University hiring officers call for civil service changes

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The state’s civil service statutes should be changed to provide a more diverse applicant pool and greater flexibility in exempting certain positions from civil service classification, university leaders said at a hearing at UIC Friday.

University administrators, faculty and staff spoke in support of five recommendations compiled by human resources directors from all Illinois public universities. The recommendations were presented in November to University Civil Service Merit Board chairman James Montgomery, a University of Illinois trustee.

A subcommittee of Merit Board trustees — chaired by university trustee Karen Hasara — hosted two hearings on the recommendations, one in Urbana March 11 and the other Friday at UIC with a video conference to speakers in Urbana.

The State Universities Civil Service System statutes — written in the 1950s — should be updated, said Maureen Parks, executive director and associate vice president of human resources.

“There are practices and procedures that are not exactly modern for today’s environment,” Parks said. “The HR directors believe there needs to be some reform to make it more efficient, more productive and more fair, and to offer opportunities for growth.”

The recommendations call for changing language approved by the Merit Board in 2009. Since then, audits have found a significant number of job misclassifications, the human resources directors said in their recommendations.

“If the language is not taken out, the state universities will continue to have substantial audit findings for misclassification,” they wrote. “It will be virtually impossible for a university to exempt a person from civil service and this will significantly impact the flexibility needed for our campuses to function efficiently.”

Their recommendations include:

  • remove language that requires a position to be designated civil service if its description matches the specifications for a civil service classification, and that assumes all positions are civil service unless exempted by statute
  • create an audit procedures manual and a three-year audit cycle, rather than two-year cycle
  • modify scoring criteria to increase the diversity and size of the candidate pool referred for a position
  • allow out-of-state recruiting for civil service positions
  • provide flexibility for campus human resources offices to approve “specialty factors” that enhance minimum
  • qualifications in the classification specifications, which are sometimes outdated.

Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise urged the Merit Board to accept the recommendations and meet with human resources directors from public universities to discuss the proposed changes. The Merit Board will consider the recommendations at its May 20 meeting in Urbana.

The changes would improve the civil service hiring process, Wise said, but there’s still a need for employees to fill other job classifications.

“These changes do not diminish our need for academic professionals,” she said. “Our workforce is complex. That means we need people in many job classifications.”

Urbana faculty member Matthew Wheeler said he was “seriously concerned” about the language in the civil service statutes that provides few exemptions.

“It puts severe limitations on our ability to recruit and retain talented individuals,” said Wheeler, professor of animal sciences and bioengineering.

Wheeler said he was particularly concerned about the requirement that civil service employees must be Illinois residents. In his research lab, Wheeler hired employees from Brazil and Italy who have specialized knowledge of regeneration — “there only may be a few dozen around the world.”

“This may force me to leave an academic research institution that I love,” he said.

According to the current “Rule of Three” in the statutes, hiring managers must consider the top three candidates who apply for a civil service position. If the candidates do not meet the requirements the hiring manager seeks, the hiring manager must close the search and start the process again, said Susan Key, director of portfolio human resources in the Urbana Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

“Filling positions is kind of part art and part science,” she said. “It takes time and effort, and any restrictions we have, we need to find a way to get rid of those restrictions. It shouldn’t be based on luck or hope. It should be based on a strategic plan.”

The university needs a long-term solution to provide a more efficient civil service hiring and classification system, said Walter Knorr, university vice president and chief financial officer.

“We must have the ability to define our workforce based on the ever-changing needs of the University of Illinois,” he said. “Every university in the state is in the same situation.”

Providing a larger applicant pool for civil service positions would support the university’s commitment to diversity, said Tyrone Forman, UIC associate chancellor and vice provost for diversity.

“It mirrors our goals of being more accessible and inclusive university and reflecting the demographics of the Chicago metropolitan area,” said Forman, professor of African American studies.

The civil service statute and rules are online.


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