Who should classify UI's hires? Hearing set

Who should classify UI's hires? Hearing set

URBANA — Civil service employee or academic professional?

University managers currently decide how their employees are classified, but state universities could be stripped of that power in 2013.

A public hearing has been scheduled on a proposal to have the authority solely in the hands of the state agency that oversees civil-service hiring at state universities.

State universities hire their own employees, but according to Illinois law, the Urbana-based State Universities Civil Service System helps develop and administer human resources programs for when colleges hire employees other than certain positions such as presidents, faculty and students. The system has allowed universities to decide when certain positions are exempt from the civil service category since the 1990s.

But after several audits uncovered a high number of University of Illinois employees being classified as academic professional when agency staff felt they should be civil service, the agency began efforts to take the exemption authority away from universities.

After proposed legislation failed to get the needed approval in the General Assembly, the State Universities Civil Service System, or SUCSS, proposed a rule change that could accomplish the same thing: Put the exemption authority back in the hands of the agency. The proposed amendment was filed with the state in March this year and the agency's merit board is expected to decide at its next meeting, Jan. 30, if it will move forward with the amendment or not.

A public hearing to discuss the issue will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the offices of the civil service system, 1717 S. Philo Road, Suite 24, U. A signup sheet will be available at the hearing. Speakers are urged to bring a written copy of their remarks.

"Usually when there is this much interest in a topic publicly, it's wise to obtain comments from interested parties," said Tom Morelock, SUCSS executive director.

Representatives of unions, which favor the agency's proposal, have spoken at previous merit board meetings, as have university administrators and members of the UI's Council of Academic Professionals, both of which oppose the amendments as proposed. However, this is the first public hearing specifically about the rule change, according to Morelock.

"In an era when state universities have to be self-reliant, I think we need to allow them to be as autonomous as possible when it comes to hiring decisions," said Kostas Yfantis, an academic professional who works on the UI's Urbana campus and is with the Council of Academic Professionals. He intends to speak against the rule change at Thursday's hearing.

Hiring decisions are best done on the local level, Yfantis said.

"The state agency is there to provide us the tools we need to make good decisions ... and provide oversight, not to step in and remove our autonomy and make the process inefficient," Yfantis said.

Morelock said he and his staff are "always open to innovative ideas and solutions to what we see as a problem."

A few years ago, the agency found that 75 percent of the positions audited on the UI's Chicago campus should be reclassified from academic professional to civil service. Representatives with the Service Employees International Union have said members watched for over a decade as new employees were hired as academic professionals (which hold annual appointments) while civil service employees performed similar job duties.

A recent audit of Urbana positions found 60 percent of audited positions, such as those holding the titles of events coordinator, digital media coordinator and operations manager, should be reclassified from academic professional to civil service.

The audit process already allows for the universities to work with the agency when it determines some positions should be reclassified, Yfantis said.

In recent years, the Chicago campus has been gradually reclassifying academic professionals as civil service in response to the audit findings.

"Everybody wants some sort of consensus — if you can obtain that here. That's what we're striving to do," Morelock said. Just what that consensus or compromise would look like is unclear at this point, he said.

All comments made at the public hearing will be forwarded to the merit board, he said.

The next meeting of the merit board is at 10 a.m. Jan. 30 at the agency's offices in Urbana.

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moderndaycowboy wrote on December 31, 2012 at 9:12 am

This is nothing more than unions trying to boost their numbers. It's so transparent and pathetic. Union membership is dropping, because people know that unions are worthless in this day and age, so they try and change the rules. Nothing but thugs.

rsp wrote on December 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

From the UI website:


Academic Professionals (APs) are generally salaried (exempt) employees whose positions meet specialized administrative, professional, or technical needs. They perform high-level duties, and frequently have specialized responsibilities in academic, research, or administrative areas.

All APs must have at least a bachelor's degree in a field required by the position. Positions frequently require an advanced degree and experience uniquely relevant to the job. Credentials will be subject to review and verification prior to hire.

I'm not sure how they missed the qualifications for events coordinator. That jumped right out at me. 

bmwest wrote on December 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm
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Perhaps this is a good opportunity to improve the Civil Service system so that the perceived advantages of APs to the employer are also available under the Civil Service system.  Things like only being able to hire from within the state when a sufficient pool of candidates with the required skills is not available could be modified.  I suspect most of the limitations of Civil Service could be addressed through reasoned discussions from the interested parties such that there might be little need for a separate classification.

moderndaycowboy wrote on December 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

"reasoned discussions," - HA! That's funny! There are no reasonable conversations to be had with the union thugs that want more members by forcing them in.

wayward wrote on December 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I think the "bumping" provisions could be a big problem when a job requires specialized knowledge and skills.  For example, grants often requires the team to accomplish certain things in a given timeframe.  If a key employee got bumped by someone who didn't have the skills to do the work, that could affect the progress of the project and ultimately the ability to bring in more funding.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 31, 2012 at 3:12 pm

People should look at the classifications audited before jumping to conclusions.  There are arguments for both sides.  One problem that has come up since the AP hirings is nepotism.  ISU got busted for it only a few years ago.  A relative, friend, neighbor, or a former student maybe qualified for a position in a classification; but leaving it up to the ole boys system opens the door to the nepotism.  Some classifications filled by APs are highly skilled while others are not. 

I sat on a search committee that was looking for someone with language skills other than English.  Three applicants were being interviewed.  Two of the applicants had learned the language in the classroom while the third had grown up with the language, and culture.  The two who learned the language in the classroom held masters degrees while the third did not. I happened to be the only person on the search committee who knew the language skills being sought.  After the interviews, most of the Ph.D.s on the committee were torn between the first two applicants with masters degrees.  I finally asked the members of the committee if they understood any of the language being used between myself, and the applicants.  I asked if they were influenced by the masters degrees even though the position did not require a degree.  The majority of the committee saw that the third applicant with the language, and cultural skills was the appropriate hire.  However, two of the Ph.D.s were still of the opinion that someone with a master's degree should have been hired.

Some of the classifications audited did not require advanced degrees, or highly sought after skills.  There is room to compromise on the issue.  Leaving hiring solely up to each campus with no oversight results in nepotism.  The old saying about university employees of "it's not what you know, but who you know" still is appropriate when it applys now to hiring APs.  There is a need for oversight.  Until the state universities are totally privately funded, there must be some state involvement in hiring to ensure that nepotism is not occurring. 

moderndaycowboy wrote on December 31, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Yes, because the state has an EXCELLENT track record of stopping nepotism. The civil service system is extremely outdated and should be done away with entirely.

What are you referring to at ISU? I work there, just curious.....

ClearVision wrote on January 03, 2013 at 4:01 pm

An anecdotal piece or two of evidence is apparently all that is needed to advocate throwing the whole system out.

You;re right, it's just an issue of the unions trying to force themselves onto the APs, who already rejected them. They'll keep trying their underhanded tactics until they get their way. Then we'll see how few intelligent, qualified people want to work at the university.

bmwest wrote on January 01, 2013 at 9:01 am
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Bumping could be an area in need of improvement to alleviate substantial negative effects like you mentioned.  I've heard of some departments using skill specializations that no one else would have to protect against bumping, things like having worked for that department doing that job for a certain period of time.  I suppose that is the workaround until formal improvements are made.

wayward wrote on December 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm

What about saying that SUCSS only has to pre-approve AP hires for units that have a pattern of repeatedly misclassifying CS positions as AP and leaving other units alone?

nbaxley wrote on January 01, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Can someone in support of SUCSS list some of the benefits to the state, the University, or the employees from taking away the override?  I genuinely want to know what the benefit is.  I hear the people who say it's a membership grab by the unions, but I would hope that SUCSS would put forward at least some alternative reasons.  There are several reasons given in the article to keep things they way they are, but none from SUCSS.  Convince us it's a good idea with solid benefits or go home.  The hiring process is complicated enough without more hoops to jump through with no benefit.

Bulldogmojo wrote on January 02, 2013 at 9:01 am

We should probably concern ourselves with what systemic failure is causing the repetitious hiring of corrupt, deceitful and larcenous university administrators.

rsp wrote on January 02, 2013 at 9:01 am

Maybe they need to clarify the two sides some more, kind of a probationary thing. Is it just easier to just use AP as a default instead? Or is it to complicated to go through the civil service process? There is clearly a problem but I'm not sure they have really identified it in order to actually fix it. Just making a change of who is in charge may not be the answer. 

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 02, 2013 at 2:01 pm

It is easier to use the AP method.  It is not complicated to go through the civil sevice method.  The civil service method does require interviewing more than one person.  It does require some evidence why that one person was a better hire than the rest.  When a department head, or even a lesser administrator has someone in mind for the job; the civil service method can be a problem.  Recruiting professors many times means finding a job for their family members on campus also.  Civil service can mess that up since others may apply for the jobs open.  The same applys to a favorite grad student.  The AP position was created for hiring people with specialized skills needed in some areas on campus.  It was not created for replacing clerical staff, minor administrators, and other classifications.  There is a big dislike toward the State Universities Civil Service System from the individual universities human resource departments.  Each university would prefer to hire it's own way without any oversight.  That would be fine if it were private universities; but public universities are funded in portion by the public.  Consequently, employment rules must be followed. 

rsp wrote on January 02, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Maybe they could create a "preference" in cases of recruiting professors. As for the others I'm not seeing a justification. 

Mike wrote on January 02, 2013 at 2:01 pm

"Representatives of unions, which favor the agency's proposal, have spoken at previous merit board meetings..."

Again, WHY do unions have a horse in this race? This seems to me to be between the employees involved, the hiring units involved, campus administration, and SUCSS. Why are the unions supporting a proposal one way or the other?

Unless, of course, this is a veiled attempt by the unions to increase their membership.

Seriously, why should the unions care? And why should anyone care IF the unions care? Does turning a bunch of APs into civil servants save any money for taxpayers? Nope. The people affected will keep their same salary. So... what is the benefit of any of this? To stop nepotism? Seriously. This is Illinois. And it is just as easy to game the civil service hiring process if you have a person in mind that you want to hire. I've seen it done first hand.

So again, what is behind all of this? How does this benefit the millions of taxpayers in Illinois in any single way?

This would be like having the UAW's numbers shrink because cars no longer needed as many wingnuts per car (because they have a new way of making cars) so the UAW, feeling threatened, pressures the state to force all the accountants to become part of their group. 

And just like that (poor) example, there is no benefit to taxpayers in this case--the REAL people involved--for that to happen. So why is the big old state of Illinois being pressured by SEIU to turn all these AP positions into civil servant positions? Anyone?

Bulldogmojo wrote on January 02, 2013 at 4:01 pm

A specific example would be during the unionization of the Child development lab they had two people misclassified as child care when they were working as food service workers for years prior. The job audit requested by the union resulted in those people being reclassified and ending up getting about a $4.00 an hour increase in pay. Child care/food service two very different classifications so apparently if unions don't investigate these incidents the University won't lift a finger to police proper job descriptions for it's employees since this disparity went on for years. The university is required to have open and continuous CS testing. They curtailed that and the unions had to catch them at it and force them to restart it per the CS regs.

Based on experience whatever corners the U of I can cut to have a cheap out for unemploying the help is the direction is they are going to take.

If the university had any interest or even were entertaining the notion of being like a private sector meritocracy as many declare it should be, they would have taken those steps decades ago. It's just easier for them to manipulate the system for their own ends whether for money or for the sport of it. Don't underestimate the cheap thrill they get from firing people.

dplawrance wrote on January 03, 2013 at 7:01 am

It appears that University HR conducted an audit, found better classifications, and two reclassifications resulted.SUCCS had absolutely nothing to do with what happened other than providing the framework of job specifications. Whatever "investigation" their union(s) conducted wasn't germane or necessary.This example has absolutely nothing to do with whether a position should be classified or exempt from civil service.

You provide an excellent example of existing processes working very well.  Any employee can request a desk audit if they feel misclassified. So can any supervisor. You make it sound obvious that employees hired to work in a childcare facility should be classified as food service workers. I trust that at the time that the positions were created that it seemed just the opposite. Job responsibilities drift over time. The current system recognizes that and can provide appropriate corrective actions. 


Bulldogmojo wrote on January 03, 2013 at 11:01 am

I was answering the question "Why does the union have a horse in this race?". The system requires due diligence.

You are assuming the department leadership was forthright and honest when those employees tried to resolve those matters themselves. They were not, nor were they honest when they required those employees to work off the clock as a condition of employment which is illegal. So the heavy hand of our union had to step in and enforce the regulations that were incumbant upon the university to adhere to.

Mike wrote on January 04, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Thank you for the reply, and the example, Bulldogmojo. In the instance you described, I can totally see that there was a problem that needed to be rectified and I have no problems (not that it matters what I think) with how that was handled. 

I *do* agree that unions can be helpful in some instances.

What I'm concerned about are the people that are happy being academic professionals, that were hired in that capacity and understood the relationship they had with their employer, and were okay with those rules, but now are being "audited" (like it is something WE did wrong) and forced to become part of SUCSS. 

Perhaps in this whole process the person in question can be asked whether or not they want to be helped out by the union and become part of SUCSS or keep their current relationship with the University? 

Thanks again for the reply. One of my New Year resolutions (suggested by my wife) was to quit arguing with people on the Internet. So I'll finish this up and leave this discussion to the experts. :)

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 04, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Happy New Year, Mike.  Have a good, and prosperous year. :)

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 02, 2013 at 5:01 pm

"the REAL people"?  As opposed to what other kind of people?  How about the employees?  They are not REAL people?  What about the people with the skills for the classifications?  The veterans, the disabled, and the under represented?  They are not REAL people?

Yeah, the system is to promote fairness in employment.  You have seen "the person in mind" hired "first hand".  Yet, you want that to continue because you have a grudge against unions.  We all know what happens when departments have a "person in mind".  We have seen student employment without any applications because someone has their kid as a "person in mind".  We have seen a clerical position changed to an AP position because someone has a "person in mind".  The system is promote fairness in employment in public universities.  Petty administrators do not own the university. 

Come on, Mike.  You know that it is not solely a union thing.  The unions happen to be the ones speaking up against the abuses.  If a job needs highly specialized skills, that is justification for an AP.  Not all jobs on campus require APs though.