Universities keep civil service exemption

Public universities in Illinois will retain the authority to exempt certain skilled jobs from the civil service system after a vote by the University Civil Service Merit Board.

The 11-member board — trustees representing the state’s nine public universities — voted 8-2, with one abstention, against a proposed rule that would have given future job classification exemption authority to the director of the State Universities Civil Service System.

If passed, the measure would have gone before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a state legislative oversight and review body.

The Jan. 31 decision followed months of discussion, a public hearing in January and a public comment period at the Jan. 30 meeting.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said Tom Morelock, executive director of the State Universities Civil Service System. “I don’t know what the next step is.”

The proposal was a response to recent audits by the universities civil service system that found a large percentage of employees were misclassified as “principal administrative appointments” (also called academic professionals) at every state university.

The audit indicated about 60 percent of audited academic professional jobs on the UIC campus should be reclassified as civil service. On the Urbana campus, reclassification was recommended for 122 of the 200 audited positions.

Morelock had argued for returning exemption authority to his agency. That authority was taken away about 15 years ago, before his arrival, amid complaints the agency’s review process caused hiring delays.

Morelock said he supported the concept of employers making the exemptions, but the audits show the universities were not abiding by the rules.

He said the civil service system is more capable of handling the workload than it was a decade ago, when he became agency director.

“We’re just simply not the same civil service system as we were,” he said.

The merit board’s decision leaves the exemption and audit process seemingly at odds with one another.

Morelock established a working group earlier in January to bring the two sides together, but the group did not include members of the merit board or faculty representatives.

University officials say they never stopped following civil service system job-classification guidelines — that audit criteria have changed. Civil service agency officials say the audit process has not changed and universities are abusing their exemption authority at the expense of the civil service system.

Morelock said recent work at UIC had led to a more efficient and fair system that should be emulated at the other universities.

Public comments at the Jan. 30 meeting included U of I officials lobbying against the rule change and union representatives speaking in favor of the measure.

“We are asking for clarity,” said Maureen Parks, university director of university human resources and a member of the civil service system’s human resources advisory committee. “We’re happy to be held to a standard, we just want to know what it is we are supposed to do.”

Jeff Bigelow, regional director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said audit results show universities are trying to circumvent the civil service system.

“They’re trying to erode the numbers of people eligible for collective bargaining,” he said.

• Mike Helenthal is assistant editor of Inside Illinois, the campus newspaper for the Urbana-Champaign campus.

mhelenth@illinois.edu