mailed complaint from a student. Howell was re-hired Thursday. The issue still before a committee with the U of I's Faculty Senate is whether academic freedoms were violated. French says he's confident the panel will rule in Howell's favor - a decision he says should bring about further class debate across campus. "It's not supposed to be a place where there is a particular party line that is taught and professors are inflexibly living within the mandate of that particular party line at a public university," said French. "A public university is a marketplace of ideas where students should be free to engage their professors, and professors should be free to teach their subject."

French notes the protest over Howell's dismissal was generated not only by Catholics, but people of many faiths... and should do a lot to protect the comments of professors in class. He says the U of I's knee-jerk reaction to the Howell complaint affirms that students are just as concerned about academic freedoms. "I think that's one of the most encouraging aspects about this - it's the students themselves reacted so strongly to support academic freedom," said French. "Hopefully one of the good outcomes of this ordeal is that it's going to remind the university and other universities the importance of protecting professors' in-class speech."

Howell has until August 6th to accept his re-appointment to the U of I. He's traveling Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.

Categories: Education, Religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Mahomet-Seymour Teachers Consider Going on Strike

The Mahomet-Seymour school district's teacher union is a step closer to going on strike after filing an intent-to-strike notice on Thursday. The teacher's union is working with the school board to re-negotiate teacher contracts. Joan Jordan is co-president of the teacher's union.

"I've taught all these years, and I do not want my last year to go out with a strike," said Jordan, who plans on retiring after nearly 35 years as a teacher in the school district. "There has to be a point of respect of what you do."

Jordan said she hopes a revamped contract for teachers includes a pay increase. A strike could take place by the time students return to class next month if the two sides fail to reach an agreement.

Terry Greene, president of the Mahomet-Seymour School Board, said he has met with the teacher's union a couple of times, and he hopes to negotiate a fair contract. Greene said given the state's financial crisis, the board is going to "take a very dim view of spending" to avoid future cuts to programs and staff. The union's contract expires August 17th.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Gov. Quinn Signing Wage Theft Legislation

Workers rights advocates are praising an Illinois bill that promises to speed up the process of how wage theft claims are processed.

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Friday. It stiffens penalties for employers who shortchange or don't pay workers.

The law also gives the Illinois Department of Labor have more oversight in dealing with the 10,000-plus wage theft claims it gets annually.

The agency will have a designated division and fund to deal directly with claims of $3,000 or less.

Chris Williams is director of Chicago's Working Hands Legal Clinic. He says the changes speed up the process, particularly for those who need it most.

Experts say wage theft is an increasing problem in the downturned economy, particularly for low wage and immigrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Blagojevich Deliberations in Second Full Day

Jurors deliberating for a third day at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have asked if it is possible to receive transcripts of witness testimony.

Judge James Zagel told attorneys Friday that he'd say jurors could receive specific transcripts of specific testimony, and that compiling transcripts would take time.

Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky alluded to the fact that only the prosecution presented witnesses. He told Zagel that providing all transcripts would amount to presenting the entire prosecution again.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges that include trying to sell or trade the nomination to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

Zagel also dismissed a mistrial motion filed by the defense.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Consultants Planning Olympian Drive Extension Hold Final Roundtable for Elected Officials

The last in a series of roundtable discussions on an extension of Olympian Drive looked at design options for one day linking the road with US 45 north of Urbana.

But last night's discussion among elected officials from Champaign County, Urbana, and Champaign also produced frustration with the way the forum was conducted, and the lack of cost estimates. The final roundtable discussion held by consultants was described as a private meeting with a public audience. Democratic County Board member Barb Wysocki says she's frustrated that very differing opinions on what should occur with the extension are being 'squashed.' And Wysocki said last night she was disappointed the consultants hadn't read the visioning document for Champaign County called Big-Small-All, a process she helped create. "Those who stuck with the process gave very good input," said Wysocki. "And they were thoughtul, they weighed matters, they were very careful about how they come up with goals and objectives. And for them to admit that they (consultants with Vector Communications) hadn't read it or even heard of it until this (Thursday) afternoon, to me it's unthinkable."

Champaign city council member Deb Frank Feinen, a Republican, agrees the public are being left out of this process, and wants citizens to weigh in on some of the design options. "There may be pieces of this that could qualify for special funding," said Feinen. "I mean, maybe the biker pedestrian or wetlands would qualify for funding we haven't even begun to think about yet. But we have to know that we want that included in the plan in order to go seek that funding."

The $27-point-5 million extension of Olympian Drive could be done in phases, starting with a stretch from Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue. But Democratic Champaign County board member Alan Kurtz contends funding for the full extension would run around $35-million. He says the county has better uses for its motor fuel tax money, including road and bridge repairs. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive project was always meant to be done in phases. "We have enough funding to do this project if you look at it as taking place over time," said Prussing. "We have money coming in every year to the county, they get $3 million in motor fuel tax funds, and can allocate about a third of that to fringe roads, which this would qualify for. And I think we should be asking our Congressman for federal money for Lincoln Avenue."

Prussing says the logical way of doing this project would be to extend Apollo Drive in Champaign to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, extend Lincoln out to 45, then finish up the west end of the project, extending to I-57. The extension would also rely on Illinois Capital bill funds, and request from the upcoming federal transportation bill. Consultants expect to hold another meeting on August 25th to begin forming a consensus.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Special Election to Serve Out U.S. Senate Seat

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn called for the special election Thursday after a recent court ruling found it's required by the constitution and Roland Burris' appointment is only temporary. To avoid the cost of a second election, the vote will happen on the same day as the already scheduled general, November 2nd. So voters will cast two ballots for U.S. Senators that day, one for the upcoming six year term, and one for the few weeks that will remain in the Obama/Burris term.

But there's no time before November 2nd to hold a primary to figure out who will run to be Senator for a month. It's a problem that attorneys and the federal court judge are trying to work out. A likely solution is that the candidates running for the six year term will also run in the special election. Those candidates would include Mark Kirk, Alexi Giannoulias, LeAlan Jones, and the independents who collected more than 25,000 signatures.

An attorney for Burris is fighting against the special election.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

The Afghanistan Document Release—How Does It Affect Investigative Journalism?

The release by the website WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret U-S military reports on the war in Afghanistan shows how the Internet has changed the rules of traditional journalism. So says University of Illinois Professor Brant Houston, who holds the Knight Chair in Investigate and Enterprise Reporting at the Department of Journalism. The documents were first reported by the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel --- but now anyone can read them on the WikiLeaks website. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows spoke with Houston, and asked him what this sort of release of information means for the news media.

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Categories: Government, Politics
Tags: government

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2010

Black Panther Party Co-Founder Reflects on Civil Rights Issues

Bobby Seale co-founded the controversial Black Panther Party in 1966. The Panthers preached a doctrine of militant black empowerment to end to all forms of oppression against black people. The Black Panther Party was dismantled after 20 years, and Seale and others have taken on non-violent activism. Seale stopped in Champaign to talk to local teachers. He spoke to Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the Party's legacy and how changes in the world have shaped his activism.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2010

Professor in UI Catholic Studies Controversy Asked Back to Teaching

The University of Illinois says an instructor who recently lost his job over a complaint about his religious beliefs can continue teaching. However, the university says it will pay those teaching Catholic-related courses rather than have them paid by a church group.

The university said Thursday afternoon that the St. John's Catholic Newman Center will no longer pay adjunct instructors, like Kenneth Howell, who teach Catholicism courses.

Howell taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. He says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining Catholic beliefs on homosexual sex to his students. The offer asks Howell to teach an introductory course to Catholicism. But U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler would not say whether his re-appointment was related to public uproar over the dismissal. But she says the instructor is expected to stick to some standards. "As with all instructors at the university, we expect that he'll teach in manner that adheres to the constitutional principles that preclude the establishment of religion in a public university context," said Kaler.

He says he was preparing the students for an exam. A student complained the e-mail amounted to hate speech.

Howell could not be reached immediately for comment on the university's decision.

Categories: Education, Religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2010

Deliberations Continue After Judge Denies Jury Request for Transcript

The judge in the Rod Blagojevich case says he will not give jurors a transcript of one of the closing arguments in the former governor's corruption trial.

Judge James Zagel says closing arguments are not evidence. He handed copies of the jury's note to prosecutors and defense attorneys before denying the request this morning.

Jurors are supposed to send notes if they want to ask the judge questions about legal issues or to notify him of other matters, like friction in the jury room.

Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich, have pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama gave up when he became president and illegally pressuring people for campaign donations.


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