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.