On March 7, the Urbana-Champaign Senate Executive Committee heard reports on two issues with campuswide ramifications.Committee member Konstantinos Yfantis reported "widespread concern" about the current movement to reclassify some academic professionals as civil service workers.
He said the Chicago campus already had started the reclassification process following an audit by the State Universities Civil Service System.
That audit, completed last August, showed inadequate position management processes for academic professionals and improper exemption for AP jobs and academic hourly jobs that should be classified civil service.
UIC administrators are developing a system to properly classify employees, and administrators plan to study all academic professional positions.
Yfantis said a recent Council of Academic Professionals meeting to discuss the topic in Urbana resulted in a higher-than-expected group of nearly 300.
He said, to this point, the Urbana campus had not been audited. Recent proposed legislation, which failed, would have taken the classification power away from the university entirely, he said.
"There is no mandate by university administration to reclassify," he said, "but there has been a lot of movement and conversation."
Bob Easter, interim vice president and chancellor, said the Chicago audit had "opened the conversation" about the ramifications of a similar review on the Urbana campus. He said "a significant number" of positions in Chicago have already been reclassified.
"There's a vigorous effort going on in Chicago," said Richard Wheeler, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. "There does seem to be some impact that seems almost certain to come."
Reclassifying academic professionals could change hiring, search and overtime procedures, as well as "notice" requirements for firing an employee, he said. In addition, reclassified APs would receive half their current sick-time benefits. (See related article, "Civil service audit could mean reclassifying some positions.")
SEC members also heard a report on the state of the State Universities Retirement System, which Rick Gorvett, an actuarial and mathematics professor, said is "probably a lot worse than most people realize."
Gorvett, the SEC's benefits committee, said the state had so woefully underfunded the system that there are very few solutions available.
"We are the first on a list we don't want to be on," he said, noting that while employees have consistently anted up 8 percent of their paychecks for one of three state pension plans, the state has dangerously underfunded the program.
He said that when a commercial business's pension plan falls from full funded to just 90 percent, concern with the plan is raised. Despite a stated goal of reaching 90 percent funding by 2045, Illinois has never contributed a higher level than 72 percent. The level for Illinois, as of the middle of 2010, was slightly over 40 percent.
"What they should have been doing was much higher than that," he said. "I can't stress how low these numbers are."
The state recently borrowed $3.7 billion to meet the current shortfall, but that won't solve the long-term underfunding problem, Gorvett said. In fact, at nearly 6 percent interest, the borrowing may at some point exacerbate it.
"It doesn't matter how you look at this - it's not good," he said.
He said other states, many of which also have underfunded their pension systems, are still, on average, contributing double what Illinois is contributing.
Gorvett said his committee is working to put its research online to spread the information to campus employees. He said he expected the website to be available before the end of March.
- Approved the agenda for the March 28 Academic Senate meeting, which could include a vote on accepting the recommendation to phase out classes and close the Institute of Aviation.
Abbas Aminmansour, the chair of the Educational Policy Committee and a professor of architecture, said his committee still had to consider the matter and that the Institute of Aviation had a final public hearing on March 8.
Whether a committee recommendation goes before the full senate this month depends on whether Aminmansour's committee has the time to adequately consider the matter at a March 14 special meeting.
- Received a report from Dan Mortland, the vice president of enterprise risk management in the Office of Business and Financial Services, on the university's fledgling efforts to create and enact a wide-ranging risk-management plan.
Mortland started his efforts in 2009 and has since met with most campus units to assess risks affecting operations and funding.
He called the new process a "portfolio approach to risk."
Mortland said he has formed a master "risk" list that will be shared with the campus through a website, and the list already has been approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
"I'm just trying to raise awareness," he said. "Everyone has some responsibility and everyone has some sort of risk. (We need) eyes and ears looking for emerging risks to stay ahead of the game. Enterprise risk management is successful when all stakeholders are involved."
He said the information would help others identify goals and mitigate the risks that may endanger those goals. He said the work would empower any employee to identify risks and assign responsibility for known risks, which can include anything from natural disaster to state-funding dependency.
"It tries to balance which risks are negative and risks that provide opportunity," he said. "There's a certain amount of risk you have to take to further something. This is a starting point."
Easter said the process could help employees cut through and prioritize the variety of risks faced at the university - which means more time available to devote resources for tackling the larger threats.
"The opportunity here is to identify the things we really need to worry about," he said.
Alexander Scheeline, a professor of chemistry, said he hoped the system would help alleviate research-approval problems and make it easier to conduct low-level human trials now governed by many rules and regulations.
"There are some (trials) that are labeled as a risk when they're really not," he said, calling some of the regulations "excessive."
"We'd like to sort some of that out," Mortland said.
- Considered information on current work being done at the Illinois Board of Higher Education that likely will tie education funding to as-yet-undetermined performance guidelines.
Easter indicated formulating departmental metrics to meet a performance standard "is a difficult thing to do."
But, he said, "there's absolutely nothing wrong with expecting delivery for resources directed."
Easter suggested the SEC formulate a statement on the issue.
Scheeline, the chair of the library committee, said he has concerns over the "unintended consequences" of adopting general performance standards.
"You've got to be really careful," he said.
- Heard an administrator's update on the work being done to minimize the effects on graduate students hit by a recent university tax-withholding error.
The payroll mistake led to an Internal Revenue Service order for the back taxes to be paid, affecting the paychecks of more than 300 graduate assistants. The taxes were supposed to be withheld from the value of their tuition and service-fee waivers.
"Every effort is being made," Wheeler said. "A lot of people have been batting their brains out" trying to resolve the issue.