URBANA — No decision has been made yet on whether universities will continue to have the power to exempt certain employees from the civil service system, but a decision is likely to happen in the coming months.
Either way it's possible neither side will be satisfied with the outcome, whatever that outcome will be, according to one university trustee.
"It's hard for me to imagine how we're going to please both sides," said Karen Hasara, a University of Illinois trustee who sits on the merit board of the State Universities Civil Service System, or SUCSS. "I'd like to see us retain our authority," she said. But the university needs "to look at our processes and see if we can do it better," Hasara said.
State universities hire their own employees, but the Urbana-based civil service system, as outlined in state statutes, helps develop and administer human resources programs for when colleges hire employees other than presidents and vice presidents, faculty and students. Back in the 1990s, the civil service system started allowing universities to decide whether a position is classified as civil service or academic professional. That is, as long as the system could periodically audit those positions to ensure they were not being classified as academic professional when they should be civil service.
Several years of audits — 2008, 2009 and 2010 — of positions on the UI's Chicago campus found a high number of employees being classified as AP instead of civil service. Employee groups, unions and some legislators cried foul and several legislative hearings followed. In recent years the UI has been slowly reclassifying hundreds of positions there to civil service.
Meanwhile on the Urbana campus, a recent audit by SUCSS found 122 of 200 positions reviewed, such as operations manager, events coordinator and human resources specialist, were classified as academic professional but should be civil service.
"We support the executive director and the amendment proposal as it stands. It's a better checks-and-balances system," said Remzi Jaos, director of higher education division of Service Employees International Union Local 73. The union has said UIC's move years ago to create so many academic professionals instead of putting them in the civil service system amounted to an attempt to break the union.
After two bills that proposed to take away exemption authority from the universities failed to get the needed approval in the General Assembly, Tom Morelock, the executive director of SUCSS, proposed a rule change that would essentially accomplish the same thing: Put the exemption authority back in the hands of the state agency.
The proposed amendment has been filed with the state's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. Because of state deadlines, the merit board will have to decide at its next meeting on Jan. 30, 2013, if it wants to move forward with the amendment or not.
At a merit board meeting Wednesday, Hasara suggested a committee that would include employee groups, agency staff and university human resources professionals meet in the coming months to discuss the issues and what is happening on the campuses for the audits to show so many employees are misclassified.
"I do think we need to get to the bottom of this," before the board considers taking the exemption authority away from the universities, she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Maureen Parks, the UI's executive director for human resources, said she was optimistic a compromise could be reached and she looked forward to meeting with other members of the group.
She has said losing the exemption authority would severely hamper the university's ability to recruit employees and remain competitive.
"The way to move forward," said UI Professor Roy Campbell who attended the meeting Wednesday, "is not removing the exemption authority." Campbell said he had confidence in the university's ability to improve the processes and address issues raised in the audit.
"Hiring decisions should be done at the local level," he said.
Earlier this month, the academic senate in Urbana unanimously approved a resolution in support of academic professionals and the need for universities to maintain the authority to exempt positions from the civil service system.
"Let's collaborate to see what the problems are," added Kostas Yfantis, academic professional with the Council of Academic Professionals on the Urbana campus.