UI job classification hearings set for Urbana

UI job classification hearings set for Urbana

URBANA — An ongoing dispute about job classifications for hundreds of University of Illinois employees is expected to draw a crowd at a public hearing of the State Universities Civil Service System today in Urbana.

The agency, which oversees civil service hiring at state universities, launched a supplemental audit of UI academic jobs earlier this year after a 2013 audit showed that 87 percent of one category of "academic professional" positions examined could have been classified as civil service.

The UI objected to the new audit, which has been put on hold until a subcommittee of the University Civil Service Merit Board gathers more input. Hearings are scheduled for 10 a.m. today and Friday at the offices of the civil service system, 1717 S. Philo Road, Suite 24, U.

Tom Morelock, SUCSS executive director, said the merit board wants to gather information on several issues, including positions exempt from civil service regulations.

The UI says the supplemental audit overlaps with the agency's regularly scheduled biennial audit this year, creating double work for its staff "with no additional information resulting from it."

"The university feels strongly that we correctly exempt positions," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler. The civil service agency — known by its acronym SUCSS — has had concerns for several years about the growing number of university positions exempt from civil service.

State universities hire their own employees, but according to Illinois law, the civil service system helps develop and administer human resources programs for hiring university workers besides senior administrators, faculty or students. The system has allowed universities to decide when certain positions are exempt from the civil service category since the 1990s.

The agency regularly audits positions that are considered exempt, typically mid-level administrators known as "principal administrative appointments," Morelock said. They're part of a broader category of employees called academic professionals at the UI.

Principal administrators would include associate directors of grant programs, assistant directors of facilities management, benefits coordinators in human resources offices or admissions coordinators, for example, Morelock said.

A 2013-14 audit of the UI found that 289 out of 320 of those positions examined, or 87 percent, were performing duties matching specifications for various civil service classifications, and did not appear to qualify for exemptions. The proportion had risen considerably from previous audits in 2011 (60 percent) and 2009 (20 percent), it said.

A second finding, which looked at academic hourly positions, found that 79 of the 100 positions audited could have been classified as civil service jobs.

"That means those folks don't have any of the protections of the civil service system and, in some cases, that means they're not being placed within a collective bargaining unit," said David Beck of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents several UI employee groups.

The UI disputed the findings and said there was no intent to circumvent civil service rules.

Kaler said the UI has "very good processes and protocols" in place for deciding which positions should be exempt.

A snapshot taken on April 9, 2013, showed that the UI had 5,575 "academic hourly" appointments — including 1,389 "principal administrative" positions — up 1,887 from the previous audit in 2011, according to the audit.

The latest audit, released last May, recommended that the civil service agency examine all new principle administrative appointments made from June 1 through Dec. 31, 2014. The agency initiated the process, the UI filed a request to stop it, and the merit board last month put the process on hold, Morelock said.

The new audit would cover more than 500 positions, including research, information technology, human resources, advising and more, Kaler said.

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. That campus has since adopted a software package that analyzes job descriptions to ensure positions are classified correctly, Morelock said. Campbell said more than 500 jobs at the Chicago campus have been reclassified to civil service in recent months.

The civil service agency argues that the system was created to avoid patronage hiring and provide job protections. The UI says a public research university has unique needs and must be able to hire people with specific qualifications — not be forced to draw from a pool of university civil service workers.

"It's important to remember that our workforce is a complex blend of people with many different, specific and complementary skills, talents and knowledge," Kaler said.

Faculty also have a stake in those hires, said Professor Roy Campbell, chairman of the campus Senate Executive Committee. "You can't just pluck them out of the civil service ranks," said Campbell, who has urged faculty to attend the hearings this week.

Kaler said civil service classification requirements are often too broad or too narrow to allow the campus to hire the "best possible candidate" for a job.

Morelock said the agency has tried to accommodate the UI's concerns over the last decade, such as allowing the campus to define the qualifications and experience levels for specific jobs, particularly in the IT area.

Morelock said little would change for most workers if the positions in question were reclassified, other than vacation and sick leave accumulation, unless their civil service job was covered by a union contract. Salaries, pensions and health benefits would likely be unchanged, he said.

Kaler said it's more complicated. Academic professionals have "notice of non-reappointment rights," while civil service workers have seniority rights. If the campus were forced to convert academic professionals to civil service workers, they would be at the bottom of the seniority list and at risk for layoffs, she said.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on March 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Just like the IDOT scandal.  It would stop nepotism which does exist on campus.  It would stop the over classification of hiring someone with a BS, or MS to do a job that does not have anything to do with the degrees.  Most of the "academic professionals" have no experience doing what their job duties state.  They have to hire civil service employees to do that job while they play at being faculty.

Of course, the "hard sciences" departments will complain, and fight any change.