Illinois Public Media News
A building on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus that has hosted classes ranging from geology to zoology is close to getting a major renovation.
Built in 1892 by campus architect Nathan Ricker, the Natural History Building is on the National Register of Historic Places. But nearly half of the facility was shut down in 2010 after engineers found structural problems.
On Thursday, the U of I's Board of Trustees hired a construction company to complete $70-million worth of upgrades. The work is being paid for by local funds, including a deferred maintenance fee that students pay, as well as donations. Geology Professor Stephen Marshak said work may begin as soon as this summer, but requires alternate space for moving lots of research and teaching labs.
He said most of the building's interior bears little resemblance to the original design, and that's one of the goals of an architect. Marshak said in some cases, the building's appearance is worse than conditions in Lincoln Hall before upgrades started there.
"There's termite-eaten wood. There's places where the plaster is falling off the walls, and the paint is peeling off," he said. "The floors are wrinkled. The rooms are basically unusable, In fact, even now, even though we had to compact ourselves into the northern end of the building, there are large areas of the building that are not closed, but are just not occupied because they're unusable."
Marshak, who's also the U of I's Director of the school of Earth, Society, and Environment, said one goal is returning the building to its original design. He said the largest single addition was in 1908, which wasn't constructed properly.
"Then there was a third part that was built in 1924," Marshak said. "They were all built with the same design, so that the building looks fairly consistent, but if you look close, you'll see that there's slight differences in brick color and things like that. But what gives it its historic character is the original Ricker design."
The work still requires $11-million in funding. The goal for the Natural History Building is to be finished by fall of the 2015 at the earliest.
A ruling issued Friday morning by the Illinois Supreme Court means more defamation lawsuits involving public figures can go forward. The decision could help a former candidate for Chicago alderman who sued his opponent over negative advertising.
Illinois courts have interpreted the 2007 Citizen Participation Act to apply to any statement aimed at getting the government to do what you want. If that was your true goal, you could not be sued for defamation.
But on Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court reined in the lower courts. The justices unanimously found that lawmakers were trying to prevent "only meritless, retaliatory" suits aimed at stopping people from speaking out. If a plaintiff who feels they've been defamed is "genuinely seeking relief for damages," the court said the suit can proceed.
The justices said that was true in the case at hand, in which a Dixon high school basketball coach, Steve Sandholm, sued members of his community who claimed he abused his players.
The decision could also help John Garrido, who ran for Chicago alderman and later sued labor unions and his opponent over campaign ads he alleges were lies. That case was thrown out using the Citizen Participation Act, leaving Garrido on the hook for the defendants' many thousands in legal fees. The court's ruling Friday essentially writes Garrido's appeal for him.
Garrido said Friday he was "definitely pleased with this decision" by the Supreme Court.
A spokesperson for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who sponsored the 2007 legislation, said the court's interpretation of the legislature's intent was correct.
"The Senate President wants to encourage civic engagement by protecting the rights of people to voice their concerns with public policies and actions," Rikeesha Phelon said in an email. "Those protections were not designed to...provide safe harbor for those who promote mistruths and lies. For that reason, [Cullerton] believes that the court made the right decision."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, however, is unlikely to be pleased by the ruling, as it was one of several groups who filed briefs in support of the Sandholm defendants. Asked for comment on the court's ruling, ACLU spokesman Edward Yohnka said the staff was still "reading and digesting the opinion."
"It is complicated and complicates the application of the CPA in Illinois," Yohnka wrote in an email.
About three dozen demonstrators chanted near the Federal Courthouse building in Urbana on Friday, opposing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed most limits on corporate and labor spending in federal elections.
A coalition called Move to Amend organized the Occupy the Courts protest and others like it in more than 100 cities. The group is trying to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision. The case allows private groups to spend on political campaigns with few restrictions
Nancy Dietrich, who was at the rally in Urbana, said she hopes more political candidates begin to re-evaluate where they get their campaign contributions.
"We don't think corporations are people, and corporations shouldn't have as much power to influence political decisions as the people do," Dietrich said.
Ivan Ruiz was also at the rally. He described excessive corporate campaign contributions as an "epidemic" that is not getting better.
"The corporations now are the ones that are choosing our president because they're the ones that have the money to influence public opinion, and that's been a problem in the past," Ruiz said.
Matt Murphy, who was at the demonstration in Urbana, said he doesn't know if Citizens United will actually get overturned, but he said he is optimistic that campaign contribution limits will change.
"This may not fix all the problems, but it's certainly something we can do, and it's certainly a good start to get people to sort of take back our elections from the corporations," Murphy said.
Occupy Wall Street activists also participated in the demonstration in Urbana.
Meanwhile, around 50 people lent their voices to the protest in Chicago, chanting across the street from the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Indiana Senate has rejected a proposal for a statewide voter referendum on the right-to-work bill that has prompted the boycott by Indiana House Democrats.
The Senate voted 36-14 nearly along party lines Friday against the referendum proposal, which one Republican senator described as "deeply constitutionally suspect" since the Indiana Constitution requires all laws to be approved by the Legislature.
The Democratic proposal would have the law take effect the day before the Nov. 6 election, and expire Nov. 7 if voters didn't endorse it. Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage compared it to referendums that allowed counties to opt out of a 1990s law permitting casinos.
House Democrats are backing the same referendum proposal.
Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville was the only Republican to vote for the referendum proposal.
More than 370 flights have been canceled at Chicago's airports as a fast-moving snowstorm whips across the area.
The Chicago Department of Aviation says more than 300 flights in and out of O'Hare International Airport have been canceled Friday. Southwest Airlines has canceled all 70 of its flights at Midway Airport. That's about 15 percent of all flights at Midway Friday.
The National Weather Service says up to 8 inches of snow could fall by Friday evening. Forecasters say snow could fall at a rate of an inch or more per hour during the storm.
The weather service has issued a winter storm warning that's in effect until late Friday.
It is likely that former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley will not have to testify about the Burge torture scandal because the city is seeking a settlement with torture victims.
A federal judge has ordered Daley to sit for a deposition in the case of Michael Tillman, who was tortured by police under former commander Jon Burge. That means Daley would have to answer questions on what he knew about the Burge torture scandal and when.
Many of the Burge victims were prosecuted and sent to prison when Daley was the Cook County state's attorney, but it's very possible that Daley will never have to answer those questions because the city is engaged in settlement negotiations on the Tillman case.
The revelation came in a hearing in federal court last week when Judge Elaine Bucklo asked about the status of those negotiations.
City attorneys said they would get a response to the torture victims by the end of this week. Neither the city nor the attorneys for the torture victims will comment on the negotiations.
Tim Frazier hit a floater in the lane with 8 seconds left and Jermaine Marshall blocked Sam Maniscalco's layup at the buzzer to give Penn State a 54-52 upset of No. 22 Illinois on Thursday night.
Frazier finished with 12 points and nine assists for the Nittany Lions (10-10, 2-5 Big Ten), who ended a three-game losing skid.
Off a timeout, Frazier drove at the top of the key before Jon Graham's pick freed him from hounding defender Brandon Paul.
The Illini (15-4, 4-2) lost for the first time since re-entering the AP Top 25 this week. They had a short stay atop the Big Ten as the league's lone one-loss team in conference play.
Paul had 20 points to pace the Illini, while Meyers Leonard added 15.
Wednesday's Internet strike in opposition to Internet Piracy legislation led eight lawmakers --- including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk --- to drop their support of the measures.
But Congressman Tim Johnson (R-IL) said he didn't need a day without Wikipedia to reach the conclusion that SOPA (HR 3261), and its Senate version PIPA (S 968) would be bad for the country.
The Urbana lawmaker says he understands the threat of Internet Piracy, but believes the two bills would do more harm than good.
"I think it's vaguely worded," Johnson said. "I think it clearly has the potential to violate First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. I think it is oppressive with respect to individuals, and I think it is ill-considered. And I think it's something that clearly should be defeated in the Congress."
Supporters of SOPA, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, argue that it targets only foreign "rogue websites" that are dedicated to copyright infringement. They say such sites as YouTube and Facebook would not be affected, and would not be required to monitor their users. But Johnson remains skeptical.
"They're misportraying it," he said. "It's clear from the bill that it would have potential for tremendous abuse. This is a good example of big Hollywood money coming in and trying to buy the process. And it's simply not going to work."
Johnson said he doesn't think SOPA and PIPA bills can be revised to address his concerns. Instead, he said current laws are sufficient to protect intellectual property rights.
The two bills would give officials the power to require that Internet providers and search engines block websites suspected of copyright infringement. Critics say the measure would pose a threat to other websites, just for linking to sites that had links to copyright infringement.
Governor Pat Quinn announced on Thursday that he plans to close the Jacksonville Developmental Center and Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
Quinn's office is calling the closures a "re-balancing." The Governor plans to move institutionalized patients with developmental disabilities and mental illness to community-based settings.
In a statement, Quinn said it will improve their quality of life, but it also means savings to the state. The administration estimates the closures will save nearly $12 million a year by closing the Jacksonville facility, and another 8 million dollars annually once Tinley Park is shuttered. Much of those savings will come through laying off state employees.
State Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville) said that will mean turmoil for his community, and for some of the legal guardians who have long entrusted their loved ones to be cared for in Jacksonville.
"If you were the parent, if it was one of your loved ones there, what would you know right now about their future, where they're going?" Watson said. "What if you were a 75 year old sick parent and you know where your child is now. And you hear this, nobody has called you and talked to you about it. I don't think those people feel very secure at all."
Watson said he is hopeful the General Assembly will be able to stop the governor's plan. Quinn had previously moved to close seven state facilities, but lawmakers reached an agreement to prevent it.
Tinley Park is slated to close in July, with Jacksonville to follow in October.
Quinn's said in the next couple years, it plans to close up to three more state institutions for the developmentally disabled.
Tuition for a freshman attending the University of Illinois next fall will go up by 4.8 percent.
The U of I's Trustees voted on the proposal on Thursday at their meeting in Chicago. In a press release, the University notes those rates would be the equivalent of 1.9 percent per year, under a guarantee that the rates would be locked into place for four years.
Under the proposal, in-state tuition at Urbana-Champaign would increase by $532 to $11,636; in Chicago tuition would increase by $468 to $10,232; in Springfield the cost in would increase $420 a year to $9,090.
Housing costs would go up $236 a year to $9,688 in Urbana-Champaign and $198 a year to $10,060 in Chicago. In Springfield, the increase would be $200 a year to $9,870.
U of I Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr said the proposed rates conform to the rate of inflation, while dealing with Illinois' 'troubled' fiscal problems.
The Board of Trustees last year approved a policy to limit tuition increases to no more or less than the rate of inflation. U of I President Michael Hogan acknowledges that tuition increases have dropped, from 9.5 percent two years ago to less than 5 percent this year.
"Now, we'd like to continue our current policy, which addresses the important issue of accessibility, but much depends on the future of state funding, which continues to look problematic," Hogan said.
Hogan said the inflation-based tuition adjustment reflects the Board's commitment to holding down student costs while maintaining the high-quality academic programs that are the hallmark of the university.
"Affordability is critical, but so is an education that opens doors of opportunity for our graduates and paves the way for successful careers that pay lifelong dividends," he said.
Trustee Timothy Koritz said he is hoping to see the tuition levels stay at the same level a year from now.
"I think we need to ask ourselves as a board, 'Could a little bit of runaway spending be part of the equation here?' Koritz said. "I feel that we're obligated to investigate that possibility. We need to hold tuition increases in check if we wish to maintain a great student body."
Koritz suggested the board do its best with whatever funds it has to work with next year.
U-I-C Student Trustee Kenneth Thomas voted against the tuition increase, saying the gap between the amount of that hike and financial aid is too wide.
The U of I Trustees also unanimously re-elected Chris Kennedy to his fourth term as chairman of the Board.
The Trustees meeting comes a week after an investigation wrapped up, connecting the U of I President's former chief of staff as the author of a pair of anonymous emails sent to the University's Faculty Senates Conference.
The messages urged members of the panel not to investigate who leaked their report, which was critical of parts of President Michael Hogan's enrollment management plan.
At the tail end of the Trustees meeting, the chair of Senates Conference spoke about the case on behalf of other faculty senate leaders on all three campuses. Donald Chambers, who teaches biochemistry at UIC, said he believes more people were responsible for the messages.
"Leaders must accept responsibility for what happens on their watch even if they may not have been personally directed or approved of it," Chambers said. "No one can read the investigative report without being shocked by a widespread pattern of secretive and deceptive behavior."
President Hogan and the Trustees didn't respond to Chambers' comments.
The investigation revealed that no other person, including Hogan, had prior knowledge about the anonymous messages. University spokesman Tom Hardy has said this case will not have an impact on Hogan's role at the U of I.
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