Academic professionals say reclassifying UI jobs a bad idea
Academic professionals in Urbana are concerned that the Legislature could move control of reclassification to civil service from the universities themselves to the State Universities Civil Service System.
Academic professionals say they have many similarities to faculty members, often with academic or technical expertise that universities need. Civil service is a classification for many positions that is dependent upon taking a test administered by the state.
They say any move to reclassify APs to civil service workers lessens university control. APs are also concerned that going to civil service, open to residents of Illinois, would prevent the UI from hiring the best people around the world. And they're concerned about bumping rights and changes in job security.
Rick Atterberry, who heads the Council of Academic Professionals, said he was also concerned by the precedent set by recently converting 15 grants and contracts positions at the Urbana campus to civil service employees.
A recent civil service audit of the Chicago campus "created a fear in our Urbana employees" that they could be reclassified, said Maureen Parks, an assistant vice president for human resources.
The bill is in committee now.
It would put more power in the hands of the Urbana-based State Universities Civil Service System.
It provides that no position may be exempt from civil service classification without being reviewed and approved by the system's merit board or by the executive director.
Sandoval did not return a call with voice mail questions from The News-Gazette.
A UI trustee who also serves on the merit board, Karen Hasara of Springfield, said she was "sure that the issue would come up" at the next regular merit board meeting May 18.
But she didn't want to comment "until I get up to speed on it."
The academic professionals group objects to the merit board taking over duties from universities because, Atterberry said, "this effectively would result in a third party making employment decisions for this campus without the benefit of the knowledge and expertise about unit needs and campus operations required to make effective hiring and promotion decisions."
The campus senate backed CAP's position in a resolution last week that said, in part, "we vigorously oppose the reclassification of Academic Professional positions (as exempted and authorized by campus) to civil service classifications, a change that will result in untenable restrictions impacting recruiting, hiring, and retention, resulting in loss of both future and current top tier talent."
It continued that the senate opposes "the removal of position exemption authority which would irrefutably harm the campus by requiring that a third party assume responsibility for a critical institutional decision-making process with far- reaching implications to the mission-based functions of the university."
University administration also opposes the change.
Parks said ceding control to a merit board would "really hamstring us in terms of recruiting the best from all over the world.
"Another piece that is concerning is that this would slow us down in hiring the best candidates. The university needs a quicker turnaround time than civil service can provide," Parks said.
Atterberry said he was particularly concerned about a civil service rule that limits applicants to Illinois residents.
"When you have an academic professional position come open, you advertise all over the country, in appropriate journals, The News-Gazette, the Internet — you've got your choice of the whole world," he said.
That means a unit could hire a native speaker from China to work with researchers there, or go to Berkeley for a computer scientist. He said many academic professionals have similar skills to professors.
Atterberry said reclassifying to civil service means use of the top three scorers on a standardized test, as the civil service law requires.
"How can you test on paper somebody's aptitude running magnetic resonance research instruments?" he asked.
Atterberry also said there are important distinctions in job protection between APs and civil service.
Most significant is bumping, where a senior worker can take over the position of a civil service worker with less seniority.
In the senate meeting, entomology Professor Bettina Francis gave an example of bumping at another university where a chemistry lab technician was bumped into a biology lab tech's position, and pointed out the jobs require very different skills.
"It can create a chain reaction situation," Atterberry said.
He said civil service has been on downward numbers trend at the UI while APs have trended upward.
That has sometimes resulted in a loss of union jobs, but "it's not an apples-to-apples analogy because not all civil service jobs are unionized."
There are two categories for exemption of APs from civil service, Atterberry said: teaching and research support.
But many unit business offices also need APs with specialized training in an area, he said.
"It's a very murky area. We think that they're looking at information technology people to replace," he said. "Which side do these IT people fall on? Are they on the tech side or the academic side?"
Atterberry said his group has a two-pronged test for whether it makes sense to reclassify employees: "Does it enhance operation, and does it save any money?"
"We don't see where (possible changes) figures into it. The AP system seems to work pretty well, so why would you try to fix it?" he asked.