Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Faculty Senate Committee Will Review Dismissal of Religion Professor

A faculty committee will investigate whether a former University of Illinois religion professor's academic freedoms were violated.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter says the Academic Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure should complete its review of Kenneth Howell by time the fall semester starts. The adjunct professor was let go after a student complained about Howell's lessons on Catholicism, when he stated that homosexual sex was morally wrong. Easter says it's the U of I's obligation to present all sides of an issue, and that's valued by the academic community. But he says there are areas that require a review.

"An individual can be viewed as going beyond, if you will, the bounds of educational discussion discourse to advocating a particular viewpoint." said Easter. "And that's the question that seems to be important to addressing this particular case. I think that's why we'd be well advised to have a group of faculty have a look at this." Easter says administrators need to see what the committee says before determining whether Howell is reinstated.

The outgoing chair of the Senate committee, professor Jeff Dawson, says it needs a charge letter from Easter before proceeding with the review. "It will specify the scope of our investigation with respect to academic freedom and tenure." said Dawson. "And there are other issues about long-term relationships between the university and more than one religion group on campus, and the nature of that relationship." Easter says the professor's dismissal has also raised questions about the relationship between the U of I's Department of Religion and St. John's Catholic Newman Center. He says Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Ruth Watkins is looking into whether it warrants further study.

Categories: Education, Religion

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

The Buzz on Pollination

May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology, talks with Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about a series of events on pollinators. Berenbaum says most plants rely on pollination to survive, and she says there are about just as many species of pollinating insects as there are pollinating plants.

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Categories: Education, Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

U. of I to Review Catholic Instructor’s Firing

A faculty group at the University of Illinois' flagship campus will review the decision to fire an adjunct religion professor for saying he agreed with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor Robert Easter said Monday he hopes to have a decision on the firing of Kenneth Howell from the Faculty Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the time fall classes start. The review is to determine whether Howell's academic freedom was violated.

Howell taught classes on Catholicism. He was fired at the end of the spring semester after a class discussion of the Catholic prohibition of homosexual sex. Howell says as a Catholic he agrees with it. A friend of an unidentified student complained, leading to Howell's firing.

Categories: Education, Religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Urbana Council Gives Go-Ahead for Shorter High Cross Road Multi-Use Path

The Urbana City Council gave the go-ahead Monday night for work on a new bike and walking path along High Cross Road on the city's east end. But the project is now much smaller than first planned.

The problem is the price. The project is now slated to cost a total of 1-point-2 million dollars, nearly twice the price estimate given when the planning was done back in 2005. , An ITEP (IIllinois Transportation Enhancement Program) federal grant is supposed to pay for most of the project. But Urbana Public Works Director Bill Grey says building the entire path at its current price may exceed the limits set by the grant rules. Still, he says scrapping the project and giving the money back would hurt Urbana's changes for landing such grant money in the future.

"I don't want to give you the impression, that if we go with Option Two and put the money back, that we're never going to see an ITEP grant again, so I'm not saying that tonight", says Grey. "I'm just saying it's going to hurt our chances, in competition with other cities, counties, entities that apply for this money. That we're not going to be in quite the same graces. That's all I'm saying."

In the end, the Urbana City Council voted for "Option Five". That calls for building just the southern portion of the multi-use path at this time --- from Windsor Road, past the Stone Creek subdivision, and out to Po' Boys restaurant and sport complex. The path would not make it out to the future Menard's site or to Walmart. With the reduced plan, the city will pay $310, 000 of its own money - instead of the $1.1 million the city would pay for its share of the full project.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Urbana Mayor Continues to Press for Local Motor Fuel Taxes

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's motor fuel tax plan faces charges from critics who say it would raise gasoline prices in the city. But the mayor and chief of staff told council members Monday night that other towns with their own motor fuel taxes haven't had that problem.

Mike Monson, the mayor's chief of staff, says he talked with officials at six downstate cities with motor fuel taxes, including Danville, Tilton, Galesburg and Peoria.

"I talked to them about the competitive effect, " says Monson. "They seemed to think there wasn't much of a price differential between stations that were within the city that were collecting this tax, and stations in nearby communities and unincorporated areas that didn't have it."

But Monson walked back from earlier estimates that a two-cent a gallon gasoline tax could raise a half million dollars a year for Urbana. He now thinks the number would be more like $350,000. City Public Works Director Bill Grey says that would still be enough to help keep up with street maintenance.

"We really need to do more work with resurfacing streets, and seal-coating, crack-sealing and patching streets", says Grey. "So two cents would be a big help." :

Prussing argues that a 2-cent per gallon motor fuel tax would would be barely noticeable --- if passed on to customers --- because gasoline prices already vary widely from one gas station to another. Prussing says she did her own survey of gas station prices last Friday, and found a 23 cent difference between the highest and lowest prices.

"So a 23 cent difference between two gas stations in the same city is more than ten times as much as a two cent tax", says Prussing. "We don't think the tax will get passed on, but if it does, it's still a very small amount, compared to the daily changes and the differences between stations."

Still Republican Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was unconvinced. She said she worried gas stations just outside the Urbana city limits --- in Champaign to the west and Urbana Township to the east --- could take customers away from gas stations in Urbana, if a motor fuel tax passes.

Mayor Prussing says a city gasoline tax is needed, because revenue from the state's motor fuel tax and Urbana's s general fund have not kept up with inflation. She says discussion of the proposed tax will continue at a later council meeting.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2010

U of I Lays Groundwork For Borrowing, Plans for 2012 Fiscal Year

The University of Illinois still has about six weeks to act on a plan to borrow funds in order to make payroll and fund other areas where it's lacking in money owed by the state.

U of I Trustees have already granted administrators the authority to take advantage of a bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn that enables public universities to borrow up to 75-percent of what's owed by the state for up to a year. For the U of I, that's around $210-million. But administrators expect to wait until just before the August 31st deadline to decide whether to act on the measure. Ed McMillan chairs the Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance, and Facilities committee. He says the U of I will continually assess its cash flow before making that decision.

But McMillan says all public universities, particularly those in Illinois, need to keep looking for new funding sources. "As you look at us over the next... let's say three years, you're going to find us working very hard at finding a revenue model that relies upon a different mix of revenue sources," said McMillan. "What that's going to be I don't know. I think you can look around the United States and see several different models that are being tried and successfully being pursued. I don't think any of us have any any predetermination as to what model should be."

U of I Associate Vice President of Planning and Budgeting Randy Kangas says the school could soon seek out a line of credit with a bank if it utilizes the borrowing measure. He notes the state intends to pay its overdue bills by the end of the calendar year... and that short-term interest rates are very favorable. And with Fiscal 2011 just underway, some leaders at the U of I are already thinking of the following fiscal year. Kangas says U of I Trustees plan to seek out about $67-million in state funds for fiscal 2012 by their September meeting. That's in addition to seeking the normal state appropriation of $697-million. Kangas says prior years have brought requests for additional funds of more than $100-million, seeking out help for areas like campus diversity and initiatives to improve graduation rates. He says there hasn't been a change in aspirations, but U of I leaders recognize the reality of Illinois' financial crisis. Kangas says the focus will be to see that top salaries are funded.

"Obviously, the state is in a crisis," said Kangas. "Probably, the nation is still in a crisis in the throws of an economic downturn. However, we have to tell people what our top priorities are. We have to tell the legislature by not fulfilling these requests what we're going to lose when we lost top faculty and staff. So is there a great chance of this being funded? Probably not a great chance." Kangas says there are other 'unavoidables' that are part of that funding request... including utility costs and worker's compensation.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2010

B-17 Bomber Marks 75 Years at Willard Airport

The B-17 Bomber turns 75 this year. The fleet of planes covered the skies of Germany during World War II bombing raids, but today only a few remain. These flying bricks could sustain such significant battle damage that the aircraft lived up to its name, the Flying Fortress. To mark 75 years, the plane recently stopped at Willard Airport near Champaign. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers had a chance to take a ride in the Flying Fortress.

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Categories: History, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 09, 2010

Candidate Kirk Talks About Jobless Benefits Vote, But Not Military Record

Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he voted against extending jobless benefits because Democrats didn't come up with a way to pay for the benefits without adding to the deficit.

The Republican congressman says he has often voted to let people continue collecting unemployment past the normal deadline, but he opposed the most recent extension because it would have increased the deficit by $30 billion.

The House approved the extension, but it was blocked in the Senate. That means hundreds of thousands of people are losing the unemployment benefits each week.

Kirk spoke at a news conference in Springfield Friday, where he discussed his "Springfield Agenda", the latest in a series of economic development plans for different regions of the state.

Meanwhile, Kirk says he is done answering questions about exaggerating his military accomplishments.

Several times this week, Kirk has refused to answer questions about specific incidents during his 21 years in the Navy Reserve. At his Springfield news conference, he said he'll let his official fitness reports speak for him from now on.

Those reports include glowing evaluations but offer no details on specific incidents -- such as whether he came under fire while serving in Afghanistan, as he once claimed.

Kirk apologized last week for making false statements about his military service and said he had been careless. He says that news conference fully addressed all questions.

Kirk has been on the defensive since the revelation that he claimed a military award he didn't win.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 09, 2010

Construction to Start on Central IL Wind Farm

Construction will start this month on a wind farm along the McLean and Woodford County lines.

Invenergy is building 100 wind turbines, producing 150 megawatts of power. Central Region Development Vice President Bryan Schueler says the company is working with contractors on a start date. He won't disclose the cost of the project.

The project was approved three years ago, but a group opposed to the wind farm sued over the zoning process. That lawsuit was settled in late 2008, but it took more time for Invenergy to find financing.

Meanwhile, Horizon Wind Energy has filed for a special use permit to build its third wind farm in central Illinois. That project is proposed for northeastern McLean County between Colfax, Lexington and Chenoa.

Categories: Energy
Tags: energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 09, 2010

U of I Religion Professor Is Dismissed For Views On Catholicism

The head of a national academic group says a terminated University of Illinois professor was well within his rights to express opinions on Catholicism, and should lobby to get his job back.

After adjunct Professor Kenneth Howell stated that homosexual acts are immoral, a student complained to the head of the U of I's Department of Religion that the professor was engaging in hate speech. Howell claims the dismissal violates his academic freedom. U of I English Professor Cary Nelson is President of the American Association of University Professors. He says while many faculty members choose to remain neutral on various issues, they can also state their positions, and invite their students to argue on those points.

"I always tell students where I stand, and then I say 'please disagree with me - give me a hard time." says Nelson. "Let's get a debate going. You do a good job on the debate, you get extra credit. I want you to dispute me, not just settle for my beliefs." Nelson also says Howell has earned the right to request a hearing before faculty in the Department of Religion. Nelson says if it's proven before an elected committee that Howell was let go because of his opinion, he should be allowed to get his job back.

But Nelson says the professor can also appeal before the AAUP. He says the organization sees more cases like Howell's each day, in which a non-tenured faculty member is dismissed because of a complaint from a student or parent. "He's apparently taught nine years.on contracts like this," (a year-by-year hire.) "They're often let go without any kind of full, professional, evaluation. Basically some administrator decides 'well, it's not worth the trouble, he or she is controversial, we'll just cut them loose. But that damages everyone's academic freedom."

Howell doesn't have a local phone listing. His comments in e-mails were obtained by the News-Gazette. The head of the U of I's Religion Department, Robert McKim, also couldn't be reached for comment. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined comment since Howell's firing is a personnel issue.

Categories: Education, Religion

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