Sunday, November 29, 2015

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A Wealthy Governor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois - The New York Times

 

The richest man in Illinois does not often give speeches. But on a warm spring day two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, the billionaire founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, rose before a black-tie dinner of the Economic Club of Chicago to deliver an urgent plea to the city’s elite.

They had stood silently, Mr. Griffin told them, as politicians spent too much and drove businesses and jobs from the state. They had refused to help those who would take on the reigning powers in the Illinois Capitol. “It is time for us to do something,” he implored.

Their response came quickly. In the months since, Mr. Griffin and a small group of rich supporters — not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas — have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

“It was clear that they wanted to change the power structure, change the way business was conducted and change the status quo,” said Andy Shaw, an acquaintance of Mr. Rauner’s and the president of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan state watchdog group that received donations from Mr. Rauner before he ran.

The rich families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns. Economic winners in an age of rising inequality, operating largely out of public view, they are reshaping government with fortunes so large as to defy the ordinary financial scale of politics. In the 2016 presidential race, a New York Times analysis found last month, just 158 families had provided nearly half of the early campaign money.

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Buying Power

Articles in this series examine America’s growing concentration of wealth and its consequences for government and politics.

Many of those giving, like Mr. Griffin, come from the world of finance, an industry that has yielded more of the new political wealth than any other. The Florida-based leveraged-buyout pioneer John Childs, the private equity investor Sam Zell and Paul Singer, a prominent New York hedge fund manager, all helped elect Mr. Rauner, as did Richard Uihlein, a conservative businessman from the Chicago suburbs.

Most of them lean Republican; some are Democrats. But to a remarkable degree, their philosophies are becoming part of a widely adopted blueprint for public officials around the country: Critical of the power of unions, many are also determined to reduce spending and taxation, and are skeptical of government-led efforts to mitigate the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

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“There was never so much money behind these efforts,” said Iris J. Lav, formerly a senior adviser at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning economic think tank in Washington.

“It has gotten much stronger in the last five or six years,” Ms. Lav continued. “There’s the sense of an opening, of a discontent with the old model. It’s about social insurance, the social compact — who’s responsible for whom?”

Illinois was fertile ground for the movement. Four of the state’s last 10 governors have gone to jail. Decades of mismanagement by state officials of both parties have left Illinois with more than $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, among the most of any state. Public employee unions, assured that the state’s Constitution made their retirement benefits untouchable, focused on lobbying for other spending. By last year, the state owed billions more in unpaid bills.

And tax increases are particularly difficult in Illinois, where other state constitutional provisions ban raising taxes solely on the rich. A temporary income tax boost presided over by the state’s last Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, was resented by many voters

The future governor was among those fuming. Around Chicago, Mr. Rauner, a Republican, was known for dashing off angry, blind-copied emails about the state’s fiscal woes to a long list of fellow businessmen and political leaders. Some of those who coalesced around his campaign, like Mr. Griffin, had also backed Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a Democrat, in his battles with teachers’ unions. Others had collaborated on endeavors including Chicago’s Olympic bid, or the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group of wealthy and politically active business leaders. (Mr. Rauner, Mr. Griffin and other supporters declined requests for interviews.)

“They’re not what you would call the traditional corporate world,” said William M. Daley, a Chicago hedge fund executive and former chief of staff to President Obama, who served on Mr. Rauner’s transition team. “They come with a very political and philosophical bent.”

Mr. Daley added, “I think they believe philosophically in that business mentality and that strong public unions are a root of all evil in governing places like Illinois or Chicago and New York and California.”

To bring about a revolution in the Illinois Capitol, in Springfield, Mr. Rauner and his allies have created what amounts to a new campaign economy, in which union money has long been the financial lifeblood of both parties. Contributing millions to his own campaign, Mr. Rauner triggered a state law that removes limits on campaign contributions when a wealthy candidate spends heavily on his or her own race.

The law, intended to limit the influence of the wealthy by providing a level playing field, had the opposite effect: Freed of the restraints, supporters of Mr. Rauner poured millions more into his campaign, breaking state records. About half of the $65 million he spent through last year’s election came from himself and nine other individuals, families or companies they control. Mr. Quinn, the incumbent, spent about $32 million, with many unions making mid-six-figure contributions.

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Mr. Rauner’s biggest donor was Mr. Griffin, who gave $5.5 million and put his private plane at Mr. Rauner’s disposal. Mr. Rauner’s allies spent millions on political advocacy groups, research organizations and party committees. The Chicago Sun-Times reversed its no-endorsement policy to back Mr. Rauner, who was a part-owner of the paper before he ran for governor.

“He didn’t have to play by the same rules as other candidates,” said Bill Hyers, the chief strategist to Mr. Quinn. “He just kept on spending.”

Never before in modern Illinois politics had so few people provided so much of the money for campaigns. The size of the average contribution in last year’s general election almost tripled over those made in the previous governor’s race, according to a Times analysis of campaign records collected by Illinois Sunshine, a project of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Local Republican organizations found themselves flush with cash. Mr. Rauner blanketed the state with ads promising, vaguely, to “shake up Springfield” and slammed Mr. Quinn as an insider beholden to special interests.

Campaign for Political Reform; National Institute on Money in State Politics. Figures shown include only money raised before the election.

Attacks on Mr. Rauner’s wealth fell flat, even as he splashed around money in flamboyant ways: Late in the campaign, he drove up to a credit union on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side, depositing $1 million to support small-business loans.

“It had never happened before,” said Otis Monroe, a community activist in Chicago. “We said, ‘If you want black votes, you should invest in African-American-owned initiatives.’ Rauner was the only one who responded.”

On Election Day, Mr. Rauner won every county except Cook County, which encompasses Chicago. That evening, he giddily declared to his supporters: “This is our time. This is a transformational period. We will not accept the status quo. We are going in a new direction — the voters have spoken.”

The eye-popping sums continued to flow in the weeks that followed. On the last day of December, shortly before inauguration, Mr. Rauner, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Uihlein poured an additional $20 million into Mr. Rauner’s campaign committee. The money was intended to help Mr. Rauner beat back union pressure on state lawmakers during the legislative session ahead.

All told, the Griffin family’s contributions to Mr. Rauner through the end of 2014 came to $13.6 million — more than the combined sum donated to Mr. Quinn by 244 labor unions.

For Mr. Rauner, the election results affirmed his agenda to shrink government and make the state more friendly to business.

But voters seemed torn. Along with electing Mr. Rauner, they gave Democrats a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

They also approved two advisory ballot measures. One proposed an increase in the state’s minimum wage, something Mr. Rauner had told a candidate forum he was “adamantly, adamantly against raising.” Another urged lawmakers to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a millionaires-only income tax increase, something Mr. Rauner had campaigned against.

Mr. Rauner was undeterred. Immediately after taking office, he unveiled a strikingly ambitious policy agenda, one with a more ideological tinge than even some Republicans had expected.

Along with expected cuts to spending and property taxes, he proposed tort reform; local “right-to-work zones,” where union membership and dues would be voluntary; and a half-dozen constitutional amendments. He sought to bar public unions from making contributions to state lawmakers — state contractors are already barred — and in February issued an executive order prohibiting public employee unions from collecting mandatory fees from state workers who are not members.

Mr. Rauner and his supporters believed such changes were necessary to fix Illinois: Only by disempowering the unions and making the state more hospitable to business, they have argued, can revenue grow fast enough to fix its financial problems.

But despite voters’ deep unhappiness with the direction of the state under Mr. Rauner’s predecessor, they quickly soured on their new governor. Just two months into his term, Mr. Rauner found that his job approval rate was around 36 percent, according to a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Almost half of Illinois voters favored either tax increases or a combination of increases and spending cuts to fix the budget.

Mr. Rauner has since signaled he will discuss new revenues as part of a budget deal, but only if the legislature includes some of his union restrictions or other policy changes as part of the deal.

“I’ve been one who thought he misread his mandate,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “People were ready for a change, but the emphasis on attacking the labor movement, that really poisoned the water here.”

The unexpected rift between Mr. Rauner and his constituents echoes a greater divide between the political views of the very wealthy and those of the broader public, one that has taken on new significance as the rich invest more time and money in politics.

The voters in Illinois should look to Wisconsin as the example of what the new, ultra-right Republican party brings: outlawed public...

Around the same time that Mr. Rauner began running for governor, a group of researchers based at Northwestern University published findings from the country’s first-ever representative survey of the richest one percent of Americans. The study, known as the Survey of Economically Successful Americans and the Common Good, canvassed a sample of the wealthy from the Chicago area. Those canvassed were granted anonymity to discuss their views candidly.

Their replies were striking. Where merely affluent Americans are more likely to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, the ultrawealthy overwhelmingly leaned right. They are far more likely to raise money for politicians and to have access to them; nearly half had personally contacted one of Illinois’s two United States senators.

Where the general public overwhelmingly supports a high minimum wage, the one percent are broadly opposed. A majority of Americans supported expanding safety-net and retirement programs, while most of the very wealthy opposed them. And while Americans are not enthusiastic about higher taxes generally, they feel strongly that the rich should pay more than they do, and more than everyone else pays.

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“Probably the biggest single area of disconnect has to do with social welfare programs,” said Benjamin I. Page, a political scientist at Northwestern University and a co-author of the study. “The other big area has to do with paying for those programs, particularly taxes on high-income and wealthy people.”

Illinois, Mr. Page added, is “a case study of the disconnect in action — between what average citizens want the government to do and what it does.”

In many states, however, including old union strongholds of the Midwest like Indiana and Ohio, a rising distrust in government has proved a more powerful force in mobilizing voters — particularly with enough money behind it. In Illinois, Mr. Rauner and his allies have responded to the budget impasse with a redoubled, well-financed effort at persuasion.

To encourage Republican lawmakers to stick with him on tough votes, the governor has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. In April, ex-Rauner aides set up Turnaround Illinois, a super PAC designed to support state lawmakers who backed his agenda and “oppose those who stand in the way,” according to state filings. The group’s main contributor is Mr. Zell, the Chicago investor and Republican donor, who gave $4 million.

In June, after Mr. Rauner and lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal, Turnaround Illinois spent close to $1 million on television ads assailing Democrats.

The true impact of their financial muscle may not be felt until the legislative elections next fall, in which Mr. Rauner’s allies could again exploit an opening in the campaign finance law to spend unprecedented sums. (The same provision that removed the caps on Mr. Rauner’s campaign lifts them in any legislative race in which a “super PAC” spends more than $100,000. Mr. Rauner’s group has enough money to trigger the law in more than two dozen races.)

Mr. Rauner’s closest supporters hope to elect more Republicans. But some wealthy families, mindful that Democrats are likely to control the legislature for the foreseeable future, have financed an even more ambitious goal: to carve out a new faction of Democrats more willing to reach a compromise with the governor.

That effort has raised more than $14 million, in donations that rival the largest contributions in the presidential campaign. One million dollars came from Helen Zell, Mr. Zell’s wife, and $2 million from the head of a financial firm in which Mr. Rauner is an investor. The largest disclosed contribution came from hundreds of miles beyond Illinois: The former Texas energy trader John Arnold and his wife, Laura, gave $5 million.

Mr. Arnold, a Democrat, declined to be interviewed for this article. But in an essay published last year, he described himself as a counterweight to traditional interest groups like labor unions and corporations.

 

A Wealthy Gov

“One might ask why Laura and I should be able to influence policy decisions just because we have money,” Mr. Arnold wrote. “Were government immune from lobbyists and money, I would agree on the premise of the question. However, government is deeply influenced by special interests.”

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His goal, Mr. Arnold wrote, was “to counterbalance these entrenched forces, on the right and the left, by providing policy solutions rooted in objectivity and solid analysis.”

For the moment, Illinois is creaking along, polarized and deeply discontent with its leaders. Five months into the fiscal year, the state has no budget. A combination of court orders and partial appropriations bills has kept the government in operation, but at a level of spending that exceeds the state’s current revenue.

Now, every month, Illinois falls even further behind on its bills. Illinois politicians, on the other hand, are flush as never before.

As of early November, Mr. Rauner and the state’s new super PACs had a combined $36 million available to spend. The state’s 15 best-funded labor union PACs, along with campaign committees controlled by Democratic legislative leaders, had slightly more than half that, but are likely to put in millions more in the months ahead.

Next year’s legislative races promise to be the most expensive in history. And Mr. Rauner, those who know him say, is just getting started.

Said Mr. Shaw, of the Better Government Association, “I think he views this as a very long, long term war.’’

Sarah Cohen contributed research.

ernor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois - The New York Times

Monday classes canceled at University of Chicago after threat | WGN-TV

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Monday classes canceled at University of Chicago after threat | WGN-TV

Monday, November 16, 2015

We kicked the Koch Brothers’ a**: How Denver parents beat back big money, charter schools, right-wing lies - Salon.com

This election cost over three quarters of a million, SEE:  http://boonecountywatchdog.blogspot.com/2015/10/school-board-recall-vote-in-colorado.html

Although many Democrats are disappointed, even in a “panic,” with the results from last week’s off-year elections, they need to be aware of where progressives won and learn from communities that bucked the influences of big money, especially in contests where education was a top-tier issue.

Most notable of the wins was a school board race in Jefferson County, Colorado, just outside Denver, that many national media outlets had actually hyped but then mostly ignored once the results were in.

The vote, the New York Times reported before Election Day, was about “whether to oust a polarizing school board that has championed charter schools, performance-based teacher pay, and other education measures.”

“The skirmish has been tense,” the Washington Post explained, “with alleged death threats, social media clashes, and attacks on talk radio.”

Both news stories told of a national program bearing down on the school district, with “money pouring in from Americans for Prosperity, the national organization founded by the Koch brothers,” in an effort to impose an agenda from outside the community that included a new history curriculum, new restrictions on teachers’ job security, and more privately-operated charter schools.

Students, teachers and parents were openly revolting against the school board, staging school walkouts, holding boisterous protest rallies and waging a petition campaign to demand an election to recall the school board majority.

The national outlets consistently got the story of the election wrong, adopting a talking point from a libertarian think tank that the contest was a “proxy war” between the Koch Brothers and “teachers’ unions,” when, in fact, the recall effort was mostly led by parents.

Then, when the results came in last week, and voters recalled the board majority and voted in a new slate of progressive-minded candidates, national outlets generally ignored the story, and the news was relegated to local outlets and bloggers to report.

But what the national media have misreported and overlooked is an important story of how communities fighting to control their education destinies can win against big-moneyed interests and a charter school industry that want to dictate what schooling is like across the country.

A Major Battle to Preserve Public Schools

I went to Jeffco (what the locals call it) this summer and reported about the emerging national story for Alternet.

I found this outstanding school district – where real innovation is taking place in the public schools – is “under assault by right-wing groups, some with connections to evangelical Christianity” and “a powerful charter school industry, different from the ‘organic charters’ Jeffco parents already send their kids to.”

My firsthand investigations, which included more than a dozen interviews and visits to community events and school sites, revealed a fight over “who gets to call the shots in education systems strained by unending financial austerity and an unremitting ‘reform’ agenda whose intent is unclear to the people in its way.”

I met with local Jeffco citizens who engaged in scores of house parties, circulated flyers and repeated a message of dissent against the three board members who were intent on imposing a market-based philosophy of education conceived in libertarian think tanks and charter school corporate offices.

Why should you care about a school board election in suburban Denver?

As a reporter at Al Jazeera correctly understood in her pre-election report, the contest had “national implications.”

The race, Sandra Fish writes, “has ramifications far outside the school district … Because Jeffco is the ultimate swing county in the key swing state of Colorado,” Fish finds, “that means success – or defeat – there could be replicated across the U.S.”

She quotes a professor of education history at New York University saying, “Colorado has become a kind of test case for these issues. Others around the country will be watching to see if the money and the influence matters … It’s going to be a very close election is my guess.'”

The professor was mostly right, except about the margin of victory. It wasn’t close. Voters “overwhelmingly,” according to the Denver Post, voted for the recall, with the charter school-backed board members going down by an average of 64 percent to 36 percent.

A Jeffco classroom teacher involved in the resistance effort, Paula Reed, had this to say in an email to me about the importance of the recall win: “This was a major front in the battle to preserve public schools for kids and stop privatization for profit. I said to myself and everyone I pulled in that if we won, we would know for the rest of our lives that we had been part of something huge.”

Why Grassroots Matters Most

“The success of this recall has been a true testament to what grassroots can accomplish,” Jeffco parent activist Jonna Levine tells me in an email. “We sent a strong message that community can win over big corporate machines like the Koch Brothers.”

Levine co-founded and leads, with Jeffco parent Shawna Fritzler, the grassroots group “Support Jeffco Kids.” Organizing parents into these grassroots groups, including Jeffco United, that helped lead the petition effort proved to be a key to the successful campaign. Parents have an undeniable stake in anything related to public schools. And unlike teachers, they can’t be intimidated by school administration or be fired.

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Above is from:  We kicked the Koch Brothers’ a**: How Denver parents beat back big money, charter schools, right-wing lies - Salon.com

Illinois students of for-profit schools to get $3M in debt relief under settlement - Chicago Tribune

 

About 2,700 Illinois students of for-profit schools will receive about $3 million in debt relief under a national settlement with a Pittsburgh company running trade schools and colleges.

The Justice Department on Monday announced the settlement, which resolves a consumer fraud investigation by several attorneys general and separate whistleblower lawsuits.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Education Management Corporation (EDMC) used "deceptive" recruitment and enrollment practices.

The agreement says loans offered through school programs won't be collected. It applies to certain students attending between 2006 and 2014. Students will be contacted. Madigan's office says there also will be a phone number.

The corporation operates five Illinois colleges with Argosy University and Illinois Institute of Art campuses in the Chicago area.

Under the agreement, EDMC must also make reforms that'll be independently monitored.

Education Management Corp., the second-largest for-profit college chain, agreed to pay $95.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid employees based on student enrollment in violation of federal law.

For-profit colleges are reeling from mounting government probes, tanking stock prices, regulatory scrutiny and depressed student enrollment. ITT Tech is being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud; University of Phoenix has been suspended from receiving military tuition assistance; and Career Education Corp. closed all 14 of its Sanford-Brown schools. As marquee names falter, the industry itself appears to be in trouble.

Federal court upholds rules aimed at for-profit college industry

In the case of Education Management, the Department of Justice claims the company violated a federal ban on incentive compensation at schools participating in federal financial aid programs. The rule is meant to prevent schools from steering students into loans to boost revenue.

Prosecutors say the company flouted the ban by paying recruiters based on the number of students enrolled, leading employees to use aggressive and deceptive tactics to get students in the doors. Top recruiters received Pittsburgh Pirates tickets, free lunches and all-expense-paid vacations to Las Vegas and Puerto Vallarta, according to the complaint.

All the while, Education Management swore to the Department of Education that it was complying with the rules. Between July 2003 and June 2011 about 90 percent of the tuition the company received, or $11 billion, came from federal grants and loans, according to the complaint.

"EDMC's actions were not only a betrayal of their students' trust; they were a violation of federal law," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday during a press conference. She called the settlement "a historic step forward in our collective and ongoing fight against fraudulent and abusive practices in the for-profit education industry."

Madigan sues five debt-relief firms over student loans

 

 

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed five lawsuits Monday against debt-relief companies she claims preyed on consumers struggling to repay student loans.

The companies charged upfront fees as high as $1,250 for bogus services or for help that the borrowers could have gotten themselves for...

Problems at the company came to light in 2007 when Lynntoya Washington, a former assistant director of admission at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division, sued the company under the so-called False Claims Act. The law encourages witnesses to come forward in cases where the government has been defrauded by providing them up to a third of the proceeds recovered by authorities.

State and federal authorities joined Washington's case in 2011, shortly after another whistleblower, Michael Mahoney, the director of the company's online higher education division, came forward with more evidence of misconduct.

The civil settlement is the largest involving false claims made to the Department of Education. It calls on Education Management to provide students with a single-page disclosure detailing job placement rates, free orientation and the ability to withdraw at no cost up to seven days after their first class on campus or 21 days online.

The company will also forgive the debts owed by former students who left within 45 days of their first term and whose final day of attendance was between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2014.

"We are also pleased to have resolved the civil claims raised by the Department of Justice and state attorneys general," said Education Management president and chief executive Mark McEachen said in a statement. "Though we continue to believe the allegations in the cases were without merit, putting these matters behind us returns our focus to educating students."

Education Management, which enrolls more than 100,000 students, did not admit to any wrongdoing.

"This settlement should be a warning to other career colleges out there: We will not stand by while you profit illegally off of students and taxpayers," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during the press conference. "The federal government will continue to work tirelessly with state attorneys general to ensure that all colleges follow the law."

The case against Education Management is the government's latest effort to crack down on for-profit colleges accused of defrauding taxpayers and students. The Department of Education's decision last year to cut off Corinthian Colleges' access to federal student loans and grants for falsifying job placement and graduation rates ultimately led the company to file bankruptcy. The department fined the company $30 million in April, a month before Corinthian shut its doors.

Associated Press, The Washington Post contributed

Illinois students of for-profit schools to get $3M in debt relief under settlement - Chicago Tribune

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Enbridge Energy shows support for Boone County

 

By Kathryn Menue

Editor

BOONE COUNTY – On Monday, Nov. 9, Enbridge Energy Company Inc. traveled to the Rock Valley College (RVC) Woodward Technology Center (WTC) at 9 a.m. to “dedicate a new scholarship at Rock Valley Community College.”

“The new scholarship, known as the Enbridge Energy Company Pipeline Industry Awareness Scholarship, will award five $1,000 scholarships to students in Boone County,” Enbridge Energy stated in their press release. “Enbridge has established similar scholarships at several other two-year schools throughout Illinois. This scholarship at Rock Valley Community College will now mark an Enbridge scholarship established at every community college along its Illinois system.”

Rep. Joe Sosnowski (Ill.-69), Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain, and Enbridge Energy created the scholarship alliance to support students from Belvidere and Boone County who want to enter into an engineering or trade program at Rock Valley College.

“The reason we call it the ‘Pipeline Industry Awareness Scholarship,’ is because for too long, our industry was ‘out-of-sight and out-of-mind’ in our communities,” John Gauderman, Enbridge Director for Chicago Region Operations said. “By building great partnerships like the ones we have with Rock Valley College, we’re hoping to change that.”

At the scholarship presentation, Gauderman stated that the newly founded scholarship was a “great opportunity for Enbridge to show how we operate in the communities. We are very happy to have five $1,000 scholarships at Rock Valley.”

Rock Valley College was very appreciative of their support as well.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” RVC President Mike Mastroianni said. He explained that this scholarship will be a great start for the engineering program RVC plans to establish in the upcoming years in the WTC. The new engineering program will allow students to receive a four-year engineering degree from RVC at a more affordable rate than at state universities.

“This is wonderful news for the community and it exemplifies how the Belvidere/Boone County area is positively impacted by Enbridge Energy,” Neeley Erickson, legislative aide to Rep. Sosnowski, said.

Enbridge Energy shows support for Boone County

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

U of Illinois trustees to consider settlement with professor who lost job offer over tweets

 

CHAMPIAGN, Illinois — University of Illinois trustees are expected to consider a legal settlement with a professor who lost his job offer over a series profane anti-Israel Twitter messages.

University spokesman Tom Hardy confirmed trustees are expected to vote on a proposed settlement with Steven Salaita in his lawsuit against university trustees, former Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise and others. Hardy declined to offer details and neither the university nor Salaita's attorneys responded to requests for comment.

Salaita was offered a job to teach at the university starting in August 2015.

But after his messages on Israeli military action against Palestinians that summer Wise withdrew the offer. Some university donors had complained about Salaita.

Salaita claimed he had already been hired as a tenured professor. That would mean his messages were protected speech.

U of Illinois trustees to consider settlement with professor who lost job offer over tweets

Illinois explains decision to fire athletic director Mike Thomas - Sports - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL

 

By The Associated Press

Posted Nov. 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM
Updated Nov 9, 2015 at 2:01 PM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois fired athletic director Mike Thomas on Monday, saying he had done nothing wrong but a change was needed after football and women's basketball players alleged they had been mistreated by their coaches.
Thomas, who will be paid $2.5 million to buy out the remainder of his contract, said he believes he acted appropriately but accepts the decision.
"I believe it is a good time to turn the page and put the focus of this organization back on the success and welfare of our student-athletes," Thomas said in a prepared statement.
Thomas is the latest high-profile leader to be swept aside in the turmoil at the university's flagship campus this year, following the resignation of one of his top backers, chancellor Phyllis Wise, and the August firing of football coach Tim Beckman.
The school also released final reports on independent investigations into the players' allegations. The football report found that Beckman pressured players to play hurt and interfered in medical decisions, echoing details that were disclosed when he was fired, but the women's basketball investigation found no evidence of racially motivated player mistreatment as alleged by seven former players.
Interim chancellor Barbara Wilson praised Thomas for leading the athletic department through a difficult six months, but said the university's sports programs needed a fresh start. She declined to offer details on exactly why she decided to fire Thomas.
"It's time to put the distractions of the past months behind us," Wilson said at a news conference at Memorial Stadium. "This has not been an easy decision, but I believe it's the one that will allow us to concentrate on the future."
The move leaves hiring decisions still to be made on a head football coach, where Bill Cubit is serving on an interim basis, athletic director and their boss, the chancellor.
Senior associate athletic director Paul Kowalczyk will take over for Thomas as interim athletic director. He said he planned to quickly meet with coaches on campus and with major donors and business partners to try to assure them that the sports programs and projects such as the renovation of the State Farm Center basketball arena are on track.
"I'm going to take the helm at this point and try to calm the waters," said Kowalczyk, who added that Thomas offered to help him get up to speed. "I feel for the guy."
Allegations of mistreatment by former football player Simon Cvijanovic surfaced in May, and the report found that Beckman "employed tactics that violated standards related to sports medicine protocols and scholarships."

For the women's basketball program, the report said claims that against coach Matt Bollant and an assistant created a racially abusive environment were unfounded. The assistant, Mike Divilbiss, quit months ago, and the players have sued the school, Bollant and Thomas. A former women's soccer player also sued the school, claiming she was improperly cleared to play after a concussion.

Amid all of that, Wise resigned in August, just before the university revealed she used a private email account to avoid scrutiny of her discussions of university business.
Thomas came to Illinois from Cincinnati in 2011, replacing longtime athletic director Ron Guenther. He received a contract extension and a raise a year and a half ago, and university trustees praised him for the $60 million generated when the university sold the naming rights to the Assembly Hall arena to State Farm help pay for its $165 million renovation.
Thomas also moved to shore up the Illini's high-profile struggling teams, firing football coach Ron Zook, men's basketball coach Bruce Weber and women's basketball coach Jolette Law. Fans, however, were lukewarm about his hiring of Beckman, men's basketball coach John Groce and Bollant.

 

Illinois explains decision to fire athletic director Mike Thomas - Sports - Rockford Register Star - Rockford, IL