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House panel chairman tellos U of I labor school to hold changes until 2015

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 10:27 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD (MCT) — The chairman of a state House committee said the University of Illinois shouldn't make any changes to its School of Labor and Employment Relations until at least June 2015.

The UI is considering merging the small school into a larger college, possibly the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or the College of Business.

"It's just merely to make a point that we would like to see discussions between the two groups," said Rep. Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee, which continued a hearing Wednesday on the plan opposed by state labor leaders. "This program has been around since 1945, and it was founded not just by labor. It was labor and the Legislature, which you could view as management.

"You've got two cultures here. Would the College of Business like to be merged into the college of labor? Probably not. Therefore, you can understand why labor has an issue with being merged into the management side."

Farnham said his position, which was read aloud during the committee hearing to the head of the House panel that oversees higher-education appropriations, "is just merely a recommendation, and we'll go from there. That way they can be aware what we think."

Barbara Wilson, the Urbana campus' executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, said Wednesday that "every college, every department, is thinking about its future and trying to figure out if it's in the best situation to pursue its goals.

"It's a matter of excellence first and we're asking every unit to look at its strategic goals and to figure out if it's situated in the best possible place in the institution to become what it wants to become," she said.

Wilson said the review of the School of Labor and Employment Relations "is at the earliest of the stages of discussion," but she added that "having this in limbo for too long can cause problems."

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Edwardsville, criticized labor officials for standing in the way of campus reorganization.

"Here's what I think the problem is," he told Jason Keller, legislative director for the state AFL-CIO. "I think the problem is that you guys started a program, which is fine and it's probably been a very good program, but because you started it you feel like you have ownership, and the University of Illinois now seeks a way to improve it and you may not like it."

Kay called the controversy "a small, petty turf battle, and I really don't think it's something that should take all of our time in discussing. If you think the University of Illinois can't demolish the project and start over again, I think you're wrong. I think the fact that you started something is very good and I think a lot of people have benefited from it. But if you're saying that you have control, like the University of Illinois does with respect to schools and programs, I would respectfully disagree."

(c)2013 The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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